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
'At Home' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
The Lyrical ‘I'
By beginning the poem with the words, ‘When I was dead', the speaker introduces herself as a ghost-like presence, sets the action of the poem in the past and suggests the importance of maintaining her identity, the lyrical ‘I'. Lyric poems are usually written in the first person in order to convey emotion directly to the reader. The ‘I' of At Home can be described as lyrical in that it is direct and concentrates more on conveying a particular emotion than on the event that gave rise to it.
The pronoun ‘I' is used more frequently as the poem progresses. Whereas it only appears twice in the first stanza, it appears four times in the fourth. As she reflects on the fact that her friends are quickly forgetting her, she asserts herself more and more strongly.
Throughout the poem, the speaker incorporates the conversation of her friends in speech marks.
Investigating language and tone
- Think about the conversation of the friends and the description of it as part of an ‘honest chat' (line 9). What associations do you have with the word ‘honest' and 'chat'?
- Do you agree that theirs is an ‘honest chat' or do you think that it has more sinister connotations?
Structure and versification
The punctuation reflects movements of turning, passing and stopping. Commas and colons divide lines where a movement is described or a change is anticipated. For instance, in the line, ‘When I was dead, my spirit turned' (line 1), the comma creates a pause which makes the action of the speaker in the second clause more surprising. This contrived break mid-way through a line of poetry is called a caesurae.
In the second verse, the colon is used four times to separate the conversation of the friends from the narration of the speaker. Anticipating what ‘Tomorrow' will hold, the repeated phrase, ‘Said one:' (lines 10, 13, 15), creates a sense of expectation whist it also brings the conversation back to the present moment.
The words ‘plod plod', to describe the walk across the ‘featureless sands' (line 11) that the speaker's friends anticipate taking, reflect a sense of weary monotony and exhaustion. The onomatopoeia of the word ‘plod' conveys the heaviness of the walk and the alliteration of the phrase reflects the slow but steady progress that will be made.
In the description of the friends, as ‘they pushed the wine, / ‘They sucked the pulp of plum and peach' (lines 5-6), the alliteration of the ‘p' sound creates a different effect. It emphasises the almost aggressive manner created by the words ‘pushed' and ‘sucked' and reflects the eagerness of the participants to share in their feast.
The sibilance in the phrase ‘shivered, sad / To stay' (lines 27-8) enhances the effect of uncertainty that the speaker feels. The repetition of the sound reflects her desire to repeat what has gone before instead of looking towards the future. Added to the fact that the word ‘shivered' is used twice in the verse, the sibilance of the ‘s' sound can be seen to convey the coldness and silencing that the speaker is experiencing.
The abcbdefe rhyme scheme gives the poem a song-like pattern. This highly controlled scheme, which becomes more pronounced in the final two stanzas with the rhyming sounds ‘away' and day' repeated in both, reinforces the control the speaker attempts to maintain over her own feelings. Rather than letting anger or bitterness consume her, she remains both controlled and detached.
For the most part, the poem employs an iambic tetrameter and trimeter metre. This increases the sense of ongoing progress the speaker makes as she approaches her old home, goes inside and then moves on.
In several places, the regular rhythm of the verse is broken as new emotions and reflections are described. These places include:
- The spondee of ‘Plod plod' (line 11) disrupts the rhythm and slows down the pace at which the poem is read to create the effect of moving slowly onwards on a difficult journey
- Trochees are used as the speaker asserts her own subjectivity towards the end of the poem and becomes less of an observer and more reflective. For instance, the phrase ‘I, only I' (line 22) highlights her isolation and her detachment from the friends she once knew and loved.
Investigating structure and versification
- Look at the rhyming words in the poem. Where does Rossetti combine rhyming words to give an idea or a thought more prominence?
- What is the effect of this?
- Read the poem aloud and think about the rhythm. What effects does the speaker create?
- Can you identify any places where change in metre corresponds to a change in tone
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