'Maude Clare' - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Hearth, photo by Brent Hasty, available through Creative CommonsThe hearth - A hearth is the part of a room which holds a fireplace. As a household fire often was the means by which the inhabitants both cooked and kept warm, the hearth was perceived to be at the centre of the Victorian home. As a place which provided comfort and sustenance, it was seen to be central to well-being and health.

By claiming that she wished to ‘bless' their hearth (line 19), Maude Clare ironically comments on the negativity her presence brings. Instead of blessing it with warmth, she proposes to bless it with a coldness which is unnecessary and detrimental to the health of the couple. The extent of the coldness of her presence could account for the paleness in the faces of both Thomas and Nell.

The board - A board is the table upon which meals are shared. In a Victorian home, it is often perceived to be the place where communion and generosity can be found. Traditionally, the idea of blessing the ‘board' (line 19) would be providing food for a family to enjoy. By saying that her ‘gift' will bless their board, Maude places herself at the heart of their domestic life and thus stands in the way of the happy communication they might enjoy.

The marriage-bed - By claiming that she wishes to ‘bless' their marriage-bed, Maude Clare inserts herself between the intimacy that should exist between Thomas and Nell alone. Instead of them finding the bed a place of rest, Maude's presence threatens to disturb their sleep, disrupt their love for one another and threaten the well-being of any future children they may have.

The golden chain - Maude gives back to Thomas her half of the ‘golden chain' they had split between them when he was courting her (lines 21-22). She suggests that she no longer wants to retain any portion of him. It is the final breaking of the bond that she felt was tying her to him.

Lilies - Maude tells Thomas that she remembers wading through grass as they searched together for ‘lilies in the beck' (line 24). On his wedding day, she gives back to him her half of the ‘faded leaves' that they plucked whilst the lilies were in bloom (lines 25-28). Lilies have been associated with whiteness and purity since ancient times. They are widely regarded a symbol of fertility, being used as a wedding flower and are also seen as a symbol of death, being placed on graves.

The ‘meaning' of flowers was widely understood by Victorians, so the association between lilies and marriage would not have been missed by Rossetti's contemporary readers. By reminding Thomas that ‘lilies are budding now' (line 28), Maude Clare both offers an ironic comment on his marriage to another woman and recalls the hope that she once had regarding getting married herself.

Bloom and dew - Maude claims that if the gift she has for Thomas and Nell consisted of fruit or flowers, their bloom and the dew would have long disappeared (lines 35-6). Whilst bloom and dew indicate life and growth, Maude suggests that she comes to bring destruction. She hints that the gift she wants to give back is her share of Thomas' ‘fickle heart' (line 37). Spoken of ironically as a gift, she presents it more as a burden and a shame she wants to be rid of. Rather than symbolising love, she considers that his heart is a symbol of unfaithfulness and indecisiveness. She hints that his heart will not enable a growth of any sort.

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • What is the effect of the imagery Maude uses to describe her ‘gift'?
  • Why do you think she chooses to speak in figures of speech rather than directly?



Maude Clare is full of hints but does not reveal too much to the reader. For instance, when Thomas' mother tells him that his father ‘Had just your tale to tell' (line 10), the reader is left to wonder how much she knows about her son's past relationship with Maude. A statement that appears, on the surface, to be straightforward, is riddled with ambiguities and can only be interpreted by the imagination of the reader or listener.

The pale complexions of Thomas, Nell and Maude are outward symbols of the difficulties that each of them must battle with. They all have secrets and concerns, however little they choose to reveal. In trying to hide his face (line 32) from Maude, Thomas acknowledges the problems of the past which have come back to haunt him.

Rejected lovers

The first half of Goblin Market and Other Poems, including Maude Clare, is full of jilted or disappointed lovers who must battle with their emotions. The poems that are presented in the volume and lead up to Maude Clare include:

  • Love from the North which describes a wedding that is postponed at the last minute by the return of the speaker's previous lover
  • Cousin Kate which speaks of a lover who has been used and then discarded
  • Noble Sisters which depicts a jealous woman who deliberately misleads her sister into forgoing a marriage in which she could have found happiness.

Investigating themes

  • Why do you think that Maude Clare waits until after Thomas and Nell come ‘out of the church' (line 1) to confront them?
    • What do you think she hopes to achieve?
  • What surprises you about the depiction of Maude?
    • How does she fit or subvert the stereotype of the jilted lover that you would expect from a mid-nineteenth century poem?
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