The little hands clasp thee,
And tenderly tighten,
To keep thee, to grasp thee;
The little eyes brighten.
What is her vision?
Of Paradise portal,
Meadows Elysian
And rivers immortal?
She is gone;—her white finger
Unlocks and uncloses.
Why should she linger
After the roses? (BN, 60)

As Philip K. Cohen explains, “Barlas's first child, Eveline Isabella, died of croup at the age of 3, while he was teaching in Ireland”, and this poem “surely commemorates her passing.”

Commentary by Philip K. Cohen

This temporally and verbally compact poem describes the moment of a child's death and a parent's reaction as it occurs. The reading time matches the duration of this event. Barlas augmented this sense of immediacy through the visual and tactile detail of her clasping and unclasping hand. Her brightening eyes and "white finger" remind us of her reality as a child dying in her mother's arms rather than an imagined angel already among the heavenly host. Indeed, this is a poem not of answers in the form of conventional consolations, but of questions. The first two address the afterlife. The father nests his speculation in the unknowable content of his dying child's "vision," which is extinguished immediately thereafter by the poems only certainty, death. A caesura stresses its finality: "she is gone:—" If these questions invite answers, the final, purely rhetorical, question ends speculation and surrenders entirely to the pain of loss. [194-95]

References

Cohen, Philip. John Evelyn Barlas, A Critical Biography: Poetry, Anarchism, and Mental Illness in Late-Victorian Britain. Rivendale Press, 2012. [Review]


Victorian Web Overview Aesthetes & Decadents John Barlas

Last modified 5 December 2012