Ariel’s Song: Come unto these yellow sands

Ariel’s song, with its dreamy allusions to water, flight, music, and affection, was taken as an open invitation to artists to depict this magical scene visually, especially among the pre-Raphaelites.

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have, and kiss’d
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.

These are the lines from The Tempest in which the airy spirit Ariel guides Ferdinand from his ship wreck to her through song.

Robert Huskisson, Richard Dadd, and Thomas Maybank all created masterful paintings depicting these lines, each titled with the graceful opening line, “Come Unto These Yellow Sands.”

Richard Dadd’s (pictured above) and Robert Huskisson’s (pictured below) pieces are  similar in content, each depicting a group of fanciful, mostly-nude adult fae-people, some in flight (the pattern the figures make is strikingly similar as well), and some mid-kiss, prancing through the center of a stone bridge. However, Dadd’s piece, rich in pinks and reds, appears quite a bit naughtier than Huskisson’s, which utilizes a more classic color scheme and is stiffly bordered.

Thomas Maybank’s piece (pictured below), painted a half-century after the Dadd and Huskisson pieces, depicts winged children in play. Water plays a much larger role in this piece, taking up at least half of the canvas. Though winged, the flight of these fairies is not a focal point, as the only fairies in flight are obscured by their surroundings, and are much less visible than the fairies on the sand and in the water.

The second stanza of Ariel’s song, beginning with the classic “Full fathom five” has also been the source of inspiration for many artists, writers and musicians, many of whom have appropriated this first line for use as a title.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them—Ding-dong, bell