Safe in his excavated gallery

Christina Rossetti

Lady Lassetter sits at her mirror;
presented as a woodland frieze in May,
her drapery is appliquéd
with specimens of British botany.
On the dresser’s marbled top
a signed invitation can explain
this flowered and zoomorphic frock,
designed to be a favourite verse sartorialised.

So, astride her décolletage squirrels skip and catch
as leaping lambs begin to settle
the low-hilled grazing of her frontage.
Sequin birds perch undiscovered in her pits;
a wood pigeon finds foot in the peach nook of her coccyx.

Flowers and fruit are strewn!
There’s a mouse on her bustle
and caterpillars, snails and slugs
decorate an undulating hem; her sleeve is frilled
in hedgehog quills, all for this infernal ball in Piccadilly.

‘George, you don’t suppose it’s too much,
the flowers? I don’t want them to fall out of my hair
and into my soup: though they are quite wonderful.’

Sir George appears from the bathroom
costumed as a fat toad:
‘I hardly think one can talk any longer
of too much. I think much was some time ago.’

‘Oh George! You are sour. At times I’ve the definite suspicion
you don’t care a jot for the world’s respect.
And everyone thinks you’re the creative one!
With an attitude like that, how do you ever expect
to become a proper Academician?’

Sir George, in green pleats of taffeta,
imagines, quite gently, that he’s somewhere else entirely
colouring a stream by a hidden spot in Cumbria,
forming with a repeated dab
shrub-dressed hills that are a gathering of verdant cloud …

With learnt precision,
Lady Lassetter interrupts this silly vision,
instructs the servant girl loudly not to stoop –
and go chase down a hansom cab.

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