Charles De Sousy Ricketts' illustration of Christina Rossetti's "An Echo from Willowood" splits the page with two contrasting inked images. The top of the page depicts the banks of Willowwood with closely placed lines that pay careful attention to detail. In the center, an angel stands halfway into a split willow tree, holding a small pail. Out of the angel's view, a woman holds her hand to her cheek in distress as her faceless lover comforts her. In the background, a mournful soul plods away through the chin-high grass, clothed in rags and a burning halo surrounding its downfallen head.
The bottom half of the page depicts the reflection of two lovers in the pool in a way that is distinctly art nouveau. The curves originate where the man's lips approach his lover's face and swirl around their heads. The woman's hair follows this swirl both inwards and outwards from the part. Inward, it wraps fully around her lover's head in a controlling manner--as if to hold on to or even strangle her lover. Beyond the main swirl, the plain stems and unadorned leaves of lilies complete the pool of Willowwood.
The top and bottom illustrations are separated partly by a thick bar that reads "O ye, all ye that walk in willowwood." This is the first line Love sings in D.G. Rossetti's "Willowwood", responding to the man who stirs the water with a kiss for the reflection of his lover. The other half is separated by a hovering text-box of the poem. As the poem goes, the lovers are gazing at the "two wistful faces craving at each." A ripple causes their reflections to momentarily join, then at once part. Though this moment is captured in the bottom frame, the two lovers do not look past the separating bar to the swirling reflection below, but are stuck within their own frame. Yet they cannot even remain looking at the reflection's decree in the top frame, for Willowwood message of temporal love lies heavy in the young heart.
Only that angel transcends this barrier in Rickett's design. It peers over the words with a finger to the chin of its contemplative face, emphasizing its control over the mortal design.
1. In terms of the poem's message and the contrasting styles, how do the top and bottom images differ?
2. How does Ricketts' drawing adhere to Aestheticism?
3. This material itself echoes from D.G. Rossetti to Christina Rossetti to Charles Ricketts. Should we read the piece in terms of all of the echoes, or just the echoes or fragments that Ricketts has provided us with?
4. We have seen a handful of illustrations before, but none that combine poetry, images, words, and borders quite like this. In the late nineteenth century, what is the appeal of publishing such a composition in the Magazine of Art?
5. What does the boat signify?
- D. G. Rossetti's Four "Willowwood" sonnets from The House of Life
- Christina Rossetti's "An Echo from Willowwood"
"An Echo from Willowood". Magazine of Art (1890). London: Cassell and Company. P. 385.
Last modified 9 April 2008