'A Birthday'- Synopsis and commentary
The object of the speaker's celebratory statement, ‘my love is come to me', is ambiguous. Throughout the poem, she attempts to capture in language her joy at the return of the ‘birthday of her life' (line 15).
Investigating A Birthday
- What are your associations with the idea of a ‘birthday'?
- Do you see these associations shared by the speaker in that poem?
- Rossetti refers to the act of singing and musical expression. How does this affect the mood the poem creates?
- Write down references to the act of singing.
- Of what is the creation of music shown to be an expression?
Rossetti composed A Birthday in 1857. It was first published in the literary periodical, Macmillan's Magazine, in 1861 and was included in Goblin Market and Other Poems the following year. Macmillan's Magazine was founded in 1859 and was one of the most significant literary and intellectual periodicals of the Victorian era. By having samples of her work printed in periodicals such as Macmillan's Magazine, Rossetti widened her readership significantly.
More on periodicals: A periodical is a magazine which is issued at regular intervals throughout the year. The Victorian period saw a rise in the publication and readership of periodicals. Periodicals often contained serialised fiction, poetry, articles and reviews. Rossetti wrote poetry for several literary and intellectual periodicals during her career.
Language and music
Rossetti's interest in combining language with music becomes apparent given that:
- Several begin with the mention of singing
- Many, such as A Birthday, are composed with a song-like structure and rhythm.
The return of a lover
In A Birthday, the speaker is celebrating her love coming ‘back' to her. It is not clear where he has been away but this is not the important factor here. More significant are the feelings that his return arouses.
The language used to describe his return is similar to that used in the Old Testament book, the Song of Songs. Here, joy is expressed about a powerful love relationship. One long-held view is that the Song is an allegory of the love relationship between any of:
Here, the speaker declares that her happiness and comfort come from the presence of a certain lover. Whether this lover is Jesus, a spouse, or someone else is not revealed.
Easter and the arrival of spring
Throughout A Birthday, the arrival of spring is celebrated. The trees are in blossom, the birds are singing and shoots are springing into life. With winter coming to an end, the speaker's own state of waiting is finally over.
In Western Christianity, the celebration of Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. The celebration of Jesus rising from the dead can therefore be associated with the appearance of new life in nature in the season of spring.
The ultimate birthday
Throughout her writings Rossetti repeatedly speaks of the ultimate ‘birthday' of the Second Coming.
More on the Second Coming: Central to the Christian faith is the idea that ultimately a new Kingdom will arrive which will replace earth. This Kingdom will have Jesus at its head and be a place of peace and security. The New Testament book of Revelation describes this place as somewhere where there will be no more hunger, thirst, or tears (Revelation 7:16-17). See Aspects of literature > Big ideas from the Bible > Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times, the Second Coming.
Investigating A Birthday
- What comes to mind when you think about spring?
- Do you see these associations shared by the speaker of the poem?
- List the phrases which indicate that the speaker depends on another for happiness
- To what extent do you think people are defined by the relationships they are in (somebody's child, somebody's sibling, somebody's pupil/employee etc)?
- Do you think an individual can understand him/herself in isolation from such relationships?
- What evidence of this can you find in the poem?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. 2Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, 3saying, Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 512,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. 9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come? 14I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
1And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. 2And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. 9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
In literature, the way a text is built up and formed.
The musical effect of the repetition of stresses or beats, and the speed or tempo at which these may be read.
A 'testament' is a covenant or binding agreement and is a term used in the Bible of God's relationship with his people). The sacred writings of Judaism (the Hebrew Bible). These also form the first part of the Christian Bible.
A non-realistic genre of literature whereby characters or episodes systematically represent a certain belief system. Interpretation of allegory can involve two or more levels of meaning.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
The Old Testament frequently refers to Israel as the Promised Land allocated to God's children. Prophecies refer to it as his chosen nation and the one out of which the Messiah would come.
Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, refering to an anointed person set apart for a special task such as a king.
1. Term for a worshipping community of Christians.
2. The building in which Christians traditionally meet for worship.
3. The worldwide community of Christian believers.
The spirit which gives life to a human being; the part which lives on after death; a person's inner being (personality, intellect, emotions and will) which distinguishes them from animals.
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.
The celebration of the Resurrection of Christ and the oldest and greatest festival of the Christian Church.
In Christian theology the doctrine that Jesus Christ will return to the earth for a second time, but this time for the purposes of judgement and the bringing in of a new world.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
Belief and trust in someone or something.
A 'testament' is a covenant (binding agreement), a term used in the Bible of God's relationship with his people. The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible. Its name comes from the new covenant or relationship with God.
Also known as the Song of Solomon; an erotic celebration of human love; variously interpreted by Jews and Christians alike