Sunday, December 20, 2009

If The Worst Had Been The Best

I have posted poems from Robert Service before, so I won't introduce him. If you are interested, just find his name in the list on the left and see my other posts on him.

This poem allows for at least two widely divergent readings. I find them both intriguing and can't quite decide which to allow precedence in my mind.

When I read it I think of a painting by Dante Rossetti, but I am not quite sure that Service had the same painting in mind although it is possible. The last line of the poem is a slight nod to a line by William Blake, so Service may have had one of Blake's engravings in mind and may have simply converted the engraving into a painting for the sake of the poem. But these speculations don't matter to the reading of the poem. If you are into research, go find out what paintings are hanging in St Hillaire.


I haled me a woman from the street,
Shameless, but, oh, so fair!
I bade her sit in the model's seat
And I painted her sitting there.

I hid all trace of her heart unclean;
I painted a babe at her breast;
I painted her as she might have been
If the Worst had been the Best.

She laughed at my picture and went away.
Then came, with a knowing nod,
A connoisseur, and I heard him say;
" 'Tis Mary, the Mother of God."

So I painted a halo round her hair,
And I sold her and took my fee,
And she hangs in the church of Saint Hillaire,
Where you and all may see.


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