Christina Rossetti, selected poems Contents
- A Better Resurrection
- A Birthday
- A Royal Princess
- At Home
- Cousin Kate
- Despised and Rejected
- Goblin Market
- Good Friday
- Jessie Cameron
- Maude Clare
- Shut Out
- Song (When I am dead, my dearest)
- Summer is Ended
- The Convent Threshold
- The Lowest Place
- To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy
- Winter: My Secret
'Despised and Rejected' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
The voice of the stranger is a powerful presence throughout the poem. It is heard by the speaker all through the night and even when it ‘died away', he links its ‘silence' to ‘sorrow' indicating that the memory of its call will remain (line 51).
The voice repeatedly calls on the speaker to ‘see' the wounds its owner has suffered. By refusing the stranger admission, the speaker keeps him at a distance, not allowing his presence to become more than a voice.
Throughout Despised and Rejected, the speaker and the stranger have a passionate dialogue. Whilst the speaker's dialogue is full of questions, the stranger's is ardent and entreating.
- The language of dialogue is recreated through certain poetic techniques. The conversation begins:
Like the speaker, the reader is given no warning of the stranger's approach or any introduction to him. By combining the words of both the stranger and the speaker on one line, Rossetti emphasises the spontaneity of their speech and the urgency with which they both express themselves. She also highlights the sudden onset of the visit that unsettles the speaker from the lonely existence we learn that s/he has only just managed to establish for him/herself
- By repeatedly calling on the speaker as a ‘Friend', the stranger establishes a relationship and introduces himself as being more than merely an unknown stranger
- Whilst the stranger expresses his desire for admittance by ‘crying' (line 10), he warns that the speaker will one day ‘howl' for grace (line 2). The acts of crying and howling come from emotions too deep to be expressed through ordinary speech. The dialogue is an unsettled and emotive one that comes from a state of urgency.
Investigating language and tone
- Whom do you think that the speaker is addressing at the start of the poem?
- At which points does the addressee change?
- Why do you think that the tone of the dialogue is so urgent?
- What indications of surprise does the speaker express at the arrival of his visitor?
- Which elements of the dialogue, if any, do you find surprising?
Structure and versification
In only 58 lines, the word ‘open' is used nine times. After their initial conversation, the speaker claims that he had the urgent words ‘Open to Me', ‘harping' in his ears all night (line 39). As the stranger persevered in his desire to be admitted, the speaker continued to reject him. The repetition of the word ‘open' highlights the perseverance of the stranger who would not easily be dissuaded.
By repeating certain phrases, the speaker emphasises the determination with which he rejected the stranger. For instance, he highlights his situation where ‘none remains, not one' (line 3) and repeatedly asks to be left in ‘peace' (lines 31, 34).
Together with the repetition of the word ‘open' the O sound is repeatedly used throughout the poem to highlight the urgency of the command and to draw attention to the new dimension of life that the stranger suggests exists if only the speaker would open his door to him.
There is a high proportion of EE assonance throughout the interaction between the speaker and the stranger, beyond the ‘me' / ‘thee' repetition. It is notable by its absence once the stranger departs (save for one reference to ‘me'), emphasising the silence and isolation of the speaker. The dying away of action and entreaty is also conveyed by the soft sibilance of ‘silence', ‘sorrow', ‘footsteps', ‘sigh', ‘passed' and ‘slow to pass'.
Throughout the poem, the use of enjambement creates the effect of natural and over-powering expression. The lines which run onto the next are usually the ones in which a seemingly overwhelming emotion is uttered. For instance,
One day entreat My Face. (lines 25-6)
In these two lines, Rossetti imitates the flow of conversation. The passion of the stranger's words is emphasised by the overflowing of his words from one line to the next.
By placing a comma after the command ‘Open', a caesurae is created to emphasise disruption and to highlight the weight or import of the word. The second comma on the line further disrupts the steady beat of the poem as the arrival of the stranger disrupts the speaker's life by his request to be let in.
The rhyme is frequent but irregular throughout the poem. With so many rhyming couplets and triplets, the pace is quick and the urgency of the language is reinforced. The irregularity reinforces the sense of disruption that the arrival of the stranger brings and emphasises the changing and mixed emotions of the speaker. However, the repeated use of certain rhymes indicates the circling of the conversation around the fixed point of gaining / denying access.
The first verse sets a rhyme scheme using strong masculine end syllables. It runs ababbcc. By offering variations to this scheme throughout the rest of the poem, Rossetti echoes the disruption that the stranger's arrival brings.
In one instance, where we would normally expect an aural rhyme, an eye rhyme stands in its place. Whilst the end spelling of the words ‘crave' and ‘have' (lines 32-3) corresponds, the sound does not chime. Similarly the OO eye rhyme of ‘Each footprint marked in blood and on my door' (line 57) links words together as if visually indicating the footsteps that lead away from the speaker's refuge.
The use of eye rhyme in a poem that is largely made up of dialogue is curious, since its recognition depends on the audience reading rather than just listening to the poem. Perhaps Rossetti is suggesting that a correct recognition of Jesus depends not just on hearing about him, but on reading the Bible too?
- The spondee in ‘My Feet' (line 18) reinforces the commanding and urgent tone of the speaker
- The line ‘Open to Me' consists of two feet. One trochee is followed by one iamb. The reversal demonstrated in the metre reflects the reversal that the stranger is requesting from the speaker - from decided loner to hospitable and warm comforter.
Investigating structure and versification
- Re-read the poem aloud. List any surprising variations to the rhyme and rhythm that you notice
- How do these variations correspond to the changes in the tone of the speaker?
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