"Thought Which Saddens While It Soothes!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The painter in this poem is one of those early artists, now nameless and unknown, who painted formalized idealizations of the Virgin, Infant, and Saints. In the course of the poem the unknown painter defends his attitude toward art in the face of the current vogue for worldly painters who depict the ordinary faces of contemporary men. The unknown artist claims that he, too, has had dreams of earthly fame: "Oh thus to live, I and my picture, linked/ With love about, and praise, till life should end,/ And then not go to heaven, but linger here." But the cold, business-like attitude that was necessary to sell his paintings to those who considered them "household stuff" turned him from the possibility of earthly fame. He admits that: "My heart sinks, as monotonous I paint/ . . . the same series, Virgin, Babe, and Saint/ With the same cold calm beautiful regard–/ At least no merchant traffics in my heart." The painter opens his self-defense by remarking:

I could have painted pictures like that youth's
Ye praise so. How my soul springs up. No bar
Stayed me–ah, thought which saddens while it soothes!
–Never did fate forbid me, star by star,
To outburst on your night with all my gift
Of fires from God; nor would my flesh have shrunk
From seconding my soul. . . .