Tuesday, March 8, 2011
A Rose in the Water
The boatman poles on, oblivious
even to the chilled pale loveliness
before him, oblivious to all
except grief, a grief
with each stroke, each thrust,
each sound pushing into
the shallowness of silence.
A small jarring; the boat
shudders in slight movement,
a barely felt motion of death
as a soul wings free.
A rose falls from its wreath,
its promise of beauty unfulfilled,
its heavenly scent submerged,
its promise of life drowned
by true devotion unreturned.
The boatman poles on, oblivious.
Painting: Elaine (1874) by Toby Edward Rosenthal; Art Institute of Chicago.
This poem started with a simple glance at a short news brief in the Art Institute of Chicago’s magazine – a regular feature on a work “from the collection.” The painting was created in 1874 by Toby Edward Rosenthal; it depicts the body of Elaine of Astalot being taken to Camelot, as described by Alfred Lord Tennyson in Idylls of the King. She had died of a broken heart, her love for Sir Lancelot unrequited. Something about the work moved me so much that I went searching and found my copy of Idylls on a bookshelf in my basement and read that section of the epic, entitled “Elaine and Lancelot."
Following exhibits in Berlin (the American artist lived in Munich) and Boston, the painting created something of a national frenzy by the time it was displayed in a San Francisco art gallery for 12 days in 1875. More than a thousand a people a day lined up to pay 25 cents to see the painting. According to research by the Art Institute, Elaine clubs sprang up, an Elaine waltz was written and even an Elaine cigar was manufactured and sold. Something about the painting struck some kind of chord in the American psyche. The painting was also shown at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. It was given to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1917 by Mrs. Maurice Rosenfeld, the year that the artist died in Munich.
Inspired by the story of Elaine and Lancelot, the American composer Edward McDowell created this symphonic poem, "Lancelot and Elaine, Op 25" in 1886:
This poem is submitted to One Shot Wednesday sponsored by One Stop Poetry. to see other poems, please visit the site. the links will be live at 4 p.m. Central time today.