NOTES AND SOURCES
The title of “The Kissed Mouth” comes from D. G. Rossetti’s painting, “Boca Baciata,” and the epigraph from the inscription on the reverse of the painting, quoting from the Decameron, II, 7. Translation: “A kissed mouth does not lose its freshness, for like the moon it always renews itself.”
Boccaccio offers the saying cynically, at the end of a tale in which a young woman, after many sexual adventures, returns at last to be married and, despite her now vast experience, is presented and accepted as a virgin. Midway through writing this text in 2013, I discovered that the saying, in its original Italian, was incorporated by Boito in his libretto for Verdi’s Falstaff. Boito uses it as a call and response between young lovers Nannetta and Fenton, still with a bawdy wink. I have stripped the residual cynicism and bawdry from it here.
The model for the painting “Boca Baciata” was Fanny Cornforth. While her mouth is the center point of the painting, Miss Cornforth does not otherwise appear in this piece. She is deserving of one of her own.
The concluding stanza incorporates two lines from Rossetti’s poem, “The Woodspurge”.
Elizabeth Siddall was painted as Hamlet’s Ophelia, but by John Everett Millais, not by Rossetti. While modeling the drowned Ophelia, Siddall lay long hours in a tub of water. Although the water was ostensibly heated by oil lamps surrounding the tub, she caught a serious cold, frequently claimed to have contributed to ill health through the rest of her life.
The concluding portions of this section revise material from Christina Rossetti’s poem, “In an Artist’s Studio,” in which she depicted her brother’s obsession with Siddall as a model. Christina never quite approved of Elizabeth.
The exchange beginning with “This loving hand...” and ending with “...I hold it towards you” is revised from “This Living Hand” by John Keats. While Rossetti was familiar with and highly enthusiastic about Keats’s poetry, he would not have known “This Living Hand.” Likely one of the last poems Keats wrote, the fragment was found after Keats’s death and did not see publication in Rossetti’s lifetime.
This section also incorporates variants on six lines from Rossetti’s sonnet, “Life in Love,” written after, and about, the death of Elizabeth Siddall.
The first five lines of this section (through “Mute before the house of Love...”) incorporate material from Rossetti’s sonnet “Stillborn Love.” Elizabeth Siddall’s preexisting depression, from which she sought relief in increasing doses of laudanum, was compounded by the stillbirth of her child with Rossetti.
The three lines beginning with “Absolute eyes” are a paraphrase of a description of Jane Burden Morris by Henry James, who met her when he called upon Rossetti at Rossetti’s home on Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.
Jane Burden Morris sings here of a variety of roles and circumstances in which she was painted by Rossetti. Jane’s portrait as Iseult was painted by her husband, William Morris; it is his only completed painting, he concluding that his talents lay in other media. Rossetti did refer to her as “the Queen of Beauty.”
This section incorporates a single line from Rossetti’s poem “Song of the Bower,” and five lines from his sonnet, “A Superscription.” Courtney Love has previously borrowed “my name is MightHaveBeen” for the song “Celebrity Skin.”
The rhyme scheme in the closing dialogue draws on Dante’s terza rima in the Divine Comedy. In that connection, it was mandatory that the final word be “stars,” as in the Paradiso. The concluding spoken remark derives from the more forward looking opening sentence of Rossetti’s translation of Dante’s Vita Nuova (The New Life).