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
'The Lowest Place' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
The Lowest Place is written as an entreaty to God, forming a kind of prayer. By beginning with the words ‘Give me', it could be suggested that the poem is written as a fragment of a larger prayer. The phrase also suggests intimacy and indicates a close relationship with God.
Thy and Thee
By moving on to address God as ‘Thy' and ‘Thee' (lines 4, 8), the speaker echoes the language associated with the Book of Common Prayer, which Rossetti would have used each week in the Anglican church service.
Some people assume that, because it is an unfamiliar form to us nowadays, the use of ‘thou' when addressing God is a sign of formality; in fact, it was just the reverse, acknowledging the concept of God as an intimate Father. ‘Thee' and ‘thou' were terms used to friends, intimates and close family.
The speaker is still respectful, however. S/he voices anxiety about asking for too much and claims that s/he would be happy in a place even lower than the ‘lowest place'.
The fact that the poem is of a personal nature and relates to the speaker's own relationship with God is indicated by the use of the pronouns ‘I' and ‘My'. S/he is not speaking for a group or a couple but only as an individual.
Investigating language and tone
- What associations do you have with the idea of humility?
- How do you see these associations met in the language and voice of the speaker of The Lowest Place?
Structure and versification
The abab rhyme scheme of The Lowest Place follows the traditional pattern of a ballad or hymn. The words that are rhymed are short and masculine. This reinforces a straightforward and simple tone and gives certain ideas added emphasis. For instance, by rhyming ‘me' with ‘see' in The Lowest Place, the speaker not only communicates simplicity but also links identity with the act of spiritual sight. By seeing God, she suggests that s/he will eventually be satisfied and learn more about him/herself. By using internal rhyme to link the words to ‘Thee', the speaker implicitly indicates that identity and sight are both rooted in and linked to God.
With each verse running abab, the movement of the speaker's thoughts is reflected as s/he repeatedly turns back on earlier statements and repeats them before moving forward with his/her request.
Many of the hymns with which Rossetti was familiar follow the abab rhyme scheme, suggesting that her poem is a variation of familiar worship. The consistent rhyme scheme and equal stanza length might also indicate the speaker's concern not to overstep boundaries.
Whilst The Lowest Place is, for the most part, structured around regular iambic feet, the trochees used at the start of the second line in both verses reinforce the disruption to the expected order that the speaker introduces by being bold enough to ‘Ask for that lowest place' (line 2) and emphasises the passion behind the request. The fact that both verses are identical in the pattern of stress and feet that they use highlights the speaker's self-imposed discipline.
Investigating structure and versification
- Consider the first lines of both verses in The Lowest Place. How does the insertion of the colon contribute to the way in which the poem is read?
- Consider the appearance of the poem on the page. What do you notice?
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