Tuesday, March 31, 2009

is hope not plumed?

To-night this sunset spreads two golden wings
    Cleaving the western sky;
Winged too with wind it is, and winnowings
Of birds; as if the day's last hour in rings
    Of strenuous flight must die.

Sun-steeped in fire, the homeward pinions sway
    Above the dovecote-tops;
And clouds of starlings, ere they rest with day,
Sink, clamorous like mill-waters, at wild play,
    By turns in every copse:

Each tree heart-deep the wrangling rout receives, —
    Save for the whirr within,
You could not tell the starlings from the leaves;
Then one great puff of wings, and the swarm heaves
    Away with all its din.

Even thus Hope's hours, in ever-eddying flight,
    To many a refuge tend;
With the first light she laughed, and the last light
Glows round her still; who natheless in the night
    At length must make an end.

And now the mustering rooks innumerable
    Together sail and soar,
While for the day's death, like a tolling knell,
Unto the heart they seem to cry, Farewell,
    No more, farewell, no more!

Is Hope not plumed, as 'twere a fiery dart?
    And oh! thou dying day,
Even as thou goest must she too depart,
And Sorrow fold such pinions on the heart
    As will not fly away?
This is 'Sunset Wings' by D.G. Rossetti, from Sonnets and Lyrical Poems, (London, 1894). It is the 48th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Lawrence was fond of Rossetti's poems and believed they transcended the man himself. In a letter to his friend Charlotte Shaw he said 'Rossetti was a very great poet: and his poetry was much greater than himself.' (30.X.28 quoted by Jeremy Wilson, the editor of Minorities)

The poem is technically interesting and scans well. Natheless, in the fourth stanza, means nevertheless. The poem turns on this stanza and, for me, it has the most emotional force.

{Click to view full size; these two images show Rossetti's draft manuscript of the poem; source Delaware Art Museum draft manuscript on rossettiarchive.org}

{Click to view full size; these two images show a fair copy of the poem made in 1871; source rossettiarchive.org}

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Ballads & sonnets, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; edited by Walter Pater (T. B. Mosher, 1903)

Scholarly Commentary on 'Sunset Wings'

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