'Shut Out' - Synopsis and commentary


Garden, photo by Christine Matthews, available through Creative CommonsThe speaker recalls that s/he was once happy, existing in a beautiful garden and enjoying the company of song-birds, moths and bees. For a reason that is not given, s/he is shut out from this garden and the only comfort that s/he can find comes from looking through the ‘iron bars' that separate him/her from it.

When s/he asks the ‘shadowless spirit' who guards the gate of the garden whether s/he can have ‘some buds' for comfort, he refuses and builds a wall so that the garden can no longer be glimpsed at all. The poem ends with the speaker sitting alone and grieving for what has been lost. Although s/he notices violets budding nearby, they provide little solace since the speaker still retains the knowledge that what has been lost was much better.

Investigating Shut Out

  • How sympathetic do you feel towards the speaker?
  • What surprises you about the situation the poem describes?
  • What is the effect of being shut out, rather than shut in somewhere?
    • Do you think that the predicament of being shut out can be considered in the same way as the predicament of being imprisoned?


Rossetti composed Shut Out in 1856 and in 1862, included it in the first, non-devotional, half of her first volume, Goblin Market and Other Poems.

The identity of the speaker

The identity of the speaker is not given in the poem. Given the associations that are created between the garden she looks into and the Garden of Eden, the possibility that the speaker is Eve can be inferred.

According to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the Garden of Eden is the place in which God placed his first human creatures, Adam and Eve. It is depicted as a beautiful garden, also called Paradise. In it stood the Tree of Knowledge, the only tree whose fruit Adam and Eve were forbidden by God to eat. As they failed to obey, they were expelled from Eden and a guard was set on the east side of the Garden (Genesis 2:8-10; Genesis 2:15; Genesis 3:23-24). The image of a desirable garden from which those who are disobedient are shut out has since become central in Western literature. See Aspects of literature > Big ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, second Adam.

In a later poem, entitled Eve (included in The Prince's Progress and Other Poems), Rossetti reflects on the situation of Eve as she sits outside the Garden of Eden and mourns what she has lost. The poem begins:

While I sit at the door
Sick to gaze within
Mine eye weepeth sore
For sorrow and sin (lines 1-4)

Despite the similarities between this depiction and the description in Shut Out of the speaker ‘Blinded with tears' (line 22), it is likely that the fact of leaving the speaker's identity open to individual interpretation means that it is easier for the reader to identify with him/her. Since Shut Out is not included in the devotional section of Goblin Market and Other Poems, interpreting the speaker in terms of the Bible is not the only way in which it can be understood.

Investigating Shut Out

  • List all the points of ambiguity that you can identify in the poem
    • What is the effect of the uncertainty that the poem creates?
  • How likely do you think it is that Rossetti intended the speaker of the poem to be interpreted as Eve?


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