The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Documents associated with: International Exhibition, South Kensington Museum, London, 1872
Record 1 of 9

System Number: 05620
Date: 2 April 1865[1]
Author: Algernon Charles Swinburne[2]
Place: [London]
Recipient: JW
Place: [London]
Repository: Glasgow University Library
Call Number: MS Whistler S266
Document Type: ADS[3]


White rose in red rose-garden
   Is not so white;
Snow-drops that plead for pardon
   And pine for fright
Because the hard east blows
   Over their maiden rose rows
Grow not as this face grows from pale to bright.

Behind the veil, forbidden,
   Shut up from sight,
Love, is there sorrow hidden,
   Is there delight?
Is joy thy dower or grief,
   White rose of weary leaf,
Late rose whose life is brief, whose loves are light?

Soft snows that hard winds harden
   Till each flake bite
Fill all the flowerless garden
   Whose flowers took flight
[p. 2] Long since when summer ceased
   And men rose up from feast
And warm west wind grew east, & warm day night.


Come snow, come wind or thunder
   High up in air,
I watch my face, & wonder
   At my bright hair;
Nought else exalts nor grieves
   The rose at heart, that heaves
With love of her own leaves & lips that pair.

She knows not lips that kissed her
   She knows not not where.
Art thou the ghost, my sister,
   White sister there,
Am I the ghost, who knows?
   My hand, a fallen rose,
Lies snow-white on woven white snows, & takes
                    no care.

[p. 3]

I cannot tell what pleasures
   Or what pains were,
What pale new loves and treasures
   New years will bear;
What beam will fall, what shower,
   What grief or joy for dower;
But one thing knows the flower; the flower is fair.

A. C. S. to J. A.W.

April 2d / 65.

[p. 4]

Glad, but not for flushed with gladness,
   Since joys go by;
Sad, but not bent with sadness,
   Since sorrows die;
Faint in the gleaming glass
   She sees all past things pass,
And all sweet life that was lie down & lie.

There glowing ghosts of flowers
   Draw down, draw nigh:
And wings of swift dead hours
   Take flight & fly:
She sees by formless gleams,
   She hears across cold streams,
Dead mouths of many dreams that sing & sigh.

Face fallen & white throat lifted,
   With sleepless eye,
She sees old loves that drifted,
   And kn She knew not why,
Old loves & faded fears
   Float down a strea shore that hears
[p. 5]
The flowing of all men's tears beneath the sky

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1.  2 April 1865
Enclosed with Swinburne's letter to JW, #05619.

2.  Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), poet and critic [more].

3.  ADS
This is a fair copy of Swinburne's poem Before the Mirror, inspired by Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl (YMSM 52). Another copy appears with #05621. The verses were printed on gold paper and stuck over the patterns carved on the picture frame (Pennell, Elizabeth Robins, and Joseph Pennell, The Life of James McNeill Whistler, 5th ed., revised, London and Philadelphia, 1911, repr. f. p. 124). An extract was published in the catalogue for the 97th Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Academy, London, 1865. Burty commented 'Les quatorze vers du poète, écrits sur la bordure même, ne sont là que comme l'ètiquette collée sur les costumes dans le magazine d'un théatre.' (Burty, Philippe, 'Exposition de la Royal Academy', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 18, June 1865, p. 561). When the painting was shown again in the International Exhibition, South Kensington Museum, London, 1872, the Times commented that it had 'written round the frame some very beautiful, but not very lucid verses by Mr Swinburne, addressed to the picture, which is of a woman clad in white and very truthfully painted muslin' (Times, 14 May 1872).