The Magdalen

Image: Timoteo Viti, St. Mary Magdalene (c.1500s). Oil on panel. Palazzo Ducale, Urbino. http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-US/asset/80457/viti-timoteo-1467-1524/st-mary-magdalene-panel, 22 September 2015.     

Timoteo Viti

The Accademia at Bologna
 

THIS tender sylph of a maid
Is the Magdalen—this figure lone :
Her attitude is swayed
By the very breath she breathes,
The prayer of her being that takes no voice.
Boulders, the grass enwreathes,
Arch over her as a cave
That of old an earthquake clave
And filled with stagnant gloom :

Yet a woman has strength to choose it for her room.

Her long, fair hair is allowed
To wander in its thick simpleness ;
The graceful tresses crowd
Unequal, yet close enough
To have woven about her neck and breast
A wimple of golden stuff.
Though the rock behind is rude,
The sweetness of solitude
Is on her face, the soft
Withdrawal that in wild-flowers we have loved so oft.

Her mantle is scarlet-red
In folds of severe, resplendency ;
Her hair beneath is spread
Full-length ; from its lower flakes
Her feet come forth in their naked charm :
A wind discreetly shakes
The scarlet raiment, the hair.
Her small hands, a tranquil pair, 
Are laid together ; her book
And cup of ointment furnish scantily her nook.

She is happy the livelong day,
Yet her thoughts are often with the past ;
Her sins are done away,
They can give her no annoy.
She is white—oh ! infinitely clean
And her heart throbs with joy ;
Besides, there is joy in heaven
That her sins are thus forgiven ;
And she thinks till even-fall
Of the grace, the strangeness, the wonder of it all

She is shut from fellowship ;
How she loved to mingle with her friends !
To give them eyes and lip ;
She lived for their sake alone ;
Not a braid of her hair, not a rose
Of her cheek was her own :
And she loved to minister
To any in want of her, 
All service was so sweet :
Now she must stand all day on lithe, unsummoned feet.

Among the untrodden weeds
And moss she is glad to be remote ;
She knows that when God needs
From the sinning world relief,
He will find her thus with the wild bees,
The doves and the plantain-leaf,
Waiting in a perfect peace
For His kingdom's sure increase. 

Waiting with a deeper glow
Of patience every day, because He tarrieth so.

By her side the box of nard
Unbroken . . . God is a great way off ;
She loves Him : it is hard
That she may not now even spread
The burial-spice, who would gladly keep
The tomb where He lay dead,
As it were her rocky cave ;
And fold the linen and lave
The napkin that once bound
His head ; no place for her pure arts is longer found.

And these are the things that hurt ;
For the rest she gives herself no pain :
She wears no camel shirt,
She uses nor scourge, nor rod ;
But bathes her fair body in the well
And keeps it pure for God :
The beauty, that He hath made
So bright, she guards in the shade,
For, as an angel's dress, 
Spotless she must preserve her new-born loveliness.

Day by day and week by week, 
She lives and muses and makes no sound ;
She has no words to speak
The joy that her desert brings :
In her heart there is a song
And yet no song she sings.
Since the word Rabboni came
Straightway at the call of her name
And the Master reproved,
It seems she has no choice—her lips have never moved.

She stole away when the pale
Light was trembling on the garden-ground
And others told the tale,
Christ was risen ; she roamed the wide,
Fearful countries of the wilderness
And many a river-side,
Till she found her destined grot,
South, in France, a woody spot, 
Where she is often glad,
Musing on those great days when she at first grew sad.

 

Timoteo Viti

The Accademia at Bologna
 

THIS tender sylph of a maid
Is the Magdalen—this figure lone :
Her attitude is swayed
By the very breath she breathes,
The prayer of her being that takes no voice.
Boulders, the grass enwreathes,
Arch over her as a cave
That of old an earthquake clave
And filled with stagnant gloom :
Yet a woman has strength to choose it for her room.

Her long, fair hair is allowed
To wander in its thick simpleness ;
The graceful tresses crowd
Unequal, yet close enough
To have woven about her neck and breast
A wimple of golden stuff.
Though the rock behind is rude,
The sweetness of solitude
Is on her face, the soft
Withdrawal that in wild-flowers we have loved so oft.

Her mantle is scarlet-red
In folds of severe, resplendency ;
Her hair beneath is spread
Full-length ; from its lower flakes
Her feet come forth in their naked charm :
A wind discreetly shakes
The scarlet raiment, the hair.
Her small hands, a tranquil pair, 
Are laid together ; her book
And cup of ointment furnish scantily her nook.

She is happy the livelong day,
Yet her thoughts are often with the past ;
Her sins are done away,
They can give her no annoy.
She is white—oh ! infinitely clean
And her heart throbs with joy ;
Besides, there is joy in heaven
That her sins are thus forgiven ;
And she thinks till even-fall
Of the grace, the strangeness, the wonder of it all

She is shut from fellowship ;
How she loved to mingle with her friends !
To give them eyes and lip ;
She lived for their sake alone ;
Not a braid of her hair, not a rose
Of her cheek was her own :
And she loved to minister
To any in want of her, 
All service was so sweet :
Now she must stand all day on lithe, unsummoned feet.

Among the untrodden weeds
And moss she is glad to be remote ;
She knows that when God needs
From the sinning world relief,
He will find her thus with the wild bees,
The doves and the plantain-leaf,
Waiting in a perfect peace
For His kingdom's sure increase. 

Waiting with a deeper glow
Of patience every day, because He tarrieth so.

By her side the box of nard
Unbroken . . . God is a great way off ;
She loves Him : it is hard
That she may not now even spread
The burial-spice, who would gladly keep
The tomb where He lay dead,
As it were her rocky cave ;
And fold the linen and lave
The napkin that once bound
His head ; no place for her pure arts is longer found.

And these are the things that hurt ;
For the rest she gives herself no pain :
She wears no camel shirt,
She uses nor scourge, nor rod ;
But bathes her fair body in the well
And keeps it pure for God :
The beauty, that He hath made
So bright, she guards in the shade,
For, as an angel's dress, 
Spotless she must preserve her new-born loveliness.

Day by day and week by week, 
She lives and muses and makes no sound ;
She has no words to speak
The joy that her desert brings :
In her heart there is a song
And yet no song she sings.
Since the word Rabboni came
Straightway at the call of her name
And the Master reproved,
It seems she has no choice—her lips have never moved.

She stole away when the pale
Light was trembling on the garden-ground
And others told the tale,
Christ was risen ; she roamed the wide,
Fearful countries of the wilderness
And many a river-side,
Till she found her destined grot,
South, in France, a woody spot, 
Where she is often glad,
Musing on those great days when she at first grew sad.