John Singer Sargent Carnation Lily Lily Rose
John Singer Sargent 'Carnation Lily Lily Rose'

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Michael Hulse

Of the several answers to darkness, better than sleep
and lovelier is the lighting of lanterns in gardens,
the claustrophiliac revelation of closeness, light
laden with intimate comfort: important harmony!
Two girls in white

inhabit this acquiescent tenderness, Alices
cool in Marian shifts, innocents lavender-scented
and cotton-stockinged – you think of Betjeman's bicycle-
riding Oxford girls, the avuncular arousal these
slim-limbed little

woman trigger. What kind of Eden is this, anyway,
where only emblematic flowers grow? – carnations for the
experience of blood, lilies for virginity, and
roses modest and flushed (Lolitadom of girlhood!) Like
laundered bloodstained

linen. They are not girls but ideas of girls, and in
the otherworld of intimate green already their thoughts
are of leaving their paradise, as women in Watteau
dream of flying: see, it is in their serious faces
taking the glow.

John Singer Sargent Carnation Lily Lily Rose schetsen

Michael Hulse was born in Stroke-on-Trent in 1955 and studied at St Andrews. He has taught in Germay at the universities of Erlangen, Eichstatt and Cologne, and has translated German literature (Goethe, Wassermann, Rinser, Strauss, Jelinek) as well as literary and art criticism. His poetry has taken numerous awards, including a National Poetry Competition first and a Cholmondeley Award. Following Knowing and Forgetting and Propaganda (both Secker & Warburg) he most recently published Eating Strawberries in the Necropolis (Harvell) and Mother of Battles (Littlewood Acr), both 1991. He currently lives in Cologne, where he works for the English service of the Deutsche Welle and is director of the Cologne International Literature Festival.