“You didn’t look back,” he called to me as I was walking toward my dorm. I glanced back, our eyes met and dimpled smiles spread across both our faces. We continued on our separate ways. From then on, we indulged ourselves at every goodbye with that final glance before our eyes distracted our minds with other things. At every parting, I looked forward to that final unspoken goodbye. That is how I learned the power of the glance.
In 1902, Edmund Leighton captured that power in his painting of the young maiden looking back at the ferryman. There is beauty in the glance. It is an expression of the heart’s desire to merely gaze on the beloved. She has become the delight of his soul’s eyes and same of him to hers. Their parting is bitter, but the glance is sweet. The glance’s magic is multiplied with the fact that it is exclusively theirs and all others are oblivious to it. As presumably her parents walk on and the river pushes the boat forth, she pulls at a petal to pause and he picks up his oar to wait for the recognition of the parting moment. The movement in the painting surrounding the glance contrasts with their attempt to pause and capture that fleeting moment. This may be the first of many goodbyes or the last of one. It does not matter because that moment will be relished as long as memory holds it.
The young woman adorned in white has been placed in the center of the painting, so the eye immediately is drawn to her elegance. The observer follows her gaze to locate the man in the lower right corner. His face is turned away from the observer as if to shun any movement that may disrupt that moment shared. He is placed below her and is looking up at her in adoration. He being only a ferryman was symbolically placed here in the picture to portray his lower social status compared to her own. This magnifies the longing they might have for each other since it reaches across class lines.
This painting touches on man’s longing and failed attempt to possess a moment. These lovers must part. It also captures the power of the eyes of men. The eyes speak inexpressible mysteries and secrets that cannot be plainly stated in words. We all know that just one look can express numerous thoughts. And we have all seen that consuming look of love exchanged between a couple or dearly loved family and friends. It is with that one look that humans acknowledge the beautiful soul dwelling in another. Souls converse when eyes meet...that is the beauty of the glance.
Victoria Antram is currently daydreaming in classes at Ave Maria University where she is pursuing degrees in Theology and Political Economy and Government. She shelved her childhood dream of being a fashion designer for the more practical aspiration of being the first Catholic woman president. She plans to resurrect the dying language of poetry, and also hopes to use words to motivate those walking in darkness to chase the Light.