A Classical Education

Dante and Beatrice [1883]
Henry Holiday [1839-1927]
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

The things men want.
There are
the held high breasts of
Beatrice’s companion as she
arches backwards
to look at him –
this strange man
in velvet green whose orange red tights
match the lining of his gown, his hat,
probably his thoughts,
and her.

But colour-blind Dante wants
none of that
very attainable-looking stuff.
The girl in red
has a foot shaped
like a snake’s head.
At the triangular junction
of her legs and belly
a ripple of cloth gathers
excitedly.

But, Dante, his face
enclosed forever in a Florentine sneer
that would sour wine,
ignores the obvious,
put there by the painter
for his obvious ease,
and stares
at the rose
held like him
where satiny cloth billows
empty
under Beatrice’s chin.

His left hand grips his ribs,
his gown, as if he has misplaced
his heart.
Beatrice decides wisely
to ignore this man.
Her shift clings to her legs
and her feet
are already dancing away.
Her body is for the birds,
and for horticulture.

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