ante Gabriel Rossetti's "For a Venetian Pastoral by Giorgione (In the Louvre)" exemplifies the artist's obsession with temporality by means of suggesting a moment in time when the ephemeral and the immortal meet in a way similar to that of a typological image. When Rossetti viewed Giorgione's picture in the Louvre "he wrote to his brother that it was 'so intensely fine that I condescended to sit down before it and write a sonnet. You have heard me rave about the engraving before, and I fancy have seen it yourself. There is a woman, naked, at one side, who is dipping a glass vessel into a well; and in the centre two men and another naked woman, who seem to have paused for a moment in playing on the musical instruments'" (As quoted in the Rossetti Archive [For a Venetian Pastoral]). The poem begins with the speaker commenting "upon the figures' action by means of imperatives that serve in the manner of stage directions" (Landow).
Water, for anguish of the solstice — nay,
But dip the vessel slowly, — nay, but lean
And hark how at its verge the wave sighs in
The speaker's language allows a sense of quiet and stillness to permeate the poem, so that the only audible sound is the hush of the voices and the slow trickle of the woman pouring water. The language also invokes the imminent passing of time as seen in such diction choices as "anguish of the solstice," which, in addition to being a call for water to quench the thirst, also represents the threshold between two seasons — the limbo between one fact or event and another. This idea is also portrayed by use of the word "verge," which literally means "something that borders, limits, or bounds" (Webster Dictionary). In this case, verge suggests the borders of a moment in time. Within the last line, the speaker states "the wave sighs in reluctant," implying that, while on the threshold or verge between these two moments, the speaker sighs in want for the preservation of this fleeting instant of time. Through Rossetti's depiction of Giorgione's painting "as a moment of secular and sensual illumination, he recreates that moment by detailing the things whose touch and sound make it so perfect" (Landow). The remainder of the poem follows this example.
Hush! Beyond all depth away
The heat lies silent at the brink of day:
Now the hand trails upon the viol-string
That sobs, and the brown faces cease to sing,
Sad with the whole of pleasure. Whither stray
Her eyes now, from whose mouth the slim pipes creep
And leave it pouting, while the shadowed grass
Is cool against her naked side? Let be: —
Say nothing now unto her lest she weep,
Nor name this ever. Be it as it was, —
Life touching lips with immortality.
After providing the reader with the quiet sounds of water, the speaker now enters into a moment of complete silence — "Hush! Beyond all depth away the heat lies silent at the brink of day." By using the words "brink" and "day," Rossetti continues to illustrate the transient nature of this moment. He uses "brink" in relation to "verge" to illustrate the fact that the moment is about to cease in existence and pass into another place in time, and provides "day" as an example of one of these moments that continually passes. Thus disturbing the silence and materializing the brink between two moments, "now the hand trails upon the viol-string that sobs, and the brown faces cease to sing." Rossetti sensually illuminates the reader with the beautiful sound of music, providing an example of a moment that creates a sense of sadness within the psyches of those involved. The sadness derives, however, from the bliss of the moment's beauty — "sad with the whole of pleasure" — because, while it is enjoyable, the pleasure serves as nothing but a reminder of the transient nature of all things beautiful.
In the sonnet, Rossetti suggests that the figures in Giorgione's painting do not remain conscious of their aesthetic condition. In addition, his portrayal of the woman dipping the water vessel emphasizes the characteristic Victorian gaze: "Whither stray her eyes now, from whose mouth the slim pipes creep and leave it pouting." The description "recalls, The Blessed Damozel whose emparadised state is transacted by a melancholy that arises because her lover is not with her" (Rossetti Archive). The Pre-Raphaelite woman then reclines in the shadowed grass, mourning for the loss of a moment so beautiful, and the speaker consequently instructs not to console her "lest she weep." Rossetti concludes the sonnet with a sententia regarding the nature of time and temporality: "Be it as it was, — life touching lips with immortality. " Such an illumination of the senses remains fleeting and cannot be preserved, and therefore acts as a reminder of the transience of all moments and all beings. However, Rossetti's creation of the sonnet itself serves as an ode to the moment, and he therefore finds a way to preserve it in its passing.
1. Transience was a subject that compelled Rossetti throughout his artistic career. In "Love and Hope", the forty-third sonnet of The House of Life, he desperately comments on the perfect moment and the loss of it through inevitable change.
Full many a withered year
Whirled past us, eddying to its chill doomsday;
And clasped together where the blown leaves lay,
We long have knelt and wept full many a tear.
Both "For a Venetian Pastorale" and "Love and Hope" utilize natural imagery and revolve around the same thematic structure. Why was the topic of temporality continually repeated throughout Rossetti's work? How does his use of natural imagery aid in expressing his concerns regarding time? Does the natural imagery in "The Woodspurge" (text) make any such connection to this theme?
2. Other Pre-Raphaelite works also discussed topics of time and transience. Compare "For a Venetian Pastoral" with Millais's Autumn Leaves. Is there a dichotomy between the written word and the painterly image? In what other ways did Pre-Raphaelite artists express their concerns regarding the passing of time? What societal influences could have shaped these concerns?
3. Many of the sonnets that Rossetti created for pictures foster an important connection between his multiple artistic media. In addition, many of them are in relation to his own painterly work, or make a personal comment regarding the work of another artist. However, "the sonnets also raise the issue of "translation" in a number of important ways: all of the sonnets are acts of "translation", but many deal explicitly with the morphologies of text and image." (Rossetti Archive). For example, the painting The Blessed Damozel portrays the situation of the damozel in heaven and her lover on earth slightly differently than the sonnet of the accompanying name does. In "For a Venetian Pastoral" it is possible that Giorgione had an interpretation that was very different from that of Rossetti (especially in regards to the woman). Does Giorgione hold responsibility for Rossetti's interpretation of his work? Comment on these differences and the issue of translation. What does this say about the sisterly arts?
4. Rossetti used typological structures in two ways. The first was to give Christian devotional images more power, and the second use was to employ these structures more as a model for his later works that dealt with issues of time and nostalgia. In short, Rossetti derived from structures of typology the idea of a moment or event and its connections with immortality and eternity. "In other words, typology provides repeated instances of situations in which the eternal brushes up against or reaches into human time" (Landow). What evidence of structures of typology remain in "For a Venetian Pastoral"?
Landow, George P. "Life touching lips with immortality": Rossetti's Temporal Structures. Accessed 17 October 2004.
McGann, Jerome J., ed. The Rossetti Archive. Accessed 3 October 2004. http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu:2020.
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Collected Poetry and Prose. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
The Webster Dictionary On-line. Accessed 17 October 2004. http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm.
Last modified 17 October 2004