Unhappily, this week I found myself in my doctor’s surgery. The waiting room was decorated with pamphlets containing alarming line-drawings of unsightly illnesses. I was trying not to touch anything because the prospect of sickness is stressful for teachers. We worry that cancelling even one lesson will encourage a permanent Lord of the Flies atmosphere to reign in the classroom. Or perhaps that’s just me. So: Doctor’s appointment. Frightening reading material. Germophobia. You get the picture. And then a little yellow pamphlet entitled ‘Poems in the Waiting Room’ caught my eye. Inside I found a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti called, ‘Sudden Light’. It began:
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore …
The Victorian era saw the rise of the private detective in both real life and in fiction. Long before Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in ‘The Strand Magazine’ kept London’s commuters on the edges of their seats, Ignatius Paul Pollaky’s real-life investigations caught the city’s imagination. Known as ‘Paddington’ Pollaky after his office at Paddington Green, the Hungarian-born detective became famous in the 1860s when he began to use the London Times ‘Agony’ column to publish cryptic communiqués such as ‘Marquise, have patience; 10 minutes after midnight – POLLAKY’. He was immortalised in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience in the lyric: ‘the keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky’.
In An Artist's Studio
(by Christina Rossetti)
One face looks out from all his canvasses,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
A saint, an angel; – every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.