Rossetti, Dante Gabriel - Lilith and Palmifera
Type of Spiritual Experience
Lady Lilith was first painted by Rossetti in 1866–68 using Fanny Cornforth as the model, then altered in 1872–73 to show the face of Alexa Wilding. The painting forms a pair with Sibylla Palmifera, painted 1866–70, also with Wilding as the model.
The name Palmifera means "palm-bearer," and the model holds a palm in her hands. The palm, together with the inclusion of butterflies, indicates the spiritual nature of the painting. Lilith uses flower symbolism – using red roses and poppies in this case.
Rossetti wrote the sonnet Soul's Beauty to accompany the painting Sibylla Palmifera, and the sonnet Lilith to accompany the painting Lady Lilith. Both pairs of poems and pictures were first published, side-by-side, in Algernon Charles Swinburne's Notes on the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1868. In 1870 the poems were published again in Rossetti's Sonnets for Pictures.
Under the arch of Life, where love and death,
Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw
Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe,
I drew it in as simply as my breath.
Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath,
The sky and sea bend on thee,—which can draw,
By sea or sky or woman, to one law,
The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.
This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
Thy voice and hand shake still,—long known to thee
By flying hair and fluttering hem,—the beat
Following her daily of thy heart and feet,
How passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days!
Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.
The rose and poppy are her flower; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! as that youth's eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair
A description of the experience