Thursday, January 11, 2024

Requiem of Ophelia



Ophelia by J.W. Waterhouse. General Domain.

Though as fragile as a butterfly’s wing,

and as prone to dust-like constitution . . .

the daisies of the field in profusion,

a star-like innocent voice rose to sing.

There was one ray, through which the sunlight beamed,

there was one meadow, she sat undisturbed,

her child-like hands had never been blistered,

not called to work, but paradise, she seemed.

She sat by the window, with her sewing:

her hands moved back and forth in counterpoint,

their whitely-held countenance was a wand,

conjuring teal magic not her doing.

What in her being she poured out anoints

savoury plate, previously mild sands.


Ophelia was a maid enraptured,

slightest ladybug called her attention,

flight of eagles she made duly mention,

if a bird landing on your hand—captured.

Red hair, threaded with pearls, in minute form

gave license to the braids of yesteryear,

her bright new purple eyes would shed a tear

if she found a hare was sorely tortured.

Her cream-like skin was crystal-dewy smooth

the harsh sun’s rays not dilapidating,

and pierced cloud had shed its clear light downward,

where highlights of her vision not removed,

the storm in her breast not now abating,

fury of her voice resounded onward.


With her frail throat she verbalized discourse,

she pleaded with the dragons of disdain,

and from her vial of juice now dripped a stain,

while she, distracted, remedied remorse.

The perfect loaves dropped from her hands, table

ready to receive them, although not her.

She knew she had no ceremonial

redemption from within; horse in stable

was next saddled to take her far away

to the forests, where she picked hollyhocks,

to the inland river where she would bend

for direction from inner voices late

that would lessen their blue scourge and torment

if she would heed their counsel, to good end.


Humble monarchs of the meadow landed

upon fennel, columbines, pale lily,

converging in wild gardens ’midst the wood

on her lithe and wax-like hands, enchanted.

Here, whispered light-hearted incantations,

for this pillar of stone now breathed into

the stillness of the mortal dawn, imbue

all matter with her voiced lamentations.

She was character of limpid softness

yet the bones of her small frame were rigid,

and each sinew held her dear together.

Her structure composed inert gracefulness

and her darkling eyelashes drew frigid

stares from under townspeople’s brown feathers.


She was both green of the wood, and winter,

the frosted land, both desirous and black

at once, cold and unyielding, giving flack

like an undecorated old spinster.

She both bright-blossomed and fell to the ground,

unlike seasons presiding majestic

over universe and the gavel’s lick

of wide-dealt justice, even deep-founded.

What other wise women maintained, she lost,

as fallen spray of fragrance to ’lil earth

as baskets disperse the wedding flowers,

as wool has fallen prey to powdered moths;

destiny and its dreams traded for mirth,

famine and fear now traded for bowers.


O Ophelia, my love, the sweetness

of the pleasant spring would unduly croon,

with potions that were remedies of moon,

and by your second-sight, your heavy breast

is ribboned by your green watery rest

and lucid rambles as your ship winds ’round

the brambles of infernal stony ground.

Flying straw-like limbs in constancy, drowned,

in earnestness, proper prayer-like anguish

beneath great spreading tree of green-clothed life.

You would mediate between chastity

and fertility, if one outdistance

the other; the craft of poetry, ice

upon the outstretched hands of charity.


Velvet tie that once secured her bonnet

now ties gentle waist to the bottom’s murk

where river nyads dance and aged lurk

to tap her gentil forehead in the net.

Abandoned fish will wander, silver, here,

and children peer beneath the ghostly air,

with their white dresses billowing, with fair

remembrances of her who sat so near.

She, at the paned window sang so sweetly,

she, around her neck, had worn daisy chains,

her hands held life’s grievance like a bouquet.

Still a child in thought, could think so kindly,

now victim with no succor in her pain:

bottom of the glass river’s tourniquet.

Emily Isaacson