What Was the Life of a Muse?

Elizabeth Siddal, artist's museOphelia, a painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, 1852.
Elizabeth Siddal was his muse, his model and inspiration.

 

By Camille Campbell

 

What was the life of a muse?
Scandalized, loved, immortalized. 
Her haunting gaze has lasted for eternity.
Yet we don’t know the story of the woman
beneath the marble cover,
behind the layers of paint.
The anatomy of her life.

i. Scandalized: 

What was the life of a muse?
It was learning to endure
small town gossip,
Learning to wash off
their taunts and gibes.
“Respectable girls don’t model,
Become a muse and you’ll never marry.”
She chose this life anyway,
picked the uncertain path.
“What if I don’t want to be—
A respectable girl….”
She traded corsets for flowing gowns,
traded reality for a fantasy world.
The artist can make her into….
A queen, a saint, a fae,
A maiden, a goddess, a huntress.
She would gladly pay the price of gossip
to be his only Inspiration. 

ii. Loved 

What was the life of a muse?
It was posing for hours,
still as a wax doll.
A woman with flaming hair,
pre-raphaelite beauty queen
addicted to compliments.
It is love, she tells herself,
when he admires her beauty
more than her dreams.
It is love, she convinces herself
when he fears that her genius
may one day outshine his own.
She puts away her brushes,
her talent hidden in the shadows,
all just to please him.
To keep his love
a muse will silently lie in ice water,
as the lamplight burns out,
until she can only hear the sound
of brushstrokes and chattering teeth.
If only she knew that his love
would fade away like the light
that once kept her warm.
A muse was a shimmering star,
awakening the artist’s genius.
Yet when a brighter star shines,
she burns out.

iii. Immortalized

What was the life of a muse?
It was holding old sketches,
relics and remnants of a past life,
wondering if she was still recognizable,
a withered woman with a failing mind.
Even when she meets her tragic end,
the weary muse knows one thing:
She will live on forever,
People stand in line,
Only to catch a glimpse of her gaze.
As the muse turns the pages of her life,
a flurry of colors flash in her mind.
Gold for the gifts she once received,
Green for the fields where she danced.
Red for the fury of his betrayal.
Blue for the last years of sorrow.
Before the colors fade away,
The muse finally knows what her life was:
both short and endless.

Reflection:

When I was younger, my favorite part about going to art museums was making up stories about the people in paintings. There’s something mysterious and compelling about muses, which drew me to write a poem about the “anatomy” of a muse’s life.

After researching various muses, I realized that their lives follow similar paths. The first phase of a muse’s life is depicted by the word “scandalized,” since, in the past, modeling for an artist was considered to be an improper occupation for a lady. The next part of the life I symbolized with the word “loved,” which combines the glamorous part of being a muse—and the dark side. Many muses were eventually forgotten by the artists’ that once loved them.

A vivid story that I used to represent this idea was of Elizabeth Siddal, who posed for the painting of Ophelia by lying in a bathtub warmed by oil lamps under the tub. However, when the lamps stopped working, Elizabeth didn’t complain and the artist didn’t notice. As a result of prolonged exposure to the frigid water, Elizabeth caught pneumonia and was sickly for the rest of her life. In my poem, I compared the oil lamps going out to the artist’s love for her fading away.

Finally, I wrote about the best part of being a muse: she is “immortalized.” Even in her later life, when she is left by the artist, a muse can be comforted by knowing that she will live forever in the art. Afterall, millions of people can recognize the faces of muses who lived centuries ago, so a muse will never truly be forgotten. 

 

Camille Campbell is the award winning author of the fantasy book series the Wishner Prophecy. She loves writing poems that tell a vivid story filled with emotions and paint a picture in the reader’s mind. When she’s not writing, you can find Camille painting on silk, playing classical guitar, and reading mystery books.

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