The VV was very touched when the Pre-Raphaelite Society's Poet in Residence, Sarah Doyle, wrote to say that she had been inspired to write the following haunting poem after reading the novel The Somnambulist, in which this painting by Millais is central to the story's plot...
John Everett Millais ~ A Somnambulist - 1871
In gauzy white, a wraith-like being:
eyes, though open, all unseeing.
Where shadows swallow up the light,
she wanders through the lonely night,
she wanders through the night.
On naked soles, she treads a route
of jeopardy. Irresolute,
imprisoned in a dream, engrossed –
a walking, breathing, living ghost,
a walking, living ghost.
Impassive face and tumbling hair,
her consciousness suppressed, elsewhere;
suspended on the precipice,
one halting step from the abyss,
one step from the abyss.
The darkling moon withdraws its gaze.
The candle’s flame, just now ablaze,
snuffs out, and leaves her quite alone,
the cliff-top air as cold as stone,
the air as cold as stone.
A statuette, she stands stock-still,
compelled to heed another’s will.
A puppet pulled by unseen strings,
a grounded moth, deprived of wings,
a moth deprived of wings.
One mistimed footstep from the ledge.
A stumbling toehold to the edge
of nothingness, and all is spent,
one swift and perilous descent,
one perilous descent.
What soul has not endured such fear?
Who doesn’t, on occasion, hear,
entwining with their stifled screams,
the whispered lure of vivid dreams,
the whispered lure of dreams?
Who hasn’t known the twisted sheet,
the writhing visions, incomplete;
the drowning terror, ragged breath,
the chill embrace of sleeping death,
the chill of sleeping death?
Oh, precious one, Somnambulist,
enshrouded in your drowsy mist:
give up this path your numb feet tread.
Turn back, turn back, return to bed.
Turn back, return to bed.
And as for those who wander, lost;
whose dreams are fractured, tempest-tossed:
resist the night-time’s distant call
and hope you wake before you fall,
you wake before you –
Sarah Doyle is Poet in Residence for the Pre-Raphaelite Society. You can find more of Sarah's poems on the society's website, as well as excellent articles and news relating to the Pre-Raphaelites in general. You can also find the society on Twitter as @PreRaphSoc, and Sarah as @PoetSarahDoyle.