Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Two Gazed Into a Pool:
Echo & Narcissus

Love Gone Wrong: Echo and Narcissus, 1903
by John William Waterhouse, 1849 - 1917

Two poems
by Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1930 - 94

It seems to be understood that Rossetti wrote this first poem, "Echo" in sorrow at the loss of one of her suitors; and the second poem, "An Echo From Willow-wood" in mourning after the death of her sister - in - law (Elizabeth Siddal). Indeed both poems can be read in such a way. However, the language of star - crossed love and eternal separation seems just as applicable to the heartbreaking conflict between the nearly voiceless nymph Echo and the handsome hunter Narcissus, enamored of his own reflection.

Never in love with anyone except himself, Narcissus reminds me of selfish Little Chap in Stop the World, I Want to Get Off who acknowledges at the play's conclusion that "the only person I ever really loved was me." For Echo, Narcissus was the dream "too bitter sweet." They gazed "not hand in hand . . . reluctant, without speech":

Echo
Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low
As long ago, my love, how long ago.


An Echo From Willow-wood
"O ye, all ye that walk in willow-wood." (D.G. Rossetti)

Two gazed into a pool, he gazed and she,
Not hand in hand, yet heart in heart, I think,
Pale and reluctant on the water's brink
As on the brink of parting which must be.
Each eyed the other's aspect, she and he,
Each felt one hungering heart leap up and sink,
Each tasted bitterness which both must drink,
There on the brink of life's dividing sea.
Lilies upon the surface, deep below
Two wistful faces craving each for each,
Resolute and reluctant without speech: —
A sudden ripple made the faces flow
One moment joined, to vanish out of reach:
So those hearts joined, and ah! were parted so.


Waterhouse's Study for the Head of Echo

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