'Proserpine', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Half-length portrait painting of a woman with long red hair and blue clothing

Oil on canvas, dated 1882, 77.5 x 37.5cm, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery. Purchased by the Public Picture Gallery Fund

The goddess Proserpine was doomed to spend half the year in the Underworld, because she had partaken of a pomegranate after she was abducted by Pluto. Rossetti began eight canvases with this composition, one of his most powerful. This version is the eighth and last, completed just a few days before his death.

Afar away the light that brings cold cheer
Unto this wall, - one instant and no more
Admitted at my distant palace-door.
Afar the flowers of Enna from this drear
Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.
Afar those skies from this Tartarean gray
That chills me: and afar, how far away
The nights shall be from the days that were.

Afar from mine own self I seem, and wing
Strange ways in thought, and listen for a sign:
And still some heart unto some soul doth pine,
(Whose sounds mine inner sense is fain to bring
Continually together murmuring,)
'Woe's me for thee, unhappy Proserpine!'