Like sweet bells jangled – Magpie Tales

waterhouse john william sweet-summer-1912

Sweet Summer, 1912, John William Waterhouse

Ophelia is waiting for her lover in the sultry summer sun.

For him, she has shunned her family and cast aside her morals, her instincts and above all, her better judgement.

The garden appears to be sheltered and obscured from the view of passers-by. However there is a place in the wall where, if you place your eye just so, you will be rewarded with the full spectacle of the fountain, the camellias, the lawn and anyone who cares to rest within.

Ophelia knows this and she also knows who else knows this. Isn’t this hidden gem where the lords and ladies of the kingdom, inflamed with their desires and wants, their peccadillos, flock to catch a glimpse of their hearts’ desires?

She can feel the heat of them, these eyes. She can imagine the carefully plucked eyebrows rising in shock to see her, the future king’s potential wife, lying here in such disarray.

She is imprudent with desire. It will take very little to tip her over into the sweet, dark abyss.

To her at least, in this moment, it will be worth it.


Here’s my latest entry to Magpie Tales. Waterhouse is another one of my favourite artists, along with Millais. This painting to me is reminiscent of Waterhouse’s Ophelia, so I was drawn to writing about the tragic young noblewoman who took her own life in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A great deal of poetic licence has been taken, of course.

I hope you enjoy it, and that the sense of madness comes through.

The title ‘Like sweet bells jangled’, comes from Ophelia’s speech when she is fretting on Hamlet’s seeming loss of mind:

“Oh, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!—
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,
Th’ expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form,
Th’ observed of all observers, quite, quite down!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatched form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy. Oh, woe is me,
T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see!”

magpie tales statue stamp 185

26 thoughts on “Like sweet bells jangled – Magpie Tales

  1. This is so bewitching. Completely drew me in. And I had to look up “peccadillos”–what a fantastic word!! Thanks for expanding my vocabulary.

  2. Poor Ophelia! As you say so rightly, she has tragedy thrust upon her. Such a tricky part to play as a result. How does the actor establish enough self-substance before the character is swept away?

  3. “She is imprudent with desire.” But she won’t be covering that place in the wall any time soon.

  4. Sweet , dark abyss of desire , an exothermic reaction of the earth itself , of which we are but molecules ….

    1. Thank you, Imelda. It’s funny – I was aiming for tragedy when I wrote this, and everyone has picked up on the sensuous, except for you! Not that I mind – I love reading how people interpret what I have written 🙂

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