Today’s Her Natal Day

Today, March 10, 2020, is my mother’s 91st birthday!

My mom June at nineteen

 

It has been a tough week and a half, as we lost my brother Tom –  my mom’s only son, my only sibling – February 28th, but trying to make her birthday as nice as possible.

Here is an excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poetess, Christina Rossetti: The Dove Upon Her Branch.  Christina was extremely close to her mother, whom she lived with virtually all her life until her mother died at the age of 85. (One of the first poems Christina wrote was at the age of eleven to mark her mother’s birthday)

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

“Today’s your natal day, sweet flowers I bring …”

Christina would never deny her mother’s opinion was the one that haunted and pleased her most. Even as a willful child, getting her way wasn’t as gratifying as hearing her mother say, “Good girl”, and, even better, seeing the light of approval in her eyes. They were glowing and moist as Christina held out a forget-me-not posy and began reciting her first poem—well, the first she admitted to.

“Mother accept I pray, my offering …”

“Of course, my darling.” The flowers were in her mother’s hands. “Go on. I know the best is yet to come.”

How did she? Christina wondered if Gabriel had given the surprise away as he had threatened, not only that there was a poem but, also, the very words that comprised it. She went on anyway. “And may you happy live, and long us to bless …”

The flowers were in her mother’s lap as she pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve.

“Receiving as you give,” Christina’s own eyes teared up, as it happened and she remembered, “great happiness.”

Hopefully, her mother wiped hers for the best of reasons, Christina then as now needing her poetry to find its brightest point in Francis Polidori Rossetti’s appreciation of it.

“And the rhymes all your own. I heard you wouldn’t have any help with them.”

Christina turned her suspicion to William for spoiling the unexpectedness of her birthday gift to her mother. “Of course.”

“You don’t need to stamp your foot.”

“I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Instead, let poetry express your mood.”

Copyright © 2020 by DM Denton

Copyright © by June M DiGiacomo (from a card my mom painted for my birthday some years ago)

To My Mother
by Christina Rossetti, 1830 – 1894

To-day’s your natal day;
   Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
   My offering.

And may you happy live,
   And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
   Great happiness.

Copyright © by June M 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 © by June M DiGiacomo

©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 Valentine for Anne

Before she closed her eyes on that day she would be tempted to hold and look at one of her most treasured possessions: a Valentine, a pretty thing of lace paper, satin ribbon, & embossed flowers with a little bird in an egg-filled nest, Anne, dear, sweet, Anne quickly written but not yet slowly spoken.

It was unto her spirit given.

~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

 

In February 1840, a young man walked ten miles from Haworth to Bradford, West Yorkshire in order to anonymously post Valentines to four young women who he expected would be charmed by them. The flirtatious fellow was William Weightman, curate to Reverend Patrick Brontë.

 

Was William being capricious or compassionate or, perhaps, a bit of both? Sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne and their dear friend Ellen had never received a Valentine before. They may have been fooled by the sender’s motivation, but not by his identity. Charlotte probably told herself to view her Valentine cynically. Emily likely looked hers over quickly and put it aside. Possibly, Ellen enjoyed hers for vanity’s sake.

Anne might have hoped for a deeper meaning in hers, that sending four was William being discreet and inclusive, which, of course, her shy and generous nature would appreciate.

William wrote different verses in each. Well, three are known. The receiver of Fair Ellen, Fair Ellen is obvious. Away fond love and Soul divine could have been inscribed – to tease rather than ensnare – any of the Brontë sisters.

And that fourth Valentine? I like to think it was the most special, because it was …

 

Was William Weightman the love of Anne’s life? Who better than Anne herself to answer … in the way that beautiful poetry tells without saying.

That voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Creating feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.

That laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less; —
And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.
from Farewell by Anne Brontë

 

What had been hope at first sight, a stir of her heart, amiable reserve, foolish diffidence, a February keepsake, time standing still and looking forward with a gentle exchange of words and glances in a trusted parting, was, in a moment … all that was left of William, her William, never hers except as she imagined, always hers as she would forever know him.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine & Subtle Spirit

Farther on My Road Today, Farther on My Way

’Today is still the same as yesterday.’ Illustration by Florence Harrison (1877–1955) for ‘Poems by Christina Rossetti’

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Christina Rossetti: Celebrating Her Natal Day

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:

“A Vision of Fiammetta (detail)” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In April 1842, the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, at the age of eleven, penned those opening lines to a poem actually written for her mother’s birthday.

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

 

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel and today is the 189th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830. It is an immense undertaking, satisfying, if very challenging, writing about her. Especially as I am very much occupied and often exhausted by the care of my elderly mom these days. (Hence my infrequency posting lately)

She was part of a remarkable family of English-Italian scholars, artists, and poets, her older brother being Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. You can read a brief bio I did of her for The Literary Ladies Guide.

I’m going to share a different excerpt than I did last year when I originally created this post. This one depicts Christina and her mother posing for Dante Gabriel’s first completed oil painting: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin 1849 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On the second visit, a few days later, Christina didn’t notice the shadiness and shabbiness of the location and look of Gabriel’s lodging and studio, her mother’s hand holding hers rather than the other way around. Her ascent into a holy scene, where she would inspire the painting of purity, felt like the best thing she had ever done. The light from the east—why Gabriel wanted them there early in the morning—miraculously broke through the rain and fog intent on spoiling that October. This time everything was ready for Christina to pose at the needlework frame Gabriel had convinced Aunt Eliza to part with for a few days, which he counted over a few weeks. No sooner Christina had, as she thought, perfected her leaning, her brother decided he wanted his Mary to sit upright, “in duty circumspect”, to the attention of her actual and acting mother, who was stiffly seated adjacent to her.

Gabriel came over and delicately adjusted their hand positions to be close but not touching. “There must be no doubt you are pious, humble, devoted to, and, yet, distinct from each other.”

“There won’t be, son, if you portray us as we are.”

He had requested his sister wear a modest dress, no bright colors, not black or grey, and with very little lace or other adornment. Christina had one she thought would do: beige, like the beach where she had last worn it, the summer sun had faded it, and splashing algae had stained its hem, its removable collar no longer crisp or undoubtedly white. He loosened her hair and, after putting the pins in his pocket, pushed it behind her shoulders “so it might seem longer than it was”. Fiddling with the folds of her skirt, he ordered her not to move from “how he sculpted” her, asking the same of their mother whose favorite shawl functioned as a wimple, while a large, musty blanket, definitely not favored by her, served as a mantle.

“Don’t close your eyes, Mama,” Gabriel gave yet another command.

“I thought it might be appropriate to pray.”

“Not in the Art Catholic’s church.”

“May we blink?” Christina hoped she might ease the seriousness that overcame Gabriel once he was behind his easel. His refusal to humor her made her say rather harshly, “May we even breathe?”

He grunted and, when he dropped his brush, swore.

“At least, until he makes you immortal,” quipped Mr. Hunt from his own creative corner of the League of Sincerity.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti from a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

Sing, that in thy song I may
Dream myself once more a child

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell

 

Happy Birthday, 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.

You Moved Through the Fair

It is hard to believe it has been seven years since the passing of Owain on September 5, 2012. Of course, he breathes still through his music and magical memories.

Please click through below to the original post to listen and watch him perform one of my favorites: If I Were a BlackBird.

bardessdmdenton - author- artist

Copyright 2012 by DM Denton

There was music on your breath
made softer
but not stilled by death;
the bright greeting of your eyes
lost, but for
reminiscing sighs;
the quick smile that found each one,
a star with
the warmth of the sun;
a playfulness in your hands
extending
songs from foreign lands.

You moved many through the fairs
and left them
mourning you in prayers;
those times past and present too,
with all your
audience to woo;
mine a quiet memory
not to let
fade and thus bury—
when neither too sweetly soon
nor too late
you sang for the moon.

The sketch is of Owain Phyfe, a loved if often distant friend, who was a vocalist, instrumentalist, and founder of Nightwatch Recording which concentrated on Renaissance and Medieval music. He died from pancreatic cancer on September 5, at the age of 63, after only being diagnosed in July. I did the drawing many…

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For Emily Brontë’s 201st Birthday: Something Besides Her Own Fortitude and Segregation

Today, July 30, 2019, marks the 201st anniversary of the birth of Emily Brontë. Last year’s bicentennial was, of course, awash in commemorations and celebrations at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire and elsewhere, including all over the internet. But, as I’m sure many others feel, Emily’s natal day should always be marked with enthusiasm and gratefulness, for it gave us one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.

Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”

This closeness became more and more palpable as I progressed along the path of research and writing Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Emily was as essential to Anne as Anne was to Emily, whether she and Anne were together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or physically apart like when Emily was at school in Brussels or Anne was working as a governess. They invigorated each other’s imagination, offered a sense of belonging, and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The ethereal essence of their connection was enough to overcome their growing apart when it came to the fantasy writing that had bonded them as children and adolescents.

Emily never stopped being an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her youngest sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly.

O come with me, thus ran the song,
The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky,
And thou hast toiled and laboured long
With aching head and weary eye.

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

Anne’s influence on Emily was less obvious, easier to view Emily as more akin to nature and mystery than real people, floating untethered in her own self-created, solitary, independent, irreligious orbit. For me, all of that remains true while, at the same time, I feel Emily was deeply attached to Anne: that she admired her level-headedness and faith-filled, forgiving, moralistic, yielding yet strong nature, and valued her opinion, especially creatively.

Anne was a safe haven where Emily could rely on something besides her own fortitude and segregation. Anne was someone who understood her and had no wish to change her.

There was profound understanding and acceptance, truth and endurance in the love each had for the other.

 

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by resuming their habit of wandering west to meet only earth and sky. Their dogs, like themselves, with contrasting physiques and personalities, were intrinsically similar, especially in their need to frequently escape the stuffiness and limited amusement of being indoors.

“Flossy, come back,” Anne tried to command the impulsive spaniel off once more to chase sheep.

Emily had no trouble getting Keeper to lie down with a firm annunciation of his name while she pointed to the ground, although his whimpering implied he was still thinking about following Flossy’s example.

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

“If you control your little Robinsons like you do that sassy mutt, I fear they won’t live long.”

As if it heard Emily’s prediction, a large ewe turned on Flossy, which brought the dog running back up the steep slope to his forgiving mistress.

On second thought, Anne tried to be tougher with a disciplinary tap on Flossy’s nose, then embraced him again. “Good boy.”

“Methinks he’s exactly what you always wanted … to be.” Emily was walking again, her direction declaring her destination. Their ascent to Top Withens would be delayed an hour or more, if Emily’s mood was more for reclining and swirling her hand in the water to stir up tadpoles.

When Ellen Nussey was with them, from crossing the slabbed bridge over Sladen Beck to climbing a rugged bank, navigating greasy stones and not minding a little dampening, there was always an echo of “watch your step”. With just Anne and the dogs following her lead, Emily didn’t have anything to say until they were at the best seat in view of the waterfall.

“No, you take it, Annie. I relinquish my throne to you.”

“Any of the other stones would do for me.”

“I insist on taking care of you.”

Anne didn’t mind Emily acting more like an older brother than Branwell ever did, or even a gallant lover, reminiscent of childish acting-out. In truth, she depended on it. In that small oasis of time, standing still where they were hidden from the world, their faithful companions conspiring to find something to occupy themselves, there was so much to enjoy and be grateful for. The sky was open in sight of heaven, high ground around and beyond them, the sun warming and a breeze cooling, the sound of water calming, and faintly fragrant moss glistening on the rocks with tiny white stars appearing between some of them.

Yet, more as if she was on a stormy ocean than in a quiet cove, panic overwhelmed Anne until she could hardly breathe.

Emily lightly rubbed Anne’s back and twisted up a strand of her hair loosened from its simple arrangement.

Anne cleared her throat, choking, Flossy pawing at her knees, Keeper barking.

“Go ahead and spit.” Emily helped her sister lean over to do so. “Other than me, there’s only the dogs, flies, tadpoles and, perhaps, God to witness it.”

Anne laughed and spoke hoarsely, “What would I do without you?”

“Better than I have done without you.”

From Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

 

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

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Summer Days and Nights

Summer Days and Nights

Summer by Christina Rossetti

Copyright DM Denton

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,

Copyright DM Denton

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,

Copyright DM Denton

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.

Copyright DM Denton

 

 

 

 

Christina Rossetti, Victorian poetess, sister of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti, and the subject of my current work-in-progress novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch, grew up and resided most of her life in London. Her visits into the country were as angels’ visits, ‘few and far between’, but when there, how much she noted of flower and tree, bird and beast*. It wasn’t the wide vistas that drew her attention, but, as the poem above sublimely illustrates, she had a distinct awareness and appreciation of the ‘little things’ in the natural world.

Copyright DM Denton

As a child, up until the age of nine, her grandfather Polidori’s home in Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire, was her escape from urban life.

Later in her life, Christina wrote:
If one thing schooled me in the direction of poetry it was perhaps the delightful liberty to prowl all alone about my grandfather’s cottage grounds some thirty miles from London, entailing in my childhood a long stage-coach journey. The grounds were quite small, and on the simplest scale, but to me they were vast, varied, and well worth exploring.

*Quote in my research notes, but I couldn’t find the source in time for making this post.

 

From the 1st draft of The Dove Upon Her Branch:

Holmer Green was where Christina first studied a rosebud slowly swelling with dew. In sunshine and rain, she waited with patience no one thought she had, to see it become a perfect flower and then to wither. Even as young as six or seven, whether by being willful and wily, the negligence of Maria, Gabriel, or William distracted by their own inclinations, or her grandfather falling asleep in the rocking chair he was so proud of making, she took advantage of a chance—so rare in London crowded with siblings and strangers and confined by walls and human wilderness—to be on her own. As far as she was concerned, such liberty only put her in danger of discovering what might be missed if she followed rather than explored, especially the smallest things that were more precious for often being overlooked. Beetles, caterpillars, snails, and worms were often in her hands, gently examined and eventually returned to the grass, branch, or leaf she had lifted each from. William told her spiders were fragile and could perish with the gentlest touch, so she merely watched them dangle, move up and down by a thread, or weave their magic that sparkled, swayed, and survived beyond belief. When an impulsive poke caused a frog to cover his head with his feet, she tried a soft stroke, which persuaded it to show her its eyes.
Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Copyright DM Denton

The summer nights are short 
Where northern days are long: 
For hours and hours lark after lark 
Trills out his song. 
The summer days are short 
Where southern nights are long: 
Yet short the night when nightingales 
Trill out their song. 

Christina Georgina Rossetti

Wishing everyone a safe, serene,
and very special summer!

 

donatellawquillunshaded©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.