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Modelling Death

July 29, 2011

Modelling Death

A colder bath than mad Ophelia,
much longer drenching, slow and shivering.
Not sudden madness – swift pneumonia –
no chronic poet-lust left lingering.

Impatient, drown all sighs malingering,
let sink the clichéd dream he did not choose
and, kittens in a bag, that would-be muse.

[Sir John Everett Millais painted ‘The Death of Ophelia’ in 1851-2. The model, Elizabeth Siddall, posed for hours at a time in a bath of water and became ill as a result.]

This was written as an example of Rhyme Royal for dVerse Poets FormForAll (30.7.11). The rhyme royal stanza consists of seven lines, (usually) in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b-b-c-c. In practice, the stanza can be constructed either as a terza rima and two couplets (a-b-a, b-b, c-c) or a quatrain and a tercet (a-b-a-b, b-c-c).  Thank you for the many suggestions along the way.


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  1. Tom Eliot permalink

    Even pre edit -this is a good write
    lines 3 and 4 really roll off the tongue

    Good luck ill check back for final version

  2. very good start… strong images on the first lines…

    thanks for participating; when you are done, let us know ~

  3. hedgewitch permalink

    I’m glad I saw the first version as it gives a clearer idea, even though I really like the end rhyme and final couplet you ended up with. This is a wonderful piece, and while your pic isn’t showing for me, the painting you speak of is indelible already in my mind–an image hard to ditch your words serve up in perfect verbal form, where Siddall is forever sinking in her role (Immersed, even…) incredibly detailed, beautiful and dead-looking.

    • Thanks for your kind comments.. this was a toughie for me.. I don’t consider it finished, but still can’t work out what happens to the stress pattern in L6… wonder if it is just an awkward transition from the previous line, but suspect something non-iambic is happening there..

      And yes, strange about the pic… will check that out too.

      Thanks for dropping in..

  4. I think it;’s terrific both times around! Could you drop the hyphen in ‘in-growing’? It changes the meaning, but I think to a meaning that also works, and would fix the metre.

    • Thanks, Rosemary, that’s really helpful. Not sure why that line so flummoxed me… Now you’ve pointed out the problem with the stress there, I can think about the meaning I want for the last lines. Thank you! I’ll post again when I have that one sorted. It’s a glorious summer day here and I’m heading out to the fells.. 🙂

      • Think that might just do it…. didn’t want her to sink … only her cliche dreams…(she didn’t die anyway, but actually married Rossetti, another of the pre-Raphaelites)

        Thanks, Rosemary…

  5. I wrote a long comment which would now be moot last night Becky; however the internet flickered and erased it; I think your last version comes closest to the meter; The ing ending in the word before sink stops me. Since you have an ing ending for your other two “b” lines. It’s not that “ink” is not a close line but it feels as though you could re-write that line to get a true rhyme. Nevertheless, your word selection and choice of rhyme give this piece a very modern feel while having an historic message. I like it very much and I am so very glad you wrote and linked with us at FormForAll – dVersepoets. Thank you. Gay

    • Thanks so much Gay, I appreciate your words. I enjoyed the challenge and still see this one as a work in progress. When I re-read it, I still stumble on sink, so may yet have another go at the last few lines.

      I’ve only started writing poetry very recently, so appreciate the feedback here and have great support at FEPC… Loads of fervent writers and so generous with their time.. thanks for yours. 🙂

  6. i love how this sounds and would love to read it aloud but sitting in a hotel lobby and the people would prob. think i’m strange… smiles
    poor ophelia though – artists (and i’m including poets..) can be a bit mad at times..

    • go on… 🙂

      Thanks, Claudia.. really appreciate you reading and comenting..especially when you’re on your hols! And yes on the madness..

  7. For me, I’d put a comma between poet lust/left lingering to make allowance for the lingering. It can still be read both ways because the two ideas are seated next to each other but yes, I think it’s stronger or more evocative with the pause.

    Impatient, drown all sighs malingering,
    let sink the clichéd

    Here, I’d place a semi colon after ‘sighs’ to act as a pause and to strengthen the enjambment of the thought about malingering.

    Other than that I like the strength of the first nine words and how that infuses the narrator into the story, here is a tale about Ophelia, here is a tale about Elizabeth Siddall, but without your supplementary information I would not have known that (others would have of course). So, I’m saying that what the beginning does, for me, is introduce the narrator’s investment also, it makes me wonder about what it was, what cause and effect brought you to write the poem. For me, that’s great, there is The death of Ophelia, The story of ES and your own story all wrought up in this one poem.

    The painting is interesting because the woman sinks down into the stream-bed, but here it is the opposite effect, the welling of emotion brought to light.

    Generally speaking I can’t explain more than – to admire
    the way you have put together the phrasing.

    The poem gets into your blood and affects you with its sadness.

    • Thanks for that lengthy comment – it’s ages since I looked at this, so definitely time for a fresh pair of eyes. This was one of my early efforts and I must admit I was probably not thinking too carefully about the punctuation. I know pause is a powerful tool and I appreciate how you manipulate it in your own work. I like your suggestion for lust/left lingering, but will have to think a little more about the second one. It’s so valuable to have another opinion – thank you.

      It’s always a gamble when you take a specific cultural reference to work with. I guess it’s a little self-indulgent.. 🙂

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