Landon in The Literary Gazette 1823/Painter

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For other versions of this work, see The Painter (L. E. L.).
For works with similar titles, see The Painter.
For works with similar titles, see Poetic Sketches (L. E. L.).

Literary Gazette 15th November 1823, Page 730-731


ORIGINAL POETRY.
POETIC SKETCHES.
Fourth Series.


SKETCH I. THE PAINTER.[1]

       I know not which is the most fatal gift,
        Genius or Love, for both alike are ruled
        By stars of bright aspect and evil influence.

He was a lonely and neglected child:
His cheek was colourless, save when the flush
Of strong emotion mastered its still whiteness;
His dark eyes seemed all heaviness and gloom,
So rarely were they raised. His mother's love
Was for her other children: they were fair,
And had health's morning hues and sunny looks.
She had not seen him, when he watched the sun
Setting at eve, like an idolater,
Until his cheek grew crimson in the light
Of the all-radiant heavens, and his eyes

Were passionately eloquent, all filled
With earth's most glorious feelings. And his father,
A warrior and a hunter, one whose grasp
Was ever on the bridle or the brand,
Had no pride in a boy whose joy it was
To sit for hours by a fountain's side
Listening its low and melancholy song;
Or wander through the gardens silently,
As if with leaves and flowers alone he held
Aught of companionship. In his first years
They sent him to a convent, for they said
Its solitude would suit with Guido's mood.
And there he dwelt, while treasuring those rich thoughts
That are the food on which young genius lives.
He rose to watch the sunlight over Rome
Break from its purple shadows, making glad
Even that desolate city, whose dim towers,
Ruins, and palaces, seem as they looked
Back on departed time; then in the gloom
Of his own convent's silent burying ground,
Where, o'er the quiet dead, the cypresses mourned,
He pass'd the noon, dreaming those dear day dreams,
Not so much hopes as fancies; then at eve,
When through the painted windows the red sun
Rainbowed the marble floor with radiant hues,
Where spread the ancient church's stately arch,
He stayed, till the deep music of the hymn,
Chanted to the rich organ's rolling notes,
Bade farewell to the day; then to his cell
He went, and through the casement's iron bars
The moon looked on him, beautiful[2] as love,
Lighting his slumber. On the church's wall
There hung one lovely portrait, and for hours
Would Guido, in the fulness of his heart,
Kneel, watching, till he wept. The subject was
A dying Magdalene: her long black hair
Spread round her like a shroud, one pale thin hand
Pillowed a cheek as thin and pale, and scarce
The blue light of the eyes was visible
For the death dampness on the darkened lids,
As one more effort to look on the cross,
Which seemed just falling from the fainting arm,
And they would close for ever. In that look
There was a painter's immortality,

And Guido felt it deeply, for a gift
Like his whose work that was, was given him,—
A gift of beauty and of power,—and soon
He lived but in the exquisite creations
His pencil called to life. But as his thoughts
Took wider range, he languished to behold
More of a world he thought must be so fair,
So filled with glorious shapes. It chanced that he
Whose hand had traced that pale sad loveliness,
Came to the convent; with rejoicing wonder
He marked how like an unknown mine, whose gold
Gathers in silence, had young Guido's mind
Increased in lonely richness; every day
New veins of splendid thought sprang into life.
And Guido left his convent cell with one
Who, like a geni, bore him into scenes
Of marvel and enchantment. And then first
Did Guido feel how very precious praise
Is to young genius, like sunlight on flowers,
Ripening them into fruit. And time pass'd on;—
The lonely and neglected child became
One whom all Rome was proud of, for she gave
At once birth to his fame and to himself.[3]
    There was a melancholy beauty shed
Over his pictures, as the element
In which his genius lived was sorrow. Love
He made most lovely, but yet ever sad;
Passionate partings, such as wring the heart
Till tears are life-blood; meetings, when the cheek
Has lost all hope of health in the long parting;
The grave, with one mourning in solitude:
These made his fame, and were his excellence,—
The painter of deep tears. He had just gained
The summer of his glory and of his days,
When his remembering art was called to give

A longer memory to one whose life
Was but a thread. Her history may be told
In one word—love. And what has love e'er been
But misery to woman? Still she wished—
It was a dying fancy which betrayed
How much, though known how false its god had been,
Her soul clung to its old idolatry,—
To send her pictured semblance to the false one.
She hoped—how love will hope!—it might recall
The young and lovely girl his cruelty
Had worn to this dim shadow; it might wake
Those thousand fond and kind remembrances
Which he had utterly abandoned, while
The true heart he had treasured next his own
A little time, had never ceased to beat
For only him, until it broke. She leant
Beside a casement when first Guido looked
Upon her wasted beauty. 'T was the brow,
The Grecian outline in its perfect grace,
That he had learnt to worship in his youth,
By gazing on that Magdalene, whose face
Was yet a treasure in his memory;
But sunken were the temples,—they had lost
Their ivory roundness, yet still clear as day
The veins shone through them, shaded by the braids,
Just simply parted back, of the dark hair,
Where grief's white traces mocked at youth. A flush,
As shame, deep shame, had once burnt on her cheek,
Then lingered there for ever, looked like health
Offering hope, vain hope, to the pale lip,
Like the rich crimson of the evening sky,
Brightest when night is coming. Guido took
Just one slight sketch; next morning she was dead!

Yet still he painted on, until his heart
Grew to the picture,—it became his world,—
He lived but in its beauty, made his art
Sacred to it alone. No more he gave
To the glad canvass green and summer dreams
Of the Italian valleys; traced no more
The dark eyes of its lovely daughters, looked
And caught the spirit of fine poetry
From glorious statues: these were pass'd away.
Shade after shade, line after line, each day
Gave life to the sweet likeness. Guido dwelt
In intense worship on his own creation,
Till his cheek caught the hectic tinge he drew,
And his thin hand grew tremulous. One night—
The portrait was just finished, save a touch,
A touch to give the dark light of the eyes—
He painted till the lamps grew dim, his hand
Scarce conscious what it wrought; at length his lids
Closed in a heavy slumber, and he dreamt
That a fair creature came and kissed his brow,
And bade him follow her: he knew the look,
And rose. Awakening, he found himself
Kneeling before the portrait:—'twas so fair
He deemed it lived, and prest his burning lips
To the sweet mouth; his soul pass'd in that kiss,—
Young Guido died beside his masterpiece!

L. E. L.

  1. This poem appears in The Vow of the Peacock and Other Poems (1835)
  2. 'tenderly' in The Vow of the Peacock
  3. The Vow of the Peacock version has here:
    'One whom all Rome was proud of, and he dwelt
    There in the sunshine of his spreading fame.'