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"There They Lay": A Creative Response to Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Nuptial Sleep"

by Andrea Karr

There they lay

I chose to design a piece of art around Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Nuptial Sleep” (1870) because I have loved the romance and dream-like quality of this poem for years. The language is simultaneously decorative and simple. It immediately brings to my mind the image of two people
sleeping naked in a forest because of the line “Till from some wonder of new woods and streams/ He woke,” even if the line refers to the so-called “woods and streams” of a dream world.

My foremost goal with this design was, as with the illustrations of The Yellow Book, to create an autonomous piece of art. The poem influenced the design, but I intended this piece of art to go in an art book rather than a book of poetry. Ultimately, I did not want to showcase the poem as much as I wanted the poem to act as inspiration for a new piece of art.

In my creation of the piece, I chose to construct a pseudo stained-glass window out of black card stock and coloured transparencies. Though the piece has been glued to a piece of white cardboard for transport purposes, light would shine through if the white cardboard was removed and the piece was held in front of a window. The stained-glass effect is not only visually striking, but is also reminiscent of a wedding ceremony in a highly decorated church, which suits the nuptial theme. I chose the colours for the stained glass because of the lines in the poem that refer to “married flowers,” “the tide of dreams,” and “woods and streams.” The blue and green suit the poem because it suggests the nature imagery that Rossetti uses to describe sleep.

The blue faces in the top left and bottom right corners, one a man and one a woman, are severed by the text of the poem, as in the first line: “At length their long kiss severed with sweet smart.” There are also the cutouts of a man and a woman facing each other within the black borders of each of the blue faces. Ideally, I wanted these faces to suggest that the man and woman lie facing each other, but remain parted by sleep. The flowers in the other two corners imply nature, but are also ornate to suggest the flowery language of the poem. In addition, I placed the text on the bodies of a man and woman to create a sensual feeling that mirrors the alliteration of ‘s’ in the poem. I placed the final line of the poem, my favourite of all, around the border.

Though I am mostly happy with the outcome of this project, if I could go back and unpeel the glue, I would likely tilt the bodies to draw a line between the flowers, or I would allow for more space between the two blue faces to make each black-and-white body entirely visible. I like
the overlap of the blue female face and the feet, but I find the overlap of the two male heads distracting. I would also make the text of the poem more legible. Unfortunately, fitting the text onto the bodies exhausted my existing computer skills.