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
'Shut Out' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
The long ‘I' recurring in the first stanza emphasises the sense of personal loss experienced by the speaker. In the second stanza, the ease of movement and vivacity of the garden is helped by the repeated OW words and short O sounds. Sibilance in these lines also helps the flow of words.
The silence of the spirit
The speaker only recalls his/her words to the spirit guard. ‘Shadowless and blank' (lines 9, 10), he does not engage but seals up the door, physically demonstrating the alienation of the speaker from the garden. The non-responsiveness of the guard intensifies the speaker's feeling of loneliness and isolation.
The lament of the speaker
The speaker's own voice is presented as mournful and lamenting. The pleas to be given buds and a twig from the garden and to be remembered by it, are plaintive but also direct, conveyed by the alliteration of plosive Bs. The speaker's tone is direct and immediate in claiming, ‘now I sit here quite alone' (line 21). Despite the hope that s/he will return to the garden (line 16), the speaker expresses an inability to enjoy life.
Investigating language and tone
- Do you think that the speaker's hope that she will return to the garden is genuine?
- Why do you think that the spirit remains silent?
- What is the effect of his silence?
- To whom do you think the poem is directed?
- Or do you consider it as a representation of the speaker's private thoughts?
Structure and versification
The rhyme scheme of each verse runs abba. This rhyme scheme suggests enclosure and reflects the tight control with which the speaker contains overwhelming emotions. The strong masculine rhymes draw attention to the enclosed patterning. Instead of the more usual, ballad-like abab rhyme scheme which is often used in a poem that tells a story, the abba rhyme does not suggest progression but instead alludes to the state of stasis or stillness of the speaker who feels that s/he is not moving forwards or growing but, rather, remaining in one place.
By choosing to use words which contain two O's to discuss sight and vision, Rossetti draws attention to the visual impact of the poem. By associating the words ‘door' and ‘looked' (line 1), she highlights the dilemma of the speaker as she is only able to look through the opening to the garden rather than to enter it.
Later, by using eye rhyme to link the words ‘loophole' and ‘look' (lines 19-20), Rossetti suggests that any vision that we can have of what is beyond our current circumstances is somewhat limited as it must be glimpsed through loopholes.
In the sixth verse, Rossetti uses an eye rhyme to link the words ‘alone' and ‘gone'. Just as the word ‘alone' suggests isolation, by not providing it with a perfect rhyme she hints at the disjointedness of the speaker's thoughts as she becomes more and more distraught.
The regular iambic tetrameter of the poem reflects both the monotony of the speaker's situation and its narrative elements. The inversion of the first foot in the second line of stanzas 3, 5 and 6 particularly conveys the harsh realities confronted by the speaker.
Caesurae are breaks or pauses that occur within a line of poetry. Shut Out begins with several caesurae:
Its iron bars; and saw it lie,
My garden, mine, beneath the sky
Pied with all flowers bedewed and green: (lines 1-4)
- The full stop in the middle of the first line conveys the sense of finality that the shutting of the door creates and emphasises the break that has been created to separate the past of the present
- The semi-colon in the second line visually re-creates the gap through which the speaker looks. As the gap between the full-stop and the comma divides the description of the iron bars from a description of the peaceful garden, it also highlights the link between the two
- In the third line, the two commas serve to divide the ‘mine', the persona of the speaker, from the garden that s/he has come to understand as being his/her own. The pauses that the commas create reflect the sense of uncertainty that the speaker feels in continuing to be identified with the garden. In the following verse, we learn that although the garden had been ‘home', it is now lost to him/her (line 8)
- The lack of any caesurae on the fourth line highlights the lack of disruption that occurs in the heavenly garden. Lush, greensand filled with flowers, the growth of the garden does not stop after the departure of the speaker.
Investigating structure and versification
- Describe how the structure of the poem contributes to the progression of its narrative.
- Note down the words that are repeated
- Why do you think Rossetti wants to draw attention to these particular words?
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