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 natural world
Fruits are featured in many of the poems in this study guide:
- In A Birthday, the description of the ‘apple tree / Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit' (lines 3-4) reflects the speaker's joy.
This is unusual. In most of Rossetti's poems, fruit appears as a seductive, dangerous and subject to quick decay:
- In Goblin Market, the goblin men attempt to lure Laura and Lizzie with a long list of their produce which they describe as ‘All ripe together / In summer weather' (lines 15-16).
In the Victorian era, the rise of international trade meant that fruit could be enjoyed out of season and exotic fruits could be purchased in Britain (see The world of Victorian writers > British expansionism). The fruit that the goblins succeed in getting Laura to taste can be interpreted as symbolic of the forbidden fruit that Eve tastes in the Garden of Eden. Just as eating this fruit led to the exclusion of Adam and Eve from the garden, the fruit that Laura tastes leads to her near-death experience and her exclusion from a previous existence as a contented maiden. See Fruit, pruning.
In At Home, the speaker watches as her friends feast ‘beneath green orange boughs' (line 4) which could be a reference to exotic wall paper designs which were popular in the gothic revival. The fact that orange boughs normally grow in tropical climates indicates that the feast that the friends are enjoying is artificial. The speaker suggests that it is also artificial in the sense that it is unnatural to be focused on solely enjoying the present, as they fill themselves with ‘pulp of plum and peach' (line 6), with no regard for the past.
See Fruit, pruning.
From ancient times, men and women have assigned different meanings to certain flowers. Many Victorians were aware of the meanings associated with different blooms and Rossetti even included a discussion of the significance of flowers as emblems in her devotional book, Called to be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied (1881). Introducing the study she writes,
More on emblems: An emblem is an image that represents a concept or a person. Saints and kings have traditionally been given emblems which reflect something of their life or their personality. By associating ‘Christ's friends' with particular flowers, Rossetti conveys spiritual insights through a contemplation of the natural world.
In many of Rossetti's poems, flowers convey the fragility of life. For instance:
- In Winter: My Secret, the speaker laments that in May it takes just one frost to wither flowers (lines 26-7)
- The association of flowers with fragility is also suggested by the scentless and colourless rose in Summer is Ended
- The violets in Shut Out are fragile and far inferior to the violets that bud within the enclosed garden.
By using flowers to emphasise the fragility of human existence, Rossetti conveys the spiritual lesson of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that ‘all is vanity' (1:2, KJV) apart from God who is stable and permanent. See Grass and wild flowers.
Gardens are a feature of many of Rossetti's poems. In some, she uses the image of the garden to symbolise the human soul. In others, she looks back to the Garden of Eden as she contemplates an eternity in Paradise:
- In Shut Out, Rossetti positions her speaker on the outside of an enclosed garden. This is a feature that is central to many Renaissance texts and paintings. Drawing on this heritage, Rossetti utilises the image of the enclosed garden to teach her readers about God's love, the soul's existence and the state of the fallen world. In Shut Out, the enclosed garden is a place of life and warmth. It is also a place kept completely secure from the decay that characterises daily existence in a world that Christians believe has been corrupted by rebellion against God (see Aspects of literature > Big Ideas from the Bible > Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, ‘Second Adam').
Rather disjointed and bleak collection of thoughts and sayings about life; attributed to Solomon; conclusions are that life without God is futile and empty, the cycles of nature and history are constantly repeating themselves and that 'There is nothing new under the sun'
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