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' - Imagery, symbolism and themes
Imagery and symbolism
The house - The speaker claims that the house in which she sees her friends was ‘much frequented' by her when she was alive. Now she is dead, she can only be a detached observer, her altered state dividing her from the friends she once shared happy times with. However, she suggests that, as a ghost, she has a choice whether or not to cast ‘a chill across the tablecloth' (line 26) but decides against it. Since they have forgotten her, she does not seem to want to trouble them with a reminder of her presence.
Feasting: Orange boughs - The speaker watches as her friends feast ‘beneath green orange boughs', 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 with no regard for the past.
Feasting: Wine - The speaker watches as her friends ‘pushed the wine' from ‘hand to hand' (line 5). By saying they are carelessly drinking alcohol, she indicates their haphazard attitude to life, one another and society. Drinking often affects the mind and makes an individual forget or put aside troubles. However, the effects of this can be damaging, as the speaker demonstrates later in the poem.
Feasting: Fruits - The speaker watches as her friends ‘sucked the pulp of plum and peach' (line 6). It is interesting to note that, in Rossetti's 1862 volume, Goblin Market and Other Poems, At Home is placed shortly after the title poem. In Goblin Market, the pulp of the fruits that Laura sucks causes her to disregard her past. Lines 293-298 describe how she no longer took pleasure in the tasks she used to enjoy. Instead, having consumed the fruits, she falls into a state of depression and illness (see Poems for study > Goblin Market).
Investigating imagery and symbolism
- Compare the treatment of the fruits in Goblin Market and At Home.How are they described in a manner which makes them appear attractive?
- Why do you think that Rossetti chose to describe ‘green orange boughs' hanging inside the house?
- How does watching her friends feasting make the speaker feel?
The speaker's voice comes from beyond the grave. She distinguishes herself from her friends who are alive, yet reveals her reluctance to leave the place where she was once happy. She is trapped in a static position as she is ‘sad / To stay and yet to part how loth' (line 28).
The question of what constitutes love is one that the speaker attempts to answer throughout the poem. She suggests that the happiness of her friends is only possible because ‘each was loved of each'. Their love for one another ensures their comfort and enables their hope to remain ‘strong' (line 17).
Home should be a place of familiarity and of comfort. In the first verse, the speaker recalls that the house she passes was once ‘much frequented' (line 2). It was well known and offered comfort. Now it is not her home, she is unable to experience the warmth it offers. She regrets that her friends do not seem to appreciate the comfort they are blessed with but always look forward to ‘tomorrow'.
Although the speaker is speaking from the dead, the poem does not share the same eerie qualities that some of her other poems of the same volume possess. For instance, in her poem, The Hour and the Ghost, Rossetti tells the story of a ghost competing with a bridegroom for his bride's attention.
- Think about the narrative of the poem. Do you think that a message is conveyed through it? If so, what is this message or moral?
- What do you consider the most striking or memorable element of the poem?
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