Christina Rossetti

October 24, 2006


Youngest child in the Rossetti family: all four children became writers
Father was an exiled Italian patriot who wrote poetry and commentaries on Dante, believing his poems were ancient conspiracies: her mother was an Anglo-Italian who worked as a governess
Household was a gather place for Italian exiles, full of conversation of politics and culture
Life changed after her father became blind: family’s economic situation worsened, Rossetti’s health deteriorated, she and her mother and her sister became intensely involved with the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England
For the rest of her life she governed herself by strict religious principles
Fiance reverted to Roman Catholicism and Rossetti broke off the marriage- refused to marry her second suitor because he seemed insufficiently concerned with religion
Lived a quiet life, occupying herself with charitable work
Poetry is a complex representation of the religious themes of temptation and sin, and redemption by vicarious suffering
Demonstrates her affinity with the early aims of the Pre-Raphaelite group
Consciousness of gender in poetry
Wrote poetry of deferral, of deflection. of negation, whose very denials and constraints give her a powerful way to articulate a poetic self in critical relationship to the little that the world offers
Uses a coy playfulness and sardonic wit to reduce the self and preserve for it a secret inner space
Virginia Woolf described the distinctive combination of sensuousness and religious severity in Rossettie’s work:

“Your poems are full of gold dust and ‘sweet geraniums’ varied with brightness; your eye noted incessantly how rushes are ‘velvet headed,’ and lizards have a ‘strange metallic mail’ -your eye, indeed, observed with a sensual pre-Raphaelite intensity that must have surprised Christina the Anglo-Catholic. But to her you owed perhaps the fixity and sadness of your must… No sooner have you feasted on beauty with your eyes than your mind tells you that beauty is vain and beauty passes. Death, oblivion, and rest lap around your songs with their dark wave.”

Jerome McGann calls Rossetti

“one of nineteenth-century England’s greatest ‘Odd Women.'”


‘Dear, you should not stay so late, / Twilight is not good for maidens; / Should not loiter in the glen / In the haunts of goblin men. / Do you not remember Jeanie, / How she met them in the moonlight, / Took their gifts both choice and many, / Ate their fruits and wore their flowers / Plucked from bowers / Where summer ripens at all hours? / But ever in the noonlight / She pined and pined away; / Sought them  by night and day, / Found them no more but dwindled and grew grey; / Then fell with the first snow, / White to this day no grass will grow / Where she lies low: / I planted daisies there a year ago / That never blow. / You should not loiter so.’ 

Golden head by golden head, / Like two pigeons in one nest / Folded in each other’s wings, / they lay down in their curtained bed: / Like two blossoms on one stem, / Like two flakes of new-fall’n snow, / Like two wands of ivory / Tipped with gold for awful kings. / Moon and stars gazed in at them, / wind sang to them lullaby, / Lumbering owls forbore to fly, / Not a bat flapped to and fro / Round their rest: / Cheek to cheek and breast to breast / Locked together in one nest.

She gorged on bitterness without a name: / Ah! fool, to choose such part / Of soul-consuming care! / Sense failed in the mortal strife: / Like the watch-tower of a town / Which an earthquake shatters down, / Like a lightning-stricken mast, / Like a wind-uprooted tree / Spun about, / Like a foam-topped tree / Spun about, / Like a foam-topped watersoup / Cast down headlong in the sea, / she fell at last; / Pleasure past and anguish past, / Is it death or is it life?
Life out of death.

Laura would call the little ones / And tell them of her early prime, / Those pleasant days long gone/ Of not-returning time: / Would talk about the haunted glen, / The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men, / Their fruits like honey to the throat / But poison in the blood; / (Men sell not such in any town:) / Would tell them how her sister stood / In deadly peril to do her good, / And win the fiery antidote: / Then joining hands to little hands / Would boid them cling together, / ‘For there is no friend like a sister / In calm or stormy weather; / To cheer one on the tedious way, / To fetch one if one goes astray, / To life one if one totters down, / To strengthen whilst one stands.’

-Goblin Market


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