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Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862)

Sister Helen, 1854

An illustration to D.G. Rossetti's poem of the same name, which was published in 1851. The poem is below.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England
Pencil; 23.4 x 29.8 cm
Sister Helen - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1851

1     "Why did you melt your waxen man
2             Sister Helen?
3     To-day is the third since you began."
4     "The time was long, yet the time ran,
5             Little brother."
6         (O Mother, Mary Mother,
7     Three days to-day, between Hell and Heaven!) 

8     "But if you have done your work aright,
9             Sister Helen,
10   You'll let me play, for you said I might."
11   "Be very still in your play to-night,
12           Little brother."
13       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
14   Third night, to-night, between Hell and Heaven!) 

15   "You said it must melt ere vesper-bell,
16           Sister Helen;
17   If now it be molten, all is well."
18   "Even so,--nay, peace! you cannot tell,
19           Little brother."
20       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
21   O what is this, between Hell and Heaven?) 

22   "Oh the waxen knave was plump to-day,
23           Sister Helen;
24   How like dead folk he has dropp'd away!"
25   "Nay now, of the dead what can you say,
26           Little brother?"
27       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
28   What of the dead, between Hell and Heaven?) 

29   "See, see, the sunken pile of wood,
30           Sister Helen,
31   Shines through the thinn'd wax red as blood!"
32   "Nay now, when look'd you yet on blood,
33           Little brother?"
34       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
35   How pale she is, between Hell and Heaven!) 

36   "Now close your eyes, for they're sick and sore,
37           Sister Helen,
38   And I'll play without the gallery door."
39   "Aye, let me rest,--I'll lie on the floor,
40           Little brother."
41       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
42   What rest to-night, between Hell and Heaven?) 

43   "Here high up in the balcony,
44           Sister Helen,
45   The moon flies face to face with me."
46   "Aye, look and say whatever you see,
47           Little brother."
48       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
49   What sight to-night, between Hell and Heaven?) 

50   "Outside it's merry in the wind's wake,
51           Sister Helen;
52   In the shaken trees the chill stars shake."
53   "Hush, heard you a horse-tread as you spake,
54           Little brother?"
55       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
56   What sound to-night, between Hell and Heaven?) 

57   "I hear a horse-tread, and I see,
58           Sister Helen,
59   Three horsemen that ride terribly."
60     "Little brother, whence come the three,
61           Little brother?"
62       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
63   Whence should they come, between Hell and Heaven?) 

64   "They come by the hill-verge from Boyne Bar,
65           Sister Helen,
66   And one draws nigh, but two are afar."
67   "Look, look, do you know them who they are,
68           Little brother?"
69       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
70   Who should they be, between Hell and Heaven?) 

71   "Oh, it's Keith of Eastholm rides so fast,
72           Sister Helen,
73   For I know the white mane on the blast."
74   "The hour has come, has come at last,
75           Little brother!"
76       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
77   Her hour at last, between Hell and Heaven!) 

78   "He has made a sign and called Halloo!
79           Sister Helen,
80   And he says that he would speak with you."
81   "Oh tell him I fear the frozen dew,
82           Little brother."
83       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
84   Why laughs she thus, between Hell and Heaven?) 

85   "The wind is loud, but I hear him cry,
86           Sister Helen,
87   That Keith of Ewern's like to die."
88   "And he and thou, and thou and I,
89           Little brother."
90       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
91   And they and we, between Hell and Heaven!) 

92   "Three days ago, on his marriage-morn,
93           Sister Helen,
94   He sicken'd, and lies since then forlorn."
95   "For bridegroom's side is the bride a thorn,
96           Little brother?"
97       (O Mother, Mary Mother,
98   Cold bridal cheer, between Hell and Heaven!) 

99   "Three days and nights he has lain abed,
100         Sister Helen,
101 And he prays in torment to be dead."
102 "The thing may chance, if he have pray'd,
103         Little brother!"
104     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
105 If he have pray'd, between Hell and Heaven!) 

106 "But he has not ceas'd to cry to-day,
107         Sister Helen,
108 That you should take your curse away."
109 "My prayer was heard,--he need but pray,
110         Little brother!"
111     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
112 Shall God not hear, between Hell and Heaven?) 

113 "But he says, till you take back your ban,
114         Sister Helen,
115 His soul would pass, yet never can."
116 "Nay then, shall I slay a living man,
117         Little brother?"
118     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
119 A living soul, between Hell and Heaven!) 

120 "But he calls for ever on your name,
121         Sister Helen,
122 And says that he melts before a flame."
123 "My heart for his pleasure far'd the same,
124         Little brother."
125     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
126 Fire at the heart, between Hell and Heaven!) 

127 "Here's Keith of Westholm riding fast,
128         Sister Helen,
129 For I know the white plume on the blast."
130 "The hour, the sweet hour I forecast,
131         Little brother!"
132     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
133 Is the hour sweet, between Hell and Heaven?) 

134 "He stops to speak, and he stills his horse, 
135         Sister Helen;
136 But his words are drown'd in the wind's course."
137 "Nay hear, nay hear, you must hear perforce,
138         Little brother!" .
139     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
140 What word now heard, between Hell and Heaven?) 

141 "Oh he says that Keith of Ewern's cry,
142         Sister Helen,
143 Is ever to see you ere he die."
144 "In all that his soul sees, there am I
145         Little brother!"
146     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
147 The soul's one sight, between Hell and Heaven!) 

148 "He sends a ring and a broken coin,
149         Sister Helen,
150 And bids you mind the banks of Boyne."
151 "What else he broke will he ever join,
152         Little brother?"
153     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
154 No, never join'd, between Hell and Heaven!) 

155 "He yields you these and craves full fain,
156         Sister Helen,
157 You pardon him in his mortal pain."
158 "What else he took will he give again,
159         Little brother?"
160     (O Mother, Mary Mother, 
161 Not twice to give, between Hell and Heaven!) 

162 "He calls your name in an agony,
163         Sister Helen,
164 That even dead Love must weep to see."
165 "Hate, born of Love, is blind as he,
166         Little brother!"
167     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
168 Love turn'd to hate, between Hell and Heaven!) 

169 "Oh it's Keith of Keith now that rides fast,
170         Sister Helen,
171 For I know the white hair on the blast."
172 "The short short hour will soon be past,
173         Little brother!"
174     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
175 Will soon be past, between Hell and Heaven!) 

176 "He looks at me and he tries to speak,
177         Sister Helen,
178 But oh! his voice is sad and weak!"
179 "What here should the mighty Baron seek,
180         Little brother?"
181     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
182 Is this the end, between Hell and Heaven?) 

183 "Oh his son still cries, if you forgive,
184         Sister Helen,
185 The body dies but the soul shall live."
186 "Fire shall forgive me as I forgive,
187         Little brother!"
188     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
189 As she forgives, between Hell and Heaven!) 

190 "Oh he prays you, as his heart would rive,
191         Sister Helen,
192 To save his dear son's soul alive."
193 "Fire cannot slay it, it shall thrive,
194         Little brother!"
195     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
196 Alas, alas, between Hell and Heaven!) 

197 "He cries to you, kneeling in the road,
198         Sister Helen,
199 To go with him for the love of God!"
200 "The way is long to his son's abode,
201         Little brother."
202     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
203 The way is long, between Hell and Heaven!) 

204 "A lady's here, by a dark steed brought,
205         Sister Helen,
206 So darkly clad, I saw her not."
207 "See her now or never see aught,
208         Little brother!"
209     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
210 What more to see, between Hell and Heaven?) 

211 "Her hood falls back, and the moon shines fair,
212         Sister Helen,
213 On the Lady of Ewern's golden hair."
214 "Blest hour of my power and her despair,
215         Little brother!"
216     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
217 Hour blest and bann'd, between Hell and Heaven!) 

218 "Pale, pale her cheeks, that in pride did glow,
219         Sister Helen,
220 'Neath the bridal-wreath three days ago."
221 "One morn for pride and three days for woe,
222         Little brother!"
223     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
224 Three days, three nights, between Hell and Heaven!) 

225 "Her clasp'd hands stretch from her bending head,
226         Sister Helen;
227 With the loud wind's wail her sobs are wed."
228 "What wedding-strains hath her bridal-bed,
229         Little brother?"
230     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
231 What strain but death's, between Hell and Heaven?) 

232 "She may not speak, she sinks in a swoon,
233         Sister Helen,--
234 She lifts her lips and gasps on the moon."
235 "Oh! might I but hear her soul's blithe tune,
236         Little brother!"
237     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
238 Her woe's dumb cry, between Hell and Heaven!) 

239 "They've caught her to Westholm's saddle-bow,
240         Sister Helen,
241 And her moonlit hair gleams white in its flow."
242 "Let it turn whiter than winter snow,
243         Little brother!"
244     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
245 Woe-wither'd gold, between Hell and Heaven!) 

246 "O Sister Helen, you heard the bell,
247         Sister Helen!
248 More loud than the vesper-chime it fell."
249 "No vesper-chime, but a dying knell,
250         Little brother!"
251     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
252 His dying knell, between Hell and Heaven!) 

253 "Alas! but I fear the heavy sound,
254         Sister Helen;
255 Is it in the sky or in the ground?"
256 "Say, have they turn'd their horses round,
257         Little brother?"
258     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
259 What would she more, between Hell and Heaven?) 

260 "They have rais'd the old man from his knee,
261         Sister Helen,
262 And they ride in silence hastily."
263 "More fast the naked soul doth flee,
264         Little brother!"
265     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
266 The naked soul, between Hell and Heaven!) 

267 "Flank to flank are the three steeds gone,
268         Sister Helen,
269 But the lady's dark steed goes alone."
270 "And lonely her bridegroom's soul hath flown,
271         Little brother."
272     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
273 The lonely ghost, between Hell and Heaven!) 

274 "Oh the wind is sad in the iron chill,
275         Sister Helen,
276 And weary sad they look by the hill."
277 "But he and I are sadder still,
278         Little brother!"
279     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
280 Most sad of all, between Hell and Heaven!) 

281 "See, see, the wax has dropp'd from its place,
282         Sister Helen,
283 And the flames are winning up apace!"
284 "Yet here they burn but for a space,
285         Little brother! "
286     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
287 Here for a space, between Hell and Heaven!) 

288 "Ah! what white thing at the door has cross'd,
289         Sister Helen?
290 Ah! what is this that sighs in the frost?"
291 "A soul that's lost as mine is lost,
292         Little brother!"
293     (O Mother, Mary Mother,
294 Lost, lost, all lost, between Hell and Heaven!) 
Copyright 2000 by Chris McCormick. E-mail questions or comments to