The Many Portraits of Christina Rossetti

The Many Portraits of Christina Rossetti

It took a while for me to come up with a subtitle for my upcoming novel The Dove Upon Her Branch. Perhaps one wouldn’t be necessary if my authorship of it was enough to entice readers. I decided it was wiser to rely more on its protagonist’s lure.

She sometimes struggled with titles for her writing, often with her oldest brother’s opinion of her choices. Usually, she surrendered to his suggestions.

I hoped, as with the main title, the perfect words would appear out of the prolificacy of her poetry. Instead, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti was what I settled on. It was what I felt I had accomplished.

A Little Teaser of the Cover
Artwork Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

There are many drawings and paintings of the Victorian poet and youngest sibling of the remarkable Polidori-Rossetti family. From her girlhood to middle-age, Pre-Raphaelite artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, literally and lovingly captured the delicate beauty of his youngest sister’s youth, moods of her evolving temperament, and altered appearance due to age and disease.

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A few other artists put their hands to immortalizing her, two out of romantic interest, James Collinson’s unflattering, and John Brett’s never finished.

Christina Rossetti by James Collinson
Christina Rossetti by John Brett

A sketch of Christina Rossetti as a child by William Bell Scott from Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott, 1892 edition.

Above, intriguingly sulky, is the youngest portrait of Christina that I have come across. The artist was Scotsman William Bell Scott (1811 – 1890), who was also an art teacher and poet. The drawing was included in his Autobiographical Notes published posthumously in 1892, two years before Christina died at the age of sixty-four. He actually didn’t set eyes on her until she was almost eighteen, the drawing seemingly a copy of one Filippo Pistrucci did of her 1837.

Signore Pistrucci did another in 1839.

Christina Rossetti by Filippo Pistrucci

“Such a pretty little Christina. Such a perfectly still and dull Christina has never existed.” By the time he was eighteen and at Henry Sass’ Drawing Academy, Gabriel didn’t doubt he was the bona fide artist in the family and, therefore, the opinion that mattered.

      “He caught her wide-eyes and the softly determined jut of her chin, I think.”

      “Unimaginative work, Will. Where is the thought in her eyes? The words on her lips? The breath from her nostrils? He didn’t capture her truth. Realism without imagination is like religion without spirituality.”

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

In response to a letter Dante Gabriel had sent to him, Mr. Bell Scott began a lifelong association with the Rossettis – and, arguably, a significant place in Christina’s affections – in a December 1848 visit to London and the Rossetti family home on Charlotte Street, meeting Christina and her ailing father in the parlor.

In Mr. Scott’s words:

By the window was a high narrow reading-desk, at which stood writing a slight girl with a serious regular profile, dark against the palid wintry light without. This most interesting of the two inmates turned on my entrance, made the most formal and graceful curtsey, and resumed her writing …

The girl was Christina, who had already at seventeen written, like her brother, some admirable lyrics, nearly all overshadowed with melancholy. Melancholy I call it, but perhaps the right words would be pious sentiment. At least in her mind, piety and sadness went together, and have done all her life.

Christina Rossett by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

And in my words:

     The man brought to the parlor was tall, his face flushed, eyebrows bushy, and chin square, his jacket, cravat, waistcoat, and trousers artistically mismatched and well-worn. He seemed expectant then confused, his searching, sapphire gaze scanning the room. He removed his green-velvet, feathered hat, implying his impression of Christina with a broad smile and slight bow. She felt and probably appeared cross because she was unprepared to greet anyone she didn’t know.    

     Christina lowered her face and hurried back to her desk.

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll*, used a camera to portray a heavily costumed but relaxed thirty-three-year-old Christina with her beloved mother, older sister Maria, and older brothers William and Dante Gabriel on the back steps of the latter’s grand London house in Cheyne Walk.

     Compared to sitting for an artist, photographers were too busily burdened by the paraphernalia and processes of their trade to indulge in fostering relationships with their sitters. After a little bashful artistry, in few words Mr. Dodgson positioned Christina and, as soon as possible, escaped to concentrate on focusing the shot before he disappeared into his portable darkroom to prepare the plate. Ten or fifteen minutes of model patience was required for the time it took until he appeared rushed, holding his work away from the flaps of the tent, his cuffs, and anything else he might brush or bump it against. He did a final check with the darkening cloth over him and his magical machine, shut the lens, slid in the plate holder, pulled something up, and stood to the side.

     “You may blink but don’t otherwise move.” After removing the lens cap, Mr. Dodgson counted slowly to ten, and put it back.

     He hurried into the tent to confirm that Christina had been caught, as William described, first with “an intellectual profile” and then “a bantering air.”

Excerpts from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Christina Rossetti from a photograph by Charles Dodgson

*It is thought that Christina’s poem Goblin Market was one of the inspirations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

From ‘The Annunciation-Ecce Ancilla Domini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
From The Girlhood of
Mary Virgin by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina also sat for a number of paintings in which she was portrayed as someone other than herself. The two most famous are above, Dante Gabriel depicting her as the Virgin Mary.

… “Mary’s daisies”. They were everywhere around her grandparents’ cottage, across its lawns and creeping through its pathways, opening to the sun, closing to the rain. Mama had shown her how to weave them together in chains for her wrists, hair, or around her neck, Gabriel promising to paint a portrait of her “adorned with them.”

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

She also modelled for Pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt, her head an inspiration for Jesus’, although another model, her eventual sister-on-law, Elizabeth Siddal, supplied the copper-colored locks.

From The Light of the World
by William Holman Hunt

And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

From In the Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti

During her first visit to Penkill Castle in South Ayrshire, Scotland, Christina sat for several murals William Bell Scott was painting on the walls of a newly built large spiral staircase. He posed her as Lady Jane, the heroine and distant love of King James I in The King’s Quaire, a Medieval poem and courtly romance.

From Illustration by DM Denton © Copyright 2022

    “… I’m under no illusions that is a likeness of me. An artist sees pieces of a model, not the whole. They use what they want to: the color of her hair and eyes, shape of her face, length of her neck. They maneuver her to find the necessary position of her head, droop of her shoulders or outstretch of her hand. They imagine what they want to, such as turning the discomfort even pain of staying in one position for so long into a pining for love.”

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Mural at Penkill Castle by William Bell Scott Christina posed for

Mural at Penkill Castle by William Bell Scott Christina posed for

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

The chalk portrait above, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, of Christina in her late forties, is one of my favorites. It evokes something of her truth for me, a woman more herself as she grew older, not merely pretty in features and form but beautiful in the thought in her eyes, the words on her lips, the breath from her nostrils, the dishevelment of her dreams, the light and the shadow of her.

I think it also appeals to me because, like Christina, I’m of English and Italian descent, and this drawing certainly brings out the latter in her, more evident as she aged.

Her sister Maria always had a dark complexion and plumpness to portray her plain and foreign.

Christina didn’t have her sister’s complaint. She grew paler and slimmer, her hair sleeker, her eyes more clearly blue, as English as she was anything.

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti ©2022 DM Denton

Of course, looks were and continued to be deceiving. Six days after Christina returned from her one trip to Italy, she wrote the following poem inspired by ‘a very agreeable, bright-natured, eminently Italian in manner and character’ woman she had been introduced to. Enrica Filopanti was obviously enjoyed and, perhaps, even envied a little, but only in a poem to be emulated.

Enrica
by Christina Rossetti

She came among us from the South
  And made the North her home awhile
  Our dimness brightened in her smile,
Our tongue grew sweeter in her mouth.

We chilled beside her liberal glow,
  She dwarfed us by her ampler scale,
   Her full-blown blossom made us pale,
She summer-like and we like snow.

We Englishwomen, trim, correct,
  All minted in the self-same mould,
  Warm-hearted but of semblance cold,
All-courteous out of self-respect.

She woman in her natural grace,
  Less trammelled she by lore of school,
  Courteous by nature not by rule,
Warm-hearted and of cordial face.

So for awhile she made her home
  Among us in the rigid North,
  She who from Italy came forth
And scaled the Alps and crossed the foam.

But if she found us like our sea,
  Of aspect colourless and chill,
  Rock-girt; like it she found us still
Deep at our deepest, strong and free.

From Illustration by DM Denton © Copyright 2022

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

On the Threshold.

Patiently watch this space for more news regarding

The Dove Upon Her Branch
A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by DM Denton

to be published by
​ All Things That Matter Press

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Illustration © Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

On the threshold of a test she might not pass, she opened the door of an area of the stable block converted into an artist’s studio. * 

Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loiter’d on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.

from The Bride Song by Christina Rossetti

Christina began to believe she would, within a few years, be part of the statistic of girls who never made it to womanhood. She worked herself into a panic writing poems, obsessing over her failings of temperament and heart, and not having enough time to prepare herself for eternity. She might have given a passing thought to what she would miss of marriage and motherhood or the regret or relief of neither being granted her. Ambition to display her cleverness worried her more, not because she might never have a chance to fulfill it, but that she wanted to. So many things needed correcting before she was short-lived. For instance, she liked to hear her verses praised, but should not seek congratulations. Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Did she think too much of herself? She wasn’t very tolerant of other people, too little time left to spend irritated or, worse, bored by them. And what about her resistance to what was required of her? She was far too rebellious, and when she was, or, at least, tried to be obedient, often was resentfully so.

*Excerpts from
The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
© Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti photographed by Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll

Christina Rossetti comes to us
​ as one of those splendid stars that are so far away
they are seen only at rare intervals.


Christina Rossetti focused her thought
on the beautiful object and at the best angle,
so the picture she brings us
is nobly ordered and richly suggestive.

from Christina Rossetti by Elbert Hubbard

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©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Summer Begins; A Novel is ‘Finished’

Summer by Christina Rossetti

Winter is cold-hearted,
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
Blown every way.
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin’s not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren’s a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing
Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side;

And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive

Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.

 

summer-solstice-resized

Copyright 2022 by DM Denton

 

My next novel The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti will soon be out of my hands and in my publisher’s queue!

Over five years in the researching and writing, this novel has been a tough journey, but a life changing one I’m so glad I somehow stayed on track with.
 
I came across this quote from an out of print book published by G.P.Putnam’s Sons in 1900. I wholeheartedly agree! (It gives a hint to the challenges I faced.)
 
“In the case of the Rossettis, the biography of any one individual may very well seem ‘only an episode in the epic of the family’ … “
~ from The Rossettis: Dante Gabriel and Christina by Elizabeth Luther Cary
 
 
800px-Kelmscott_Manor_News_from_Nowhere
 
 
Here is an excerpt from later in the novel when Christina and her mother spend a few weeks at Kelmscott Manor in Gloucester where Dante Gabriel Rossetti is staying much of the time while he is still co-lease holder with William Morris and others.
 

From The Dove Upon Her Branch, A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti

There was nothing to do in that pretty boat but slip through sparkling water and watch George live up to Gabriel’s praise that the young man “kept everything going”. Christina lost all sense of time, especially as it was a thief, and could finally enjoy going nowhere. Mr. Morris was right; Kelmscott was heaven on earth. It offered serenity, an oasis outside of the world, and immortality in the rhythms of its nature. It belonged to those who had eyes for its beauty and faith in its purpose. It required a willingness for transition. For Christina, it meant emerging from the self-absorption of severe sickness to enjoy simple pleasures again.

     She and her mother had been on many journeys together, but one to a remote corner of south-west Oxfordshire rivaled the significance of all, except Italy, which was as necessary but much less leisurely. They were as close as they had ever been, in spirit and heart and a small boat, their feet side-by-side in opposite directions, their silence filled with water lapping and the song of swallows bringing the summer and bringing the sun.        

     Eventually, the punt passed beyond a long stretch of willows weeping. Have you no purpose but to shadow me beside this rippled spring? George brought the ride to a stop where the riverbank met a meadow of hay-harvesters choreographed for toil, mostly women looking lovely in their plain cotton dresses and bonnets. Mama insisted George share in the basketed snack of buttered bread, strawberries, and cider. As was true for most of the outing, there was more observation than conversation, and it was well rewarded.

A singing lark rose toward the sky,
Circling he sang amain;
He sang, a speck scarce visible sky-high,
And then he sank again.

Copyright © 2022 by DM Denton

Vintage engraving of young women and a man punting on the river, 19th Century

Vintage engraving of women and a man punting on the river, 19th Century

 
 

Happy Summer Solstice
and 
Winter Solstice, for those in the southern hemisphere  

 

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Maiden May Revisited

My apologies for not posting for a while. I have been working furiously to finish my novel, five plus years in the making, about the poet Christina Rossetti (youngest sister of Pre-Raphaelite founder, painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti), The Dove Upon Her Branch. Within the week the 1st draft should be done! Then another month for me to self-edit it before I send it to the publisher of my previous three novels, All Things That Matter Press, in hopes they will accept it. After that, I look forward to some time to complete the cover art and interior illustrations.

Maiden May sat in her bower;
Her own face was like a flower
Of the prime,
Half in sunshine, half in shower,
In the year’s most tender time.

Her own thoughts in silent song
Musically flowed along,
Wise, unwise,
Wistful, wondering, weak or strong:
As brook shallows sink or rise.

From Maiden May by Christina Rossetti

(Marsh) Marigolds by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I’m acknowledging May Day in a less frolicsome manner than I have in the past, considering how the world continues to suffer evil and cowardice, but, also, is blessed with the beauty of spring that encourages generosity, open-hearted-and-mindedness, courage, and hope.

During her late twenties and thirties, Christina Rossetti volunteered at London’s Highgate Penitentiary for fallen girls and women. Besides supervising them and teaching Bible Studies, another of her responsibilities was to review letters the inmates wrote to family and friends before they were sent out, mainly to make sure they weren’t corresponding with anyone or in any way that had contributed to their fall in the past and might jeopardize their improvement for the future.

Detail from The Beloved by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For the last few years, she had regularly gone to north London and the St. Mary Magdalene home in a mansion at the top of Highgate Hill. Spacious and airy, run by strict rules but kind intentions, kept meticulously clean by volunteers and residents, it could have been a most pleasant place. At times it was, its girls and young women encouraged to embrace decency in their leisure as well as training and work. *

Their letters were mainly to mothers, sisters, aunties, and cousins, now and then to brothers and fathers, some who undoubtedly cared for their sisters and daughters, others who needed convincing, which irritated Christina. She suspected they were culpable for the very transgressions they hesitated to forgive. *

She sat by one of the open windows, the scents and sounds of May just beyond, no time like Spring when life’s alive in everything, a good time to be married, if ever there was for Gabriel and Lizzie. A ten-year engagement had hardly made a difference to him, while Lizzie’s heart and health had suffered for it. The twelfth of May, Gabriel’s birthday, was supposed to be the day he gave into the commitment his illusions longed for and his behavior sabotaged.

Christina only had one letter left to read. After so many with nothing to report, she was not prepared for it to be disturbing and not just because the Warden would have to insist on changes before it could be sent. That morning, May twenty-fourth, eighteen-sixty, just as Christina was leaving home for the Penitentiary, the post delivered news that Miss Siddall had finally become Mrs. Rossetti at Hastings’ St. Clement’s Church, Gabriel and his new wife to travel to Boulogne and Paris and stay in France for the entire summer.

The letter by Helena—not her real name but one she was given at the Reformatory—was brief, obviously in response to news of an approaching marriage. I hope my brother will be happy, but I also hope I never have to meet his wife. I don’t know why I have such a prejudice against her, I just do.

Christina wanted to confidentially speak to Helena, to share something of her own similar situation and feelings. Instead, she complied with the limitations of her position and gave the offending correspondence to Reverend Oliver. *

*Excerpts from The Dove Upon Her Branch © by DM Denton

Christina Rossetti, photograph by Charles Dodgson AKA Lewis Carol

There is but one May in the year,
And sometimes May is wet and cold;
There is but one May in the year
Before the year grows old.
Yet though it be the chilliest May,
With least of sun and most of showers,
Its wind and dew, its night and day,
Bring up the flowers.

by Christina Rossetti

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Come back, dear Liz

John Everett Millais
Ophelia (1851–52)
Model, Elizabeth Siddal

On February 11, 1862, the model, muse, and wife of Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Siddal, an artist and poet in her own right, died at the age of 32 from an overdose of laudanum the night before.

Regina Cordium
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1860 marriage portrait of Siddal

With Valentine’s Day nearly here, I’ve decided to mark this sad anniversary with a poem Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote years earlier, possibly in 1855, in a much lighter spirit than he doubtlessly had on those fateful, sad days in February 160 years ago.

It was posthumously published in Ruskin, Rossetti, and Pre-Raphaelitism by Dante Gabriel’s younger brother, William Michael Rossetti (London, George Allen 1899).

I do not know which year this belongs to. It speaks of Miss Siddal as being absent, but (seemingly) as if she could enter any moment. This would exclude from count the year 1856, when she was away in Nice. The verses are amusing, and though they were not suited for Collected Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, they may come here.
[William Michael Rossetti 1899]

YESTERDAY was St. Valentine.

Thought you at all, dear dove divine,

Upon the beard in sorry trim

And rueful countenance of him,

That Orson who’s your Valentine?

He daubed, you know, as usual.

The stick would slip, the brush would fall:

Yet daubed he till the lamplighter

Set those two seedy flames astir;

But growled all day at slow St. Paul.

The bore was heard ere noon; the dun

Was at the door by half—past one:

At least ’tis thought so, but the clock—

No Lizzy there to help its stroke—

Struck work before the day begun.

At length he saw St. Paul’s bright orb

Flash back—the serried tide absorb

That burning West which it sucked up,

Like wine poured in a water cup;—

And one more twilight toned his daub.

Some time over the fire he sat,

So lonely that he missed his cat;

Then wildly rushed to dine on tick,—

Nine minutes swearing for his stick,

And thirteen minutes for his hat.

And now another day is gone:

Once more that intellectual one

Desists from high—minded pursuits,

And hungry, staring at his boots,

Has not the strength to pull them on.

Come back, dear Liz, and looking wise

In that arm—chair which suits your size

Through some fresh drawing scrape a hole.

Your Valentine & Orson’s soul

Is sad for those two friendly eyes.

Here is an excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch, my upcoming novel portrait of the Victorian poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti, sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Christina did and didn’t want to meet Gabriel’s first true love “radiant with the tresses of Aurora”, his obsession with women’s hair often overlooking the unreliability of their virtue and intellect. Christina hoped Miss Siddall was a woman of moral repute, steady faith and, despite William’s assessment, interesting thoughts. She anticipated feeling dark and dumpy around her but was determined not to mind as long as Miss Siddall urged Gabriel into serious work and a settled life. Christina also expected to like her, not spontaneously or securely like with Amelia or Henrietta, but, protectively, forgivingly, sometimes resentfully.

     Years would go by before Christina and Miss Siddall met, despite Gabriel’s often expressed intention of introducing her to his mother and sisters. William explained it by Miss Siddall’s talent for coyly refusing invitations and avoiding introductions, disappearing at the announcement of an intrusion, or, if caught off-guard, escaping eye contact, a word, a nod, a smile at a kind greeting, even a compliment. That other William whose opinion Christina always welcomed confirmed Miss Siddall’s behavior with first-hand experience, when “in the romantic dusk of an apartment” he found Gabriel and a lady he didn’t know and could hardly see.

     “I waited for Gabriel to introduce her. He didn’t. She rose. I made a little bow. Without acknowledging my presence, let alone courtesy, she went into another room and never returned for the duration of my visit.”

     “How did you know who she was?”

     “I guessed. But, according to Gabriel’s silence, I might’ve imagined her. Later, William assured me I hadn’t.”

© 2022 DM Denton

Lizzie Siddal
at Chatham Place, Blackfriars London
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In the Artist’s Studio
by Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,

One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:

We found her hidden just behind those screens,

That mirror gave back all her loveliness.

A queen in opal or in ruby dress,

A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,

A saint, an angel — every canvas means

The same one meaning, neither more or less.

He feeds upon her face by day and night,

And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,

Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:

Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Photograph of Lizzie Siddal

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

And that which shall be was.

Christina Rossetti died December 29, 1894, from breast cancer, just three weeks after turning 64. My novel about her – The Dove Upon Her Branch – is nearing completion …

Remembering Christina through her words and mine.

Portrait of Christina Rossetti (1877), by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Passing and Glassing
by Christina Rossetti

All things that pass
    Are woman’s looking-glass;
They show her how her bloom must fade,
And she herself be laid
With withered roses in the shade;
  With withered roses and the fallen peach,
  Unlovely, out of reach
    Of summer joy that was.

    All things that pass
    Are woman’s tiring-glass;
The faded lavender is sweet,
Sweet the dead violet
Culled and laid by and cared for yet;
  The dried-up violets and dried lavender
  Still sweet, may comfort her,
    Nor need she cry Alas!

    All things that pass
    Are wisdom’s looking-glass;
Being full of hope and fear, and still
Brimful of good or ill,
According to our work and will;
  For there is nothing new beneath the sun;
  Our doings have been done,
    And that which shall be was.

Drawing of Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina knew how it felt to have her appearance altered, in an even harsher way than had happened to Fanny who would look out appealingly from more canvases yet. Mirrors would never again return loveliness to Christina.

     “I see no difference in you.” Charles was either lying, which up until then she hadn’t thought him capable of, or blinded by a devotion that perplexed but still pleased her.  

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

     At times, Christina felt frantic, the curtain closing too soon. She wouldn’t accept she was performing her final scene with so much left undone, unseen, unsaid, and, especially, unwritten, before her nursery rhymes were in print—in America, too—and she could surprise Charles with their dedication to his baby nephew. Having lived beyond her youth, survived the interruptions of love and other sicknesses, matured into measured accomplishment, and made it through the dark forest with a little income and integrity, growing old was an ending to look forward to.

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch
Copyright 2021 by DM Denton

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

‘Tis the Season (repost)

The snow has come early, silently covering leaves never raked but left to nourish or suffocate the ground on which the future stands.

Deeper and deeper, it’s all hidden for now.

This season for gathering is not crowded here in the quiet company of snow.

Looking back to the place called home, candles are lit to welcome without letting in. Although the passing of possibilities might, at least, enter dreams in the night.

Cardinal Painting Layered on Winter Scene Photo retouched resized

Photograph & Painting Copyrighted by DM Denton 2013

The light comes up and notices a Cardinal heart-red against the idea that winter is colorless – also challenged by berries clinging to the bareness of branches.

Copyright 2013 by DM Denton

Copyright 2013 by DM Denton

‘Tis the season for standing still. All growing needs a rest.

The rain is falling now, warm and then icy, washing away the cleanliness of snow, which is already missed. I hear it will return before too long.

Nature has decided some trees have stood long enough. They will be missed, but have been cleared away for a new outlook.

This is winter before it is Christmas. This is hope after it has given up.

Copyright Diane's Mom 2013

Copyright June M DiGiacomo (my mom) March 10, 1929 – October 14, 2021

Wishing all

a warm and wonderous

Winter Solstice and Holiday season

however you celebrate and enjoy!

Gifts for Readers from DM Denton

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

A Daughter’s Words

In November 2020, a friend of mine, Cherie Messore, currently Sr. Manager of Public Relations at Spectrum Health and Human Services located in Western New York, read the desperation in a question I had asked on my personal Facebook page.

It inspired her to write a post for the company’s blog:

November is National Family Caregiver Month

A former co-worker recently posted this on her social media:

Feeling trapped, caged. Is this a normal reaction to caregiving? (Asking for the friend I used to be to myself.)

She is the caregiver to her elderly mother who is bedridden, deprived of her sight, and suffers from a variety of maladies that also spur bouts of delirium. This breaks my heart. I remember both mother and daughter as vibrant, artistically talented women, who loved their life sharing a charming cabin in a rural community.

Illness and long life are taking their toll on the mother, and the dutiful daughter thrust into the role of caregiver is wrapped in the commitment – and guilt – inherent to this responsibility.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to reflect on and support the millions of family caregivers who give their love, their time, their patience, and their energy to caring for a family member in their homes.

Are you picturing a soft-focused, gentle picture, of caregiver and patient smiling over the Scrabble board as they strengthen their bonds of love and togetherness? It’s rarely like that.

Read the rest of Cherie’s article HERE.

Hearing that my mother had recently passed, Cherie invited me to write a postscript to her original piece for the Spectrum Health and Human Services’ blog. It’s early days, my reflections still confused and raw, but I agreed, struggled, thought I might give up, but did somehow manage it.

Cherie has kindly let me post the result here on my blog, too.

A Daughter’s Words

The caregiving journey I embarked on without knowing where I was going, recently, finally, and suddenly, reached its destination.

My mother died this past October, at the age of 92. We had lived together for 31 ½ years since she had given me a home after the breakup of my marriage. We shared a house and so much more, not always harmoniously, but never without forgiveness and friendship, because we realized the refuge we had in each other.

Hoping she would live a long life, it was always my intention to be my mom’s caregiver, a natural reciprocation of all she had done for me. That objective wasn’t much of a sacrifice while she could still be left alone, walk, read, and write out her favorite quotes, draw and paint, sing, play cards, make chicken soup, feed the kitties and watch their TV—the birds outside on the feeders—as happily as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy on our Samsung 16” screen. Even when she had to use a cane, then a walker, eventually a wheelchair, was incontinent and needed help showering, she was unchanged in her mind and heart. She continued to enjoy talking about her past, politics, nature, and old-time movie stars, with an appetite for good food and the flavors of life in general.

When the spells of delirium began, my mom’s limitations increased and so did the restrictions on my life. In the last few years, she became bedridden and blind. The delirium accused me of awful things and sometimes pulled me into its insanity. When she wasn’t delusional, she was more demanding than companionable, unrecognizable from the woman who was so enduring, a widow for 35 years, the mother I admired, the friend I always counted on.

Sometimes I would think, you’ll regret being angry with her, saying what you did, and taking time for yourself while it was running out with her.

The journey was a long one, especially as it went through a succession of dark tunnels, misunderstanding, resentment, and exhaustion traveling with us. There were too many times I wanted to pull the alarm so it would stop, no matter a desperate, screeching stop as long as I could get off. I also knew I couldn’t do that and on and on we went, as it felt, further and further from any chance of reviving the unconditional love between us.

Then the journey took a turn. It happened in the early hours of a Sunday morning while I was sleeping, so I didn’t realize until I woke my mom and she could hardly swallow or speak. She had lost so much along the way, but the ability to express herself verbally was the worst. Once, trying to say something to me that I just couldn’t understand, she wept more intensely than I had seen her do over any of her other disabilities.

When the end came, despite deep sadness, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, all those tunnels. For my mom it was the light of her spirit lifting out of her useless body to begin a journey I could not, did not want to, make yet.

For me, what was illuminated was my life as I had to go on with it, switching back to the platform of myself, the profound gift that, through the best and the worst, my mother had given me.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

~ Nelson Mandela from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom

Painting by June M. DiGiacomo

My Mom, June Marilyn DiGiacomo

March 10, 1929 – October 14, 2021

It has been a while since I posted. I am here again after the loss of my mother last Thursday afternoon, October 14th. She was 92 and passed peacefully in the home I shared with her for the past 31 years. After being her sole caretaker for many years, the last two plus with her bedbound and blind, a slight stroke took what strength she had left. It was just me and our five beloved kitties with her, an intimate and very private experience witnessing her last moments in a body that age had robbed of its vitality, and the freeing of her spirit that was still a beautiful, smiling young girl.

Once upon a time

I planned to be an artist

or celebrity.

A song I thought to write one day

and all the world with homage pay.

I longed to write a noble book,

but what I did–

was learn to cook.

For life with simple tasks is filled,

and I have done not what

I willed!

June M DiGiacomo

(From the last page of a journal of hers that I found)

Those who knew her at any point, will remember June’s “Mona Lisa smile”, sparkling hazel-blue eyes, and infectious engagement in a life to be celebrated rather than grieved over. 

If you would like to know a little more about her (including her connection to Ernest Hemmingway), I have written her obituary and you can read it here.

Otherwise, at this time, as I slowly adjust to my life without her, I will let a poem I wrote many years ago and a few of her paintings remember her.

Copyright © JM DiGiacomo

The secrets of your heart
are stacked against the wall,
canvases for your art
of hiding what you missed.
No mistaking your style,
a freedom out of hand
that kept you all the while
believing as you wished.
A world that long was yours
before it was revealed—
imagination soars
with courage its master.
Flowers filling a place
left bereft of your own,
a portrait in a vase
found by me, your daughter.
Landscapes take you afar,
cats and soup bring you home
to settle for who you are:
the author of this poem.
~ DM Denton

Copyright © JM DiGiacomo

Donations in her memory may be made to one or the other or both of the following animal rescue organizations: 

Second Chance Sheltering Network: Click on “Donate” in the upper right-hand corner. On second payment screen, please click “Write a note” to indicate that your donation is in memory of June M. DiGiacomo. 

Wyoming County SPCA: Click “Donate”. Click on “Memorial Donation”.  Click on “Memorial”, “In Loving Memory” to June M. DiGiacomo, “Human”. Please fill in “Send notification of donation to” with bardess@earthlink.net. 

Copyright © JM DiGiacomo

A Queen, a Nameless Girl, a Saint, an Angel

Elizabeth Siddall
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today I share another excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, The Dove Upon Her Branch to mark the birthday – July 25, 1829 – of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddall, muse and wife of Christina’s brother and Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Elizabeth Siddall
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

We found her hidden just behind those screens, that mirror gave back all her loveliness.*

     Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Thick, mahogany hair was loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck, her chin stretched forward. Her waist, like most of the wicker chair she perched on, was lost in the bunching of her skirt, but even with her torso swallowed in billowing fabric and her shoulders slumped, there was no doubt she was tall.

         A queen in opal or in ruby dress, a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, a saint, an angel — every canvas means the same one meaning, neither more or less.*

     Christina saw what Gabriel did. Although simply, somberly gowned in cotton and shawled in wool, this woman was fascinating, not as she was but meant to be.

     As Christina entered fully into her view, Miss Siddall stood and took a few sliding steps, her grey-blue eyes heavy-lidded, kind, and evasive. The hand she extended was warm in intention but cold in its flesh.

     Oh, she is not well. I must be kind to her. I must … not jump to conclusions about her. I must … not mind Gabe loving her.

     “Well, what do you think, Chrissy?” Gabriel blurted, immediately clarifying his question. “Of the Blackfriars crib? The way the rooms are built out over the river, windows on all sides, there’s plenty of light and from the balcony a magnificent view of the Tower, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.”

     “If only there wasn’t such a stink from the river.”

     “I hardly notice anymore. During the day it’s busy and interesting. At night there’s the shimmering reflection of gas lamps on the bridge and wharf side.”

     “He notices. In words I won’t repeat.” William stood before an easel-supported canvas. “You’ve made good progress.”

     “Which one is it?” Christina moved to have a look. “Oh, a watercolor,” she tried not to sound disappointed.

     “Beatrice Meets Dante at a Marriage Feast.” William glanced between his brother and Miss Siddall.

     “And denies him her salutation,” Gabriel added, not brave enough to look at his “Sid” sitting and slumping again.

     William leaned into the painting to examine it more closely. “He’s captured you for eternity, Lizzie.”

     “Sitting for him certainly can seem an eternity.” Christina thought she saw Miss Siddall struggle not to smile.

     “You didn’t refuse, even though Mama said you could.” Gabriel knew he was right. “I remember you begging to pose again.”

     Christina did, too. “Well, your memory fails you. But one thing doesn’t.” She stepped back from the painting, looking around at all other evidence of her brother’s current obsession. “Having your muse constantly close.”

     “I don’t live here,” Lizzie finally spoke, softly but emphatically.

Copyright © 2021 by DM Dentom

*From the poem In the Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddall Sketching Dante Gabriel Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In an Artist’s Studio

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.