Characters:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Artist and Poet. Husband of Lizzie Siddal Aged 30-35. Lover of Jane Burden.



William Morris

William Morris. (Top/Topsy) Artist, Poet, Socialist. Husband of Jane Burden. Aged 25-30.



Edward Burne Jones

Edward Burne Jones (Ned). Artist. Husband to Georgiana. Aged 25-30.



Janey Burden

Jane Burden (Janey) Needlewoman. Aged 20-25.



Georgiana Burne Jones

Georgiana Burne Jones (Georgie). Biographer, Woodcarver, Artist. Aged 20-25.



Lizzie Siddal

Lizzie Siddal. Artist. Opium Eater. Aged 28-32.




If I Can

by Katherine Tozer



ROSSETTI

He who tells this story often goes mad with the telling of it,
And he who hears it, always does.

MORRIS

I had the luck to stand,
A while ago,
In a flowery land; the Valley of the Cray.
I was young;
And green hope was still in sight.
The wind ruffled up a narrow streak of river;
On either hand uprose the Kentish trunks,
With underwood entwined,
Making one thicket, thorny dense and blind.
We hacked our path, hewed and entered;
Through shabby-genteel houses,
Surrounded with dead fences,
And things called gardens,
To where an ancient orchard lay.
It made the stomach in me turn round,
With desire
For a house for my Queen, my Guinevere.

ROSSETTI

More a poem than a house, I’d say,
The Towers of Topsy. Red. Red. Red.

GEORGIE

More a statue, than a woman, I’d say,
His Janey, his Guinevere.

MORRIS

I was half mad with beauty on that day.
And with the arrogance of youth,
I determined to do no less,
Than transform this world with beauty.
I would build a quiet garden, walled round every way.
And that wall would shut the flowers and the trees up with the sky,
Trebling the beauty, for my Queen, my Guinevere.

JANEY

I looked at Lancelot and I could not speak.
For I was to be borne away.

GEORGIE

Alight at Abbey Wood,
Breathe thin, sweet, fresh air;
The scrabbling, swinging drive,
To Red House,
Where the Brotherhood trooped.

NED

With an ‘M’ for Morris upon our backs,
We pledged our troth to the thane.

MORRIS

Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and the piston stroke;
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
The spreading of the sore......
Think rather of the packhorse on the down.

GEORGIE

He looked as if he scarcely saw me.
A statue of a medieval king; the drawing of his mouth.

MORRIS

Many scarlet bricks there were,
Over which red apples shone
At the right time of year.

GEORGIE

His eyes took in. They did not give out.
He looked as if he scarcely saw me.

MORRIS

We sketched the staircase tower,
On ‘Murray’s guide to France’,
Floating down the sunlit Seine.

GEORGIE

His hair waved and curled triumphantly.
The drawing of his mouth.

MORRIS

Four courts I will make, East, West, South and North.
And in each a squared lawn,
And round these cool green courts,
There will run a row
Of cloisters, branched like mighty woods.
For my Queen, my Guinevere.

ROSSETTI

But the Towers of Topsy will tumble down....
They will tumble down, I say.

GEORGIE

He looked as if he scarcely saw me.

MORRIS

Be very shy of double flowers.
Don’t be swindled out of that wonder of beauty;
The single snowdrop.
There is no gain,
And plenty of loss in the double one.

GEORGIE

He looked as if he scarcely saw me.

MORRIS

I did see her.
She had large grey eyes, set wide apart,
The woman I did not marry.
Fringed with dark lashes,
So capable were Georgie’s eyes,
Of all shades of expression,
That they were liable to be misread.
Amidst apparent coldness, they could be tender,
Oh how tender, with love.
She had the air of one who has never made a mistake.
I shuddered lest those grave eyes, in all their wisdom,
Should rest upon anything unworthy,
Should rest upon me.

JANEY

After all, if I were young, I should do the same again.

MORRIS

St Michael at the Northgate, Oxford. There I met my match.

ROSSETTI

I saw her first. She’s mine. She was and ever shall be.

JANEY

The time ere I was bought,
By Arthur’s great name and his little love.

GEORGIE

Janey, the statue, speaks!

JANEY

Must I prove stone cold forever?

NED

Beautiful, beautiful and sometimes useful.

MORRIS

Janey was waiting for something.
But I know now, it was not for me.
I see her in the dance, her gown held up
To free her feet, going for my hand.
I see her in some crowded place bend down,
(She is so tall), lay her hand flat upon
My breast beneath my chin as who should say,
“Come here and talk apart”; I see her pale,
Her mouth half open, looking on in fear
As the great tilt yard fills. I see her, I say,
Beside me on the dias,
By my hearth,
And in my bed,
Who should have been my wife.

GEORGIE

I dug my nails into my palm.

ROSSETTI

And the Towers of Topsy came tumbling down.

MORRIS

I could see her beauty but she could not feel it.
O how I long to keep the world,
From narrowing in on me,
To look at things big and kindly.
When the wife can earn her living as a citizen,
And the children are citizens with rights of livelihood,
There will be nothing to force people into legalised prostitution.
Nothing.

JANE

Nothing?
I remember picking violets on the Iffley road but I had never seen the sea.

MORRIS

Amongst them was a woman, who at last,
Won by the glitter of some toy we cast
About her neck, by soft words and wine..........

GEORGIE

To listen for the delicious chuckling laugh,
As Janey, with confident skill, laid one stitch by another,
Following a design so lightly pencilled that I could not detect it.
She rose, and flung the great portiere down, spreading it out,
Checking the general air was as she had intended.

MORRIS

Step by step she came, up the golden stair,
Setting my heart aflame with all her beauty.
And setting Gabriel alight withal,
Til she reached the throne,
And sat down to be my bride.

NED

Up ladders,
With paintbrushes.

ROSSETTI

I took the settle doors.

JANEY

I stitched.

LIZZIE

I painted.

MORRIS

And all I oversaw.

GEORGIE

And midst the labour, all was sweet and fair.

MORRIS

How shall I weigh my life? Slow goes the time,
The whole fresh dew-sprinkled hill we climb,
Thinking of what shall be on the other side.
Slowly pass, perchance, the minutes we abide,
On the gained summit, blinking at the sun.
So in that vast hall, my hand her hand did seek.
And the golden lions rose and roared aloud.

JANEY

Every time the thing occurs a dagger thrusts into me.

MORRIS

I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or bring again the pleasure of past years,
Or hope again for aught that I can say.

GEORGIE

Janey standing alone in the porch to receive us.

JANEY

My outward life feels sad and still.

NED

Standing at Pilgrim’s Rest.

JANE

Tall. Thin. And withheld.
Always on the edge of illness.
I could never give myself wholly.
But no man cares now, to know why I sigh.
Whatever may have happened through all these years
God Knows I speak the truth, saying that you lie.

MORRIS

I cannot paint you but I love you.
Where is your work?

JANEY

It seems of little skill to talk of things now past and dead.

MORRIS

Please, dear Janey, be happy.
Be happy.
For you are beautiful.
Be happy.

NED

On hot autumn nights,
Apples bounced through open bedroom windows,
From laden branches,
That overhung the house,
Ripe and ready for the picking.

GEORGIE

I see her tall figure and her beautiful face,
As she creeps through the moonlit hall.
Scarcely breathing,
Nearer and nearer to the place she feels sure he must be.
At last I hear her startled cry,
And her peal of laughter,
As he bursts forth.

ROSSETTI

And so the little accident befell.

MORRIS

Kid having appeared.
Stop.
Mrs Brown kindly says she will stay til Monday.
Stop.
Janey and kid (girl) doing very well.
Stop.

JANEY

Stop. Please stop. Please, God, make it stop.

GEORGIE

The day of the christening loomed grey and wet.
The wild flapping of the leather of the coach,
The dampened chintz inside.
The buoyant thrill of the medieval feast laid out within the hall.
But Gabriel ate nothing. Nothing at all,
Save the sullen munching of raisins from a dish.
Apart. Aside.
Whilst within Lizzie, their own baby turned and died.

ROSSETTI

He who tells this story often goes mad with the telling of it,
And he who hears it, always does.

LIZZIE

My grave, my grave, your poems in my grave.
Safely palled in my red red hair,
Because our baby is not there.

ROSSETTI

We were wrapped in motionless silence.
We had no need for words.

LIZZIE

Tennyson was wrapped round a pat of butter;
Unwrapping, I read him and was transfixed.
I felt the spell that held my breath.
I grew careless of most things and let the clock tick, tick.
I kissed Gabriel that Spring day,
When both our mouths went wandering in one way,
And aching sorely,
Met among the leaves.
And in the summer I grew white with flame and bowed my head down.
Til sudden I rose up, weak and pale and sick.
By God, I will not tell you any more today,
Judge any way you will, what matters it?

MORRIS

But I should hope in most cases friendship
Would go along with desire and would outlive it.

ROSSETTI

We had no need for word; we were tumbling down, tumbling down.

GEORGIE

One face looks out from all his canvasses.

JANEY

One selfsame figure

LIZZIE

Sits

GEORGIE

Or walks

JANEY

Or leans.

ROSSETTI

I fed upon her face by day and night.

LIZZIE

I am sorry to think of your picture going for that low price.
But there is nothing to be done.
The price of the knives is two shillings each;
I do not wish them to think we cannot pay.

ROSSETTI

Ruskin bought Lizzie’s all, wild with delight.
He declared any scrap she did,
Was better than all the things I ever made.

MORRIS

Night passed, day dawned and we grew full of mirth.

NED

Possessing nought, and lacking nought, we all lived happily, free from thought.

ROSSETTI

Top’s a millionaire.
With a touch of the incoherent.
But he buys all my pictures, my friend.

MORRIS

Push the brazen door,
And standing on the tiled floor,
Leave the noises of the city behind;
Most calm that reverent chamber shall ye find,
Silent at first, but for the noise you made,
When on the brazen door your hand you laid,
To shut it after you.

GEORGIE

The exile, I felt, hearing the voices of my friends
Through closed doors with my son upon my knee;
For Ned’s laugh floated through,
As my hot fat tears rained upon the infant head;
Separator of companions.
Terminator of delight.
No more wonderful, seething days.

NED

We shared a light-hearted indifference, didn’t we?
Georgie?
To many things
Generally regarded as essential.

GEORGIE

Boldness in our domestic arrangements.

MORRIS

The sharing of our wives.

GEORGIE

I asked the maid to pose for me,
And she, good tempered as she was pretty,
Cheerfully consented.

LIZZIE

I was naked and ye clothed me.

JANEY

I was sick and ye visited me.

ROSSETTI

Whether Janey is an original or a copy......

MORRIS

In either case she is a wonder.

NED

The stillest woman I have ever met.

LIZZIE

I hope you are coming over with Ned tomorrow night?
Like a sweetmeat.
It seems so long since I saw you, Georgie, dear.
Janey will be here,
I hope,
To meet you.
A willow pattern dish full of love
To you and to Ned.

NED

Short, sad and strange Lizzie’s life.
It must’ve seemed to her like a troubled dream.

LIZZIE

The boy pulled a little blue flower from a rock.
He let flowers grow in the fields
But here by the sea it looked such a poor little thing,
He plucked it. And bore it away.
Saying I came from very far, much farther than he could ever see.
Over the hills and far away.

ROSSETTI

The lamps went out, the water cold.

LIZZIE

I lay as still as I could be.
Chanting snatches of old songs.

ROSSETTI

I sat down meekly by her side
And watched her young life flee.

LIZZIE

Tell him I died of my great love.

NED

The deceased was Gabriel’s wife

GEORGIE

And her name was Ophelia.

MORRIS

The Lord shall preserve thy going out.

LIZZIE

But not our coming in. Why not our coming in?
The unformed visions of my life
Pass by in ghostly train,
Some pause to touch me on the cheek,
Some scatter tears like rain.

ROSSETTI

On Monday she was perfectly well. Perfectly, I say.

NED

Between flightiness and drowsiness.

GEORGIE

I had heard Swinburne say.

ROSSETTI

She had not spoken of wishing to die.
She had not spoken, I say.

LIZZIE

Carry me through the dim twilight
And hide me among the graves.

GEORGIE

Laudanum with brandy?

NED

Just to quiet her nerves.

ROSSETTI

Ophelia could not sleep, you see.

JANEY

She bought a mantle the day before, to take the trip to Kent.

MORRIS

Our house being so cold, you see.

GEORGIE

Lizzie was alive the day before she died. And so were all of we.

ROSSETTI

The empty phial beside her bed. The note that I destroyed.

LIZZIE

A silence falls upon my heart,
And hushes all its pain,
I stretch my hands in the long grass
And fall to sleep again,
There to lie empty of all love,
Like beaten corn of grain.

ROSSETTI

He who tells this story often goes mad with the telling of it,
And he who hears it, always does.

LIZZIE

Ope not thy lips, thou foolish one,
Nor turn to me thy face;
The blasts of heaven shall strike thee down,
Ere I will give thee grace.

JANEY

I see her now, knelt in my room.
Palette and brush to hand.
But all is dark, the corner dark,
The plaster will not bloom.

LIZZIE

Come to me this Saturday,
Come, my love, to me.
To mend the figure
On the wall.
For I’m too blind to see.

MORRIS

But the work goes on. For on it must.

LIZZIE

My baby died. My little girl. I am too sick to see.

MORRIS

I will not talk. I cannot talk. Of this....or this... or this.

LIZZIE

I saw your sketch. Your little sketch. Your little sketch of me.

JANEY

A grieving woman, with wings of hair,
Heavily cast down.
And up the baby, from her arms, floated in the air.

GEORGIE

We found her late at Blackfriars Bridge,
Hard by the reeking Thames.

MORRIS

No, dream, you must, dream you must,
Small, and white, and clean,
Dream you must, dream you must,
Bordered by gardens green.

NED

Ophelia sat in darkness, the empty cradle a-rock,

LIZZIE

Hush, Ned, you’ll waken it.

NED

And thus my heart did break.

MORRIS

Broken or not the work goes on, for on and on it must.

JANEY

If it were possible,
William began it.
And in due course, he finished it.
Turning neither to the right hand,
Nor to the left hand,
Until the work was done.

MORRIS

Si Je Puis.

NED

If I Can.

ROSSETTI

If I can’t have her, nobody can.

GEORGIE

And we laughed because we were so happy.
And I was full of child.
Janey, and I, crept through the house;
She held the lantern high.
The candle danced and in the glow,
Swinburne turned and sighed.

NED

A lovely plan was made, too happy to come about.
To close the square; complete the quad.
Two would be four and four be eight....

ROSSETTI

But walls come tumbling down, I roar,
Walls come tumbling down.

JANEY

The house was cold. And full of smoke.
And I was all alone.

MORRIS

When West is East and East is West, the sun it never shone.

JANEY

But Annunciation! On Lady Day, like a miracle she came.

MORRIS

Little May, my sweetest May.

ROSSETTI

Two babes for you, and I had none.

MORRIS

I am the Menelaus that you knew;
Come back to fetch a thing I left behind.
You think me changed?
It is ten years ago,
And many weary things have happened since.
Behold me lying in my own place now;
Abed, Helen, my Guinevere,
Afore the night goes by.

JANEY

May spoke to me of what she glimpsed,
Bright eyed, curly pated.
Her father throned, Icelandic thane.
His fist came crashing down.

NED

Embedded in iron, dancing with rage, Top roared and roared and roared.

GEORGIE

And in the bower, rose petal scattered,
Swinburne flits again.
If time could stop, how I wish it would,
But the scarlet fever came.

NED

The sea, the sea, we were by the sea.

GEORGIE

I drowsed ‘twixt life and death.
And when I awoke,
Ned held my hand;
Our baby boy was dead.

ROSSETTI

And the Towers of Topsy darkened the skies.

NED

Please can God bring back the day when we two stood,
Beneath the clinging trees in that dark wood?

GEORGIE

Gazing through the gloom like one,
Whose life and hopes are also done.
Frozen like a thing of stone,
I sit in thy shadow, but not alone.

NED

Dear Christ, If I could weep tears,
To shut out the summer leaves.

ROSSETTI

He who tells this story often goes mad with the telling of it,
And he who hears it, always does.

LIZZIE

Turn thou away thy false dark eyes,
Nor gaze upon my face,
Great love I bore thee; now great hate
Sits grimly in its place.
All changes pass me like a dream,
I neither sing, nor pray;
And thou art like the poisonous tree,
That stole my life away.

MORRIS

All the world knows what you are Gabriel,
And what you have been.

ROSSETTI

A couple should remain together,
But as free people!
That’s what you said!

JANEY

And knowing now that they would have me speak,
I threw my wet hair backward from my brow,
My hand close to my mouth, touching my cheek,
As though I had there a shameful blow.

GEORGIE

But she would not speak another word,
And stood, turned sideways, listening.
Crowned with her own black hair.

MORRIS

You want her not as she is,
But as she was, when hope shone bright;
Not as she is,
But how she fills your dreams.

ROSSETTI

For who, indeed, alone could bear,
The dreadful shame, the shameful fear,
Of such a bridal?

GEORGIE

Time and again across his heart would stream,
The pain of a fierce desire whose aim was gone,
Of baffled yearning, loveless and alone.

MORRIS

Choose old columbine;
The clustering doves are unmistakeable and distinct;
The double one runs to mere tatters.

ROSSETTI

And the Towers of Top came tumbling down.

JANEY

We packed our bags and took the key.