December 2012 - Comments Off

Twenty Portraits of Ophelia

Catherine Pikula '13

God has given you one face and you make yourselves
another -- Hamlet to Ophelia

I.John Bell, 1775:
I am small, a mere illustration set on a plain page.
Contained by a black border, he dresses me,
for a ball, in long skirts that drag and trail.
He gives me a bouquet to offer as I walk
toward nothing.

II. Eugene Delacroix, 1838:
Cock-eyed I hang from the willow branch in muted gold.
The riverscape implied with dark greens and blues
with heavy grey tones. He pulls the front of my dress
down to my waist. He places weeds in the bend of my arm.

III. Gustave Courbet, 1842:
I am not the Virgin, dressed in blue, a hint
of pink on the cheeks and my wreath not wilted.
My eyes close in the manner of prayer. I look
toward the floor unworthy. He calls me la fiancée
de la mort.

IV. Dr. Hugh Diamond 1850:
One of his patients is pretending to be me.
No doubt encouraging, he weaves the weeds
into her hair, drapes the black cloak over her
shoulders, teaches her how to stare toward
death like a lover.

V. John Everett Millais, 1852:
Beneath the willow with cattails, he paints me:
water black as a coffin, my dress soaking,
the flowers floating in a line down stream.
To Lethe I go singing, my palms upturned.

VI. Francis Dicksee, 1875:
Upon the bank in a bed of moss, he has me
a ghost weaving flowers into crowns.
He rips my white shawl at the shoulder.
It falls past my folded feet to drink.

VII. Madeleine Lemaire 1880:
My breasts are exposed. She stretches my sleeves
just below my shoulders, has me hold the flowers
near my hips, I pinch a columbine upside down.
My eyes more coaxing, she tells me to threaten
with one foot held above the water.

VIII.Dominico Tojetti 1880:
I am not in color. The background is a shadow
of a room. I sit on the floor wrapped in silk
flowing out of frame. He tells me to hold
the rose to my wrist, like a needle.

IX.Alexandre Cabanel, 1883:
My wreath is coming undone. He drops flowers
in my hair. In the river, he bends my back over
the broken willow branch. A romantic, he dresses
me in gold patterned silk. Dramatically,
he tells me to reach for the weeping leaves.

X.Konstantin Makovsky, 1884:
I am in plain maiden garments. He wraps me
in garlands and tangles pearls around my neck.
My hair falls uncombed. My hands fall barely
holding the flowers in my skirts. I stare
into fog and trees. I stand in a bog.

XI. Annie French, 1889:
I’m flying over the river. She makes
my white dress the river, and me rise
with sparrows pulling at my long hair.
The flowers are ours, spangled, circles
of color filling the background
like small stones bursting.

XII.Constant Montald, 1893:
Amidst swans, I lie on a brown frame.
My bed is a bank full of water. He tells me
to pluck the gold lyre and a swan will curl
its head behind mine like a crown. Another
looks straight. A third, floats as if dead.

XIII.Paul Albert Steck, 1895:
He sets me under water among the weeds
like a mermaid as Hamlet’s mother described.
My dress clings tight to my legs and fans out
at the feet, rippling. My hair floats toward
the surface with roses. My body leaning away.

XIV.Lucien Levy-Dhurmer, 1900:
He tints me blue with green hues.
The moon is a white line illuminating
my hands. I clutch my breast and rest
in the water with soft lilies and reeds.
My eyes are opened but still.

XV. Odilon Redon, 1905
My head rests on a black wave. I have no face,
only an ochre profile. He gives me no flowers,
but he holds me like a tube of paint in his palms.

XVI.W.G. Simmonds, 1910:
He lifts my white dress behind me like wings.
My head is upturned. He closes my eyes,
tells me to dip one hand in the river
as if I were entering a church.

XVII.John Austen, 1922:
He makes three of me: the first sinks
amongst lotus, the second rises naked,
above the water, the third hangs
from the willow branch. He tells me
to throw my head back in rapture.
As if from Lethe, I return.

XVIII. David Burliuk,1965:
A sketch in black felt tip, he rubs me
with pastels. Aqua could be anywhere.
My skin is burnt orange. He gives me
no hands, no feet, but legs implied
with two lines. I sink beneath his signature.

XIX.Gregory Crewdson, 2001:
His living room is flooded black and I float
in morning, at the bottom of his stairs, pale
in my favorite nightgown. I left my robe
on the railing, my slippers on different stairs.
I threw the windows open, before turning
on the lamps. On his way home, I suggest
he buy himself a new arm chair before
he takes my picture.

XX.
To know me: make me in your image, forgetting
I reflect like the surface of Lethe. This page
with no borders is a dress I no longer wear.
The flowers are not lilies but poppies I hold in
these, no longer palms, here, pulling you beneath,
no longer here, but still--- water shows you
where you lie.

Published by: in Poetry, Volume 69: Issue 1

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