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Raphael's Death Bed

Letitia Elizabeth Landon 1802 (Chelsea) – 1838 (Cape Coast)

How can the grave be terrible to those
Whose spirits walk the earth, even after death,
And have an influence on humanity,
In their undying glory.

'TWAS a twilight of Italy and spring,
With those pale colours that the sunsets fling,
Of shadowy rose,—or ever they are bright
With the rich purple of their summer light!
A vaulted chamber was it,—where the day
Lingered, as it were loth to pass away.
Fainter and fainter falling, till the glare
Of taper, torch, and lamp, alone, were there,
Shining o'er glorious pictures, which were fraught
With all the immortality of thought,—
And o'er a couch's canopy, where gold
Broidered and clasped the curtain's purple fold.

And is that silken pillow thus bespread
For those who cannot feel its down—the dead!
Around that couch gathers a princely train,
And swells the holy anthem's funeral strain ;
Sweeps the rich incense round it, like a cloud,
While the arch prelate's hand uplifts the shroud,—
Flings, from the silver cup, the sacred wave,
Which sains and smooths the passage to the grave. (sic)

Aye, one sleeps there,—if sleep it can be named,
By which one half of waking life is shamed.
Is that death, where the spirit stays behind,
With much as ever influence on its kind !
How can he die,—he who has left his soul
On the rich canvass, or the breathing scroll!
What is our life—our being—but the spirit,
All of our native heaven we inherit!
How can we die,—yet leave behind us all
The intellect that lit our earthly thrall!
That seems like death, which leaves behind it
No void in nature,—no remembering thought;
Or, but the tenderness affection keeps,
Frail as itself—forgetting while it weeps!
That seems like death, the many thousands die,
Their sole memorials, a tear—a sigh !
But thus it is not to the mighty name,
Whose death was as the seal affixed to fame ;—
And he who sleeps there, dust returned to dust,
Paler and colder than the marble bust
Beside—now strangely like the face of death,
As rigid as itself, unwarmed by breath,—
It hath death's semblance ;—but, how can depart
The soul, yet leave its influence on the heart!

No ! when the timid prayer for heaven's grace
Shall warm its zeal no more, at the sweet face
Of thy Madonnas ; nor the patient tear
Shall fall before thy Magdalen, with less fear;
When never more a saint's pure brow shall speak
Hope to the trembling,—mercy to the weak ;
When the last hue is from thy canvass fled,
Their memory past,—then, Raphael, thou art dead !
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Submitted by Madeleine Quinn on April 29, 2016

2:14 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 2,437
Words 440
Stanzas 5
Stanza Lengths 4, 12, 8, 25, 8

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

All Letitia Elizabeth Landon poems | Letitia Elizabeth Landon Books

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