John William Waterhouse’s Saint Eulalia
With all its keen attention to detail,
With its foreshortened shot of a stripped-down girl
Sprawled out on a slab of stone as snowflakes fall,
It seems designed to disturb, and so it does.
We see three doves, but whether they have flown
Up from her mouth, as poet Prudentius penned,
This strict and heartless picture does not affirm.
We are left on our own for miracles,
With little help from the artist himself or from
The stolid Roman soldier who stands to one side,
Perhaps to guard the chilling corpse from those
Who might be tempted to tamper with it more,
As if to scorch her body “with fierce flame,”
As Bede’s hymn has it, were not enough.
Still, the pubescent torso lies pristine.
Victorian men, our scholars venture, found the sight
Erotic. (The man who bought it had it hung
In his billiards room, hardly a fair fate for
A maid courageous enough to censure the state
For hating, hurting followers of Christ.)
William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. His newest books include the poetry collections From Rage to Hope (White Violet Press, 2016), Salzkammergut Poems, and Munich Poems (the latter two from Cedar Springs Books, 2016), as well as his translations of Hermann Hesse’s early poems (Cedar Springs Books, 2017) and Stefan Zweig’s unfinished novel Clarissa (Ariadne Press, 2017).
The Ekphrastic Review
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