Eerie transformations

I love John Everett Millais’ work with an all consuming passion. It’s not just his technical virtuosity that moves me but the sheer poetry of of his themes. So you can imagine how delighted I was to discover that he also wrote quite a lot of poetry too. I love a particular poem which is untitled and undated but is believed to have been written very late in his career. Some have conjectured that the poem was written as an articulation of Millais’ frustration with his failing health and as such is completely heart rending.

I should also point out that the original manuscript for this poem is in New York and I have not yet seen. But have reproduced the available verses of the poem from a catalogue of Millais’ works.

I had a dream that I was walking
By moonlight down a country road
And heard a hum of voices talking
Far off from any fixed abode

And coming to an open space
I looked upon a mighty field
And saw a strange thing for the place
A curious unexpected yield

At first I took the crop for wheat
And then for poppy as the ear
Was round and larger than is meet
For any common grain to wear […]

And as I looked I clearly saw,
What filled me with sudden dread
That every individual straw
Upheld a living human head […]

Then as I turned to leave the ground
To leave the grim uncanny plot
I felt that I myself was bound
And rooted to the very spot

Surprised, I thought it was a spell,
I laughed a little laugh of scorn
But at a glance I saw too well
Below I was a stem of corn

And agonised I fell a sobbing
Alas I had no heart to break
I felt my brain as usual throbbing
But nothing downwards left to ache

Quite powerless I knew my fate
Another skull upon a stalk
Still able to communicate
Although prohibited to walk […]

1 thought on “Eerie transformations”

  1. Millais is my favourite Pre-Raphelite painter too, although I do love Waterhouse’s pictures. I don’t really count him as a Pre-Raphaelite painter though, but as someone who painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style. I had no idea Millais wrote poetry. As you say, this is a very sad.

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