La belle qui fut…

Mar 8, 2016 | Things I wish I'd written

Miss Rossignol lived in the lazaretto
For Roman Catholic crones; she had white skin,
And underneath it, fine, old-fashioned bones;
Shew flew like bats to vespers every twilight,
The living Magdalen of Donatello;
And tipsy as a bottle when she stalked
On stilted legs to fetch the morning milk,
In a black shawl harnessed by rusty brooches.
My mother warned us how that flesh knew silk
Coursing a green estate in gilded coaches.
While Miss Rossignol, in the cathedral loft,
Sang to her one dead child, a tattered saint
Whose pride had paupered beauty to this witch
Who was so fine once, whose hands were so soft.

…from Chapter III, “Tales of the Islands,” by Derek Walcott in his 1962 collection, In A Green Night, but more easily found in Collected Poems.

Mary Magdalen by A.F.A. Sandys