Como Rossetti resgatando a dádiva de amor
verso a verso a corrupto corpo
de Elizabeth Eleanor, o escritor
é um ladrão de túmulos. E é um morto
dormindo um sono alheio, o do livro,
que a si mesmo se sonha digerindo
sua carne e seu sangue e dirigindo
a sua mão e o seu livre arbítrio.
Quem construiu a sua casa? Quem semeou
a sua vida, quem a colherá?
Nem a sua morte lhe pertence, roubou-a
a outro e outro lha roubará.
Toma, come, leitor: este é o seu corpo,
a inabitada casa do livro,
também tu estás, como ele, morto,
e também não fazes sentido.
Manuel António Pina em Os Livros, Assírio & Alvim
Overcome with grief, Rossetti enclosed in Elizabeth’s coffin a small journal containing the only copies he had of his many poems. He purportedly slid the book into Elizabeth’s red hair. She was then interred at Highgate Cemetery in London. By 1869, Rossetti was chronically addicted to drugs and alcohol. He convinced himself that he was going blind and couldn’t paint. He began to write poetry again. Before publishing his newer poems he became obsessed with retrieving the poems he had slipped into Elizabeth’s hair. Rossetti and his agent, the notorious Charles Augustus Howell, applied to the Home Secretary for an order to have her coffin exhumed to retrieve the manuscript. This was done in the dead of night so as to avoid public curiosity and attention, and Rossetti was not present. Howell reported to Rossetti that her corpse was remarkably well preserved and her delicate beauty intact. Her hair was said to have continued to grow after death so that the coffin was filled with her flowing coppery hair. The manuscript was retrieved although a worm had burrowed through the book so that some of the poems were difficult to read. Rossetti published the old poems with his newer ones; they were not well received by some critics because of their eroticism, and he was haunted by the exhumation through the rest of his life.
Seven years after Lizzie’s death, Rossetti published a collection of sonnets entitled The House of Life; contained within it was the poem, “Without Her”. It is a reflection on life once love has departed:
- What of her glass without her? The blank grey
- There where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.
- Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
- Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.
- Her paths without her? Day’s appointed sway
- Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
- Without her? Tears, ah me! For love’s good grace,
- And cold forgetfulness of night or day.
- What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
- Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
- A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
- Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
- Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,
- Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.
- — From Without Her