If Paint Were Love

I cannot paint you, but I love you –

William Morris, inscribed proposal to Jane Burden on back of La Belle Iseult painting, 1858


If Paint Were Love

I’d give the world to paint your face,
to draw from you what others see:
the captivating, easy grace.
I’d give the world to paint your face.
That peacock who would take my place –
if he portrays you, why not me?
I’d give the world to paint your face,
to draw from you what others see.

I long to bring to life your eyes;
to know – to paint! – your every thought.
To penetrate your soul’s disguise.
I long to bring to life your eyes.
A vain and futile enterprise –
averted, they will not be caught.
I long to bring to life your eyes;
to know – to paint! – your every thought.

I yearn to represent your skin,
all silver-thrilled and angel-bright.
Your light shines fiercely from within.
I yearn to represent your skin,
yet I produce a mannequin
upon the canvas, waxen-white.
I yearn to represent your skin,
all silver-thrilled and angel-bright.

My brush will not obey my will –
a stranger’s tool, its strokes not mine.
A bitter, hard-to-swallow pill –
my brush will not obey my will.
I paint the dog with greater skill.
Oh damned ham-fisted philistine!
My brush will not obey my will –
a stranger’s tool, its strokes not mine.

The fabric, I can paint with ease,
and yet I paint you, fish-eye cold.
Of all the meanest ironies,
the fabric, I can paint with ease.
My art shows not what my heart sees:
a faerie-queen, ablaze with gold.
The fabric, I can paint with ease,
and yet I paint you, fish-eye cold.

The mouth I’d kiss seems newly pursed,
your curves all flattened by my hand.
An alchemist, his works reversed,
the mouth I’d kiss seems newly pursed.
An anti-Midas, cruelly cursed,
I rage, but cannot understand:
the mouth I’d kiss seems newly pursed,
your curves all flattened by my hand.

I’d bathe you in a gilded glow,
if paint were love, and love were paint.
Proclaim aloud, so all may know
I’d bathe you in a gilded glow.
My ardour burns in colour; so
why is your figure whisper-faint?
I’d bathe you in a gilded glow,
if paint were love, and love were paint.


© Sarah Doyle, March 2013, for
the Pre-Raphaelite Society.
All rights reserved.

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