The following lines were written in reference to a picture, by William Holman Hunt, which was exhibited at the English Royal Academy last year (1854), and which was thus described at the time, in a letter by Ruskin, to the Times:
“Mr. Hunt has never explained his work to me. I give what appears to me its palpable interpretation. The legend beneath it is the beautiful verse: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ Rev. iii. 20. On the left hand side of the picture is seen this door of the human soul. It is fast barred; its bars and nails are rusty; it is knitted and bound to its stanchions by creeping tendrils of ivy, showing that it has never been opened. A bat hovers about it; its threshold is overgrown with brambles, nettles, and fruitless corn–the wild grass ‘whereof the mower filleth not his hand, nor he that bindeth sheaves his bosom.’ Christ approacheth it in the night time–Christ, in his everlasting offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. He wears the white robe, representing the power of the spirit upon him; the jewelled robe and breast-plate, representing the sacerdotal investiture; the rayed crown of gold, inwoven with the crown of thorns–not dead thorns, but now bearing soft leaves, for the healing of the nations. Now, when Christ enters any human heart, he bears with Him a two-fold light; first, the light of conscience, which displays past sin, and afterwards the light of peace, the hope of salvation. The lantern, carried in Christ’s left hand, is this light of conscience. Its fire is red and fierce: it falls only on the closed door, on the weeds which encumber it, and on an apple shaken from one of the trees of the orchard–thus marking that the entire awakening of the conscience is not merely to committed, but to hereditary guilt. This light is suspended by a chain, wrapt about the wrist of the Figure, showing that the light which reveals sin appears to the sinner also to chain the hand of Christ. The light which proceeds from the head of the figure, on the contrary, is that of the hope of salvation. It springs from the crown of thorns; and, though itself sad, subdued, and full of softness, is yet so powerful that it entirely melts into the glow of it the forms of the leaves and boughs which it crosses, showing that every earthly object must be hidden by this light where its sphere extends.”
I walked out (in the night), and came unto
An orchard-ground, deep-grassed and rich in fruit,
Whereon the moonbeam hung, and the wet dew.
There seemed not any path leading into it–
A promised dawn behind the horizon low–
The smoky mists moved over it. Nor brute,
Nor bird, nor man, seemed of the place to know
Because the trees had fruited, and the herb
Attained long growth, ungathered all: and so,
I saw a house whose door no hands disturb:
The ivy root had bit into the grain;
There had not been, or knife or hand to curb,
Where grew the rankest thing, that would attain
Its natural will: nor were the hinges thin
In rust, kept fast within the ivy chain
That bound the door. So then I thought of sin;
And how, if one lived there, he must be dark!
There was no light, nor glimmer from within.
As if a wind touched over the loose bark
Of peeling trees, and rattled; so I felt
A step amongst the trees, I did not mark.
Behold my dream!–a Face, in pity, dwelt
Upon that Door so barred and overgrown:
A kingly shape, girt with a wondrous belt;
His head leaned forward with the kingly crown,
He “stood and knocked,” bearing a lamp so bright
I woke at once like one who falleth down!
And after, and when, later in the night,
Sleep came, I saw that Figure walking round
The darkness with that most miraculous Light:
“Who hath not seen the same hath slept too sound.”