'Good Friday' - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

The stone and the rock

The poem begins with the speaker asking, ‘Am I a stone and not a sheep' (line 1). S/he moves onto lament his/her lack of feeling and emotion before declaring that Christ, the ‘true Shepherd' is able to ‘smite a rock' (lines 14, 16).

The Book of Exodus describes how, whilst he was leading the people out of Egypt and towards the Promised Land Moses received a lot of complaints. The people were not happy as they were incredibly thirsty and tired. In a state of exhaustion, Moses asked God what he was to do next.

The LORD answered Moses, ‘Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink'. So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:5-6. TNIV

In Good Friday, Rossetti's speaker imitates the exhausted and desperate tone of Moses in pleading with Christ to ‘turn and look once more' and ‘smite a rock', enabling him/her to feel again (lines 15-16). There is the unspoken hope that, as water emerged from the rock at Horeb after it was struck, so will the speaker's emotions.

For further associations, see Rock and stone.


As s/he imagines herself standing ‘beneath Thy Cross' (line 2), the speaker wonders at how s/he is able to:

‘number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss
And yet not weep' (lines 3-4).

The description of blood slowly dripping down from Christ's body is an indication of the painful and slow process of crucifixion. The speaker's wonder that s/he cannot weep comes from an understanding of the gruesomeness of the punishment, coupled with the knowledge of the innocence of Christ and of the speaker's own sin for which s/he believes Christ is suffering (see Big ideas from the Bible > Redemption, salvation).

The ‘Sun and Moon'

Rossetti personifies the ‘Sun and Moon' by speaking of them hiding ‘their faces in a starless sky' (lines 8-9). See Synopsis and commentary. The idea that even the seemingly fearless entities of the sun and the moon could not remain to look upon the crucifixion reinforces the sense of its gruesomeness and its disruptive significance.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • If Christ can ‘smite a rock', what else does the speaker suggest he is able to do?
    • How does this make the speaker feel?
  • Circle the imagery and symbolism used in the poem
    • Which images do you find the most surprising and why?
    • Why do you think that the word ‘Blood' is capitalised?
    • What is the effect of the description of the blood dripping down from the cross?



By choosing to consider first the ‘women' who ‘with exceeding grief lamented Thee' (lines 5-6), Rossetti acknowledges the legitimacy of their emotions as a valuable part of the crucifixion narrative. In the Victorian period, women's feelings were often seen in a negative light. Here, Rossetti challenges this conception and suggests that the women were right to lament as they did.

The Church calendar

Rossetti entitled many of her devotional poems after certain feast days mentioned in the Church's calendar given in the Book of Common Prayer. In her final volume of poetry, Verses, she includes a section entitled Some Feasts and Fasts which consists of 69 poems based on the structure of the Christian year. Three of these poems focus on the devotions of Good Friday. Each reflects on meaning of the crucifixion for the individual.

Investigating themes

  • How much do the speaker's ideas about him/herself change over the course of Good Friday?
  • How does s/he perceive him/herself at the end of the poem?
  • How far can the poem be described as one of transformation?


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