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
'A Better Resurrection' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
- Religious because it explores faith and Christian identity and alludes to Bible passages
- Lyric because it is an expression of the emotions and thoughts of an individual speaker.
Lyric poems are written in the first person in order to convey emotion directly to the reader. A Better Resurrection identifies itself as a lyric immediately with the word ‘I' and then moves on to explore the speaker's own emotions. By focusing on her heart, her eyes, her life and her soul, the speaker explores what it means to exist as a individual trying to maintain her faith in God even though his presence and the promise of eternal life (‘No everlasting hills I see' line 6) may not always be visible or tangible.
Investigating language and tone
- A Better Resurrection is a lyric poem. Traditionally, lyric poems are more concerned with exploring and expressing emotion than with any particular historical or social context. As a lyric, how is A Better Resurrection accessible to twenty-first century readers?
- You may like to think about how emotion is privileged over literal description.
- The poem begins ‘I' and is scattered with personal pronouns. Do you think this gives it more or less of a personal feel?
- How far can you identify with the speaker?
Structure and versification
The regular iambic tetrameters give the poem a continuous rhythmic beat. This remains fairly steady despite the uncertainties that the speaker expresses about her own identity. Interruptions to this steady beat occur in several places:
- Whilst each line (excepting the refrains) consists of eight syllables, the line ‘And tedious in the barren dusk' consists of nine. By extending the second poetic foot to an anapaest, Rossetti emphasises the pain of the delay that the speaker is experiencing:
- In the first stanza, Rossetti stresses the word ‘in' in the line, ‘My life is in the falling leaf'
- By stressing the word for a second time in the phrase ‘tedious in', she emphasises the inner transformation that the speaker longs for
o In the final verse, she suggests that this transformation is finally achieved after her perished life is ‘cast in the fire' and purified
- In the third and final stanza, Rossetti reverses the iambic beat twice. By beginning one line with the phrase ‘Cast in' and another with the phrase ‘Melt and remould' (lines 21, 22), she reverses the iambs to trochees where the initial sound is stressed to create a falling rather than a rising metre. This metrical substitution highlights the change that the speaker anticipates experiencing as she is transformed completely and given a new life and a fresh vision
- By switching to iambic trimeters at the end of each verse, Rossetti emphasises the significance of the refrains.
The first refrain reads, ‘O Jesus quicken me' (line 8), the second, ‘O Jesus rise in me' (line 16) and the third, ‘O Jesus, drink of me' (line 24). In each, the stress falls on the first part of the word ‘Jesus', the action that the speaker desires him to perform and the word ‘me'.
To ‘quicken' someone means to revive, give life or resurrect. By asking that Jesus quicken her, the speaker is asking for a fresh vision and a new start. She asks that he would revive the emotions of hope and fear that she has pushed down. By moving on to ask that he would ‘rise' in her, she demonstrates her willingness to be open to the Holy Spirit and her willingness to be transformed. Finally, by asking that Jesus ‘drink' of her, the speaker shows that she regards her own life as a gift and therefore, something which she believes she should offer back to Jesus.
Investigating metre and refrain
- Read the poem aloud and pick out the references to the act of falling and rising
- How do you think that the metre that is used captures this sense of movement?
- List some examples from the poem and comment on the effect that is created.
The ababcdcd rhyme scheme contributes to the movements of falling and rising that are described in the poem. In nature, leaves always fall off trees in a spiral motion (try for yourself by dropping a leaf to the ground and watching how it falls) and fire spirals upwards as it rises. In the same way, by repeating back upon itself before moving forward, towards another rhyme, the shape of the rhyme scheme reflects the movements the speaker describes which affect her own life.
The rhyme uses simple words such as ‘be', ‘see' and ‘me' to emphasise the immediacy and reality of the speaker's predicament.
- Look at the rhyme scheme. What is the effect it creates?
- What ideas does the rhyme scheme draw the reader's attention to?
- Why do you think that certain rhymes are carried from one verse to the next?
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