Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 9, Christina Rosetti’s “In an Artist’s Studio”

Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” Anne Sexton on Van Gogh and Karl Shapiro on Alexander Calder: the tradition of poets writing on great works of art and considering their creators is taken up in a new Pocket Poets edition entitled Art and Artists, edited by Emily Fragos. One of the pleasures of the collection, beyond the sheer variety of ekphrastic poems on offer, is the discovery of the human story behind the making of a painting or poem, as in Christina Rossetti’s sonnet below.

In an Artist’s Studio

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 nor 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.

Cavafy audio bonus today: click to hear Jane Hirshfield read Cavafy’s poem “The Horses of Achilles.”

Learn more about Name’s Art and Artists and browse other titles from Everyman’s Library.

Excerpt from ART AND ARTISTS. Copyright © 2012 by Everyman’s Library. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.

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