Discuss “The Blessed Damozel” as a Pre-Raphaelite poem
D. G. Rossetti was the leader of both the Pre-Raphaelite painters and poets. Art was his only passion, and he devoted himself to the pursuit of art exclusively. He was attracted by the decorative workmanship in medieval art and architecture. He had great artistic gifts; his poetry is richly colored; his verse is curiously and skillfully wrought. His poetic world lies beyond the limits of our ordinary experience, a shadowy world ruled by mystery, wonder, beauty, and love. He, like Keats, worshipped beauty above everything else and dwells chiefly upon the beauty of the female form. His poems are full of sensuous pictures of female beauty, and that is why he was criticized as a “fleshy” poet, but he is not sensual; he is sensuous. He combines physical beauty with spiritual beauty, which is reflected in his “The Blessed Damozel”.
Pre-Raphaelite poetry is the poetic movement that was an idealistic reaction against didacticism, moral fervor, and teachings. The poets of this movement did not regard poetry as the vehicle of a social, political, and moral problem. They aimed at the perfect form and finish. They were all artists. “Art, says Legouis, was their religion”. They were the votaries of art for art’s sake, Love of beauty was their creed. They idealized and glorified beauty. They sought to escape the darkness and ugliness of contemporary society. The ultimate appeal of Pre Raphaelite poetry is aesthetic.
Aesthetic beauty and pleasure characterize Rossetti’s poetry. His poetry is a creation of art. His “The Blessed Damozel” is a poem of beauty and supreme artistic excellence. The dominant qualities of Pre-Raphaelite poetry are marked in it. It has every quality of mystically religious creation. It is a triumphant attempt to figure forth the indescribable and transmit a vision of the beyond. It is a piece of artistic workmanship and remains a supreme achievement. It can rightly be called a specimen of Pre-Raphaelite poetry. It is mystical; it contains a wealth of earthly color, exact details, tangible beauty, and imaginative realism.
The Blessed Damozel herself who is strictly a disembodied spirit, having no material form is conceived as “the most fleshy being ever transported into heaven. It is a spiritual body that the poet conceives, a being under different conditions than ours but still a being with fleshly desires” (Huge Walker). She is painted with a wealth of concrete and minute details. She has three lilies in her hand and seven stars in her hair. In Christian art, lily is an emblem of chastity, innocence and purity. Hence three lilies in her hand are meant to suggest these virtues. Stars are the symbols of love. Seven stars in her hair suggest the deep love that glows within he always. Rossetti is an artist. To him, all things appear visually and in the concrete. He not only suggests but presents objects to the senses.
Rossetti delineates the Damozel’s hair as yellow like ripe corn; her robe is adorned with a white rose; her eyes are deeper than the depth of water still at seven. She is waiting for her lover on earth. She loved him but is seperated from him because of death. She watches every new soul that comes to heaven, hoping that it may be the soul of her lover. The poem is wonderful in its sweetness of simple pathos, and in a peculiar indescribable quaintness which is not of the nineteenth century at all. It is of the middle ages, the Italian Middle Ages before the time of Raphael.
The heaven painted here is not the heaven of modern Christianity. It is the heaven of Dante, a heaven almost as sharply defined as if it were on earth. It is painted here, as if it were a medieval castle, perched on a dizzy height, with a rampart having golden railings, with bowers and walls, the mystic tree of life and the occult shrine where heavenly choirs sing hymns in service, burning incense,etc. The colourful faith of the middle ages is thus recreated with sensuous details with deep human interest. The Pre-Raphaclite poetry is marked by sensuousness. Rossetti’s poetry is sensuous and passionate. The sensuousness of the poet’s presentation goes so far as to suggest the Damozel’s lover below that golden bar of heaven on which she leans long has become warm in contact. of her bossom. In the poet’s conception the Damozel retains her body in heaven. There is something divinely sensuous in Rossetti’s most spiritual conceptions. The poet speaks of prayer melting in heaven like clouds and the souls of the dead mounting up to God like flames. The sensuous features of the Pre-Raphelite poetry has led Buchanan to criticize it as “the fleshy school of poetry”
Rossetti’s poctic world as shown in “The Blessed Damozel” is a rare world of mystery, wonder and beauty. It is far removed from the hectic world of sordidness. It is a shadowy world lit by light other than the light of common day. In it we get the glimpses and flashes of that unearthly spirit which haunts Coleridge’s “The Ancient Mariner”, and that magical touch which is the crowning glory of Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”.
Pictorial paintings constitute one of the special charms of the Pre-Raphaelite poetry, and Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” is rich in pictorial suggestiveness. He revels in colours, and his outlook on life is that of a painter. He thinks and feels in pigments. Only a painter of the first water could have given us lines like these from “the Blessed Damozel”.
“The Blessed Damozel leaned out
From the golden bar of Heaven,
And souls mounting up to God
Went by her like thin flames. “
The Blessed Damozel” is remarkable for its pictorialism. There is a peculiar blend of the sensuous and the spiritual, which is the predominant quality of the poem. The life painted here is at once spiritual and sensuous. Though the charge of voluptuousness is brought against the poem, the poem has immense aesthetic appeal, stimulated by the great pictorial quality.