'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?
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