Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, IN AN ATELIER, by THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

IN AN ATELIER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I pray you, do not turn your head
Last Line: Somehow -- as if you'd just been kissed!
Variant Title(s): In An Artist's Studio
Subject(s): Dante Alighieri (1265-1321); Models; Paintings & Painters

I PRAY you, do not turn your head;
And let your hands lie folded, so.
It was a dress like this, wine-red,
That Dante liked so, long ago.
You don't know Dante? Never mind.
He loved a lady wondrous fair --
His model? Something of the kind.
I wonder if she had your hair!

I wonder if she looked so meek,
And was not meek at all (my dear,
I want that side light on your cheek).
He loved her, it is very clear,
And painted her, as I paint you,
But rather better, on the whole
(Depress your chin; yes, that will do):
He was a painter of the soul!

(And painted portraits, too, I think,
In the INFERNO -- devilish good!
I'd make some certain critics blink
If I'd his method and his mood.)
Her name was (Fanny, let your glance
Rest there, by that majolica tray) --
Was Beatrice; they met by chance --
They met by chance, the usual way.

(As you and I met, months ago,
Do you remember? How your feet
Went crinkle-crinkle on the snow
Along the bleak gas-lighted street!
An instant in the drug-store's glare
You stood as in a golden frame,
And then I swore it, then and there,
To hand your sweetness down to fame.)

They met, and loved, and never wed
(All this was long before our time),
And though they died, they are not dead --
Such endless youth gives mortal rhyme!
Still walks the earth, with haughty mien,
Great Dante, in his soul's distress;
And still the lovely Florentine
Goes lovely in her wine-red dress.

You do not understand at all?
He was a poet; on his page
He drew her; and, though kingdoms fall,
This lady lives from age to age:
A poet -- that means painter too,
For words are colors, rightly laid;
And they outlast our brightest hue,
For varnish cracks and crimsons fade.

The poets -- they are lucky ones!
When we are thrust upon the shelves,
Our works turn into skeletons
Almost as quickly as ourselves;
For our poor canvas peels at length,
At length is prized -- when all is bare:
"What grace!" the critics cry, "what strength!"
When neither strength nor grace is there.

Ah, Fanny, I am sick at heart,
It is so little one can do;
We talk our jargon -- live for Art!
I'd much prefer to live for you.
How dull and lifeless colors are!
You smile, and all my picture lies:
I wish that I could crush a star
To make a pigment for your eyes.

Yes, child, I know I'm out of tune;
The light is bad; the sky is gray:
I paint no more this afternoon,
So lay your royal gear away.
Besides, you're moody -- chin on hand --
I know not what -- not in the vein --
Not like Anne Bullen, sweet and bland:
You sit there smiling in disdain.

Not like Bluff Harry's radiant Queen,
Unconscious of the coming woe,
But rather as she might have been,
Preparing for the headsman's blow.
I see! I've put you in a miff --
Sitting bolt-upright, wrist on wrist.
How should you look? Why, dear, as if--
Somehow -- as if you'd just been kissed!

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