A Rosy Coincidence

Do you like visiting second hand book shops as much as I do; I love it even if I do not have a particular book in mind except, of course, a different rose book. This time my visit was unusual; I wanted a specific book, a copy of the poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. I had always thought that his poem ‘Maud’, which inspired my favourite Waterhouse painting, began with the line ‘Come into the garden, Maud’ and ended after a romantic message with the line ‘And blossom in purple and red’. How wrong was I? As some of the more literate readers among you will know this is only a very small vignette of a much larger story.

The soul of the rose
‘The Soul of the Rose’ (1908) John William Waterhouse.

Strangely I had discovered this previously unkown to me fact when I was researching ‘The Soul of the Rose’ by Waterhouse. I needed to find out more about the painting because it and others by Waterhouse feature on my website and will also be included in the anthology of rose stories ‘The Soul of the Rose’ which I am collating. I always knew that it had been inspired by the line from Maud ‘ And the soul of the rose went into my blood,’ just as other of his paintings had been inspired by the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats and Herrick but little realised the length of the poem, so I felt the need to read the whole poem.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
One of two paintings by J.W. Waterhouse entitled ‘Gather Ye Rosebuds while Ye May’ (1909) and inspired by the line from ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ by Robert Herrick.

I looked on line for a copy of Tennyson’s poems but they all seemed glossy, new reproductions. These are not my style; I like the old and tactile with an interesting front cover if possible. What a good excuse to go to my favourite book shop where I may be lucky enough to find a gem. The shop did not let me down, I found what I wanted; not Victorian as I would have liked but very pretty and inexpensive, first published in 1954 and including the whole of ‘Maud’ together with some of his other poems. He was a prolific writer so I had to make sure that Maud was in the book I bought.

Poems of Tennyson
A bargain at £4.00 and just what I needed.

Job done but after a decent lunch and an invigorating walk by the river the antique warehouse beckoned, which inadvertently triggered this story. One of the first things which caught my eye was a book ‘Pre-Raphaelite Portraits’ and on opening I found a sketch by Rossetti entitled “Maud” 1855 of Tennyson reading ‘Maud’. He had apparently drawn it while Tennyson was reading the poem at the house of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. What a coincidence! It is true; I have a witness.

Painting by J W Waterhouse
The second painting by J.W. Waterhouse inspired by the line from John Herrick’s poem.

Within the book there are also sketches of several of the beautiful models featured in the Pre-Raphaelite paintings. John William Waterhouse, who was born at the end of the Pre-Raphaelite era, was known in his later paintings to embrace the Pre-Raphaelite style. I don’t believe the model in ‘The Soul of the Rose’ is known by name but to me she looks very much like Alexa Wilding who modelled for Rossetti fifty years before. Looking at some of Rossetti’s work there is definitely a similarity between the graceful woman in Waterhouse’s painting and Rossetti’s auburn haired model.

A painting/sketch (1879) of Alexa Wilding by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
A painting/sketch (1879) of Alexa Wilding by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

After reading the many pages of the poem and looking once again at my favourite Waterhouse paintings I cannot believe how my love of roses has forged this particular link between art and literature; it is inspirational for me. My research into the rose brings me joy and satisfaction daily. I will definitely leave the cultivation to others and focus on the intriguing stories that I have yet to discover. The rose is mentioned frequently through Tennyson’s ‘Maud’ and is featured in a number of Waterhouse’s paintings. They must, like me, have wanted to celebrate the rose.

Another painting by J.W. Waterhouse that features roses, 'The Shrine' 1895
Another painting by J.W. Waterhouse that features roses, ‘The Shrine’ 1895

1 thought on “A Rosy Coincidence”

  1. You were meant to find the volume obviously Liz.
    I’ve never read “Maud”. I must look it up.
    Always loved Waterhouse.

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