'To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy' - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone

Darling little cousin

Rossetti opens To Lalla with the words, ‘Darling little cousin' and uses the phrase again towards the end of the poem (line 27). Displaying her affection for the child, she both acknowledges her preciousness in the word ‘darling' and the protection she wants to offer, recognising that she is ‘little'. Their common bond is their cousinship.

In the second stanza, Rossetti reflects that the printed words in the book Lalla reads are just as mysterious as Egyptian hieroglyphics ‘would be to us' (line 8). This is the only instance of the word ‘us' in the poem. Throughout the rest of the poem, Rossetti repeatedly uses the pronoun ‘I'. By introducing the pronoun ‘us' in this one instance, Rossetti includes her readers in her observation of her little cousin and groups all adult readers together as she compares their understanding of the written word to that of children.

Conversational tone

In To Lalla, Rossetti repeatedly uses enjambement to create a conversational tone. In the seventh stanza she makes use of the device twice:

How should I give answer
 To that asking look?
Darling little Cousin
 Go back to your book.

Here, a normal pattern of speech is incorporated into the poem and the rush of conversation is not interrupted. The natural way in which Lalla responds to Rossetti's questioning is reflected in the natural rhythm of the verse and ongoing lines.

The sense of conversational interchange is aided by several caesurae, used to change the direction of the verse and contrast Lalla's perception with Rossetti's own. In the third stanza, Rossetti asks Lalla:

Leave off for a minute
     Studying and say
What is the impression
     That those marks convey? (lines 9-12)

Here, the caesurae comes with the comma in the second line. It works to divide the notion of studying from the idea of pure perception. It also creates, both visually and orally, the pause that Rossetti is actually asking Lalla to make.

Investigating To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy

  • Whom do you think Rossetti includes when she uses the term ‘us'?
    • Do you include yourself in this grouping?
  • Towards the end of the poem, Rossetti asks, ‘How should I give answer' to Lalla's ‘asking look?' (lines 25-6). Who do you think she is asking here?

Structure and versification


Each verse is written using a simple abcb rhyme scheme. The first and the seventh verses both use the words ‘look' and ‘book' as their rhyming words. This highlights the connection between reading and looking at one another and the surrounding world that Rossetti reflects upon through her experience with Lalla.

In the sixth verse, Rossetti uses para-rhyme rather than perfect rhyme. The visual link between ‘pure' and ‘more' emphasises the importance of visually encountering a poem.


The predominant metre of To Lalla can be described as trochaic. By using short trimeter lines, Rossetti draws attention to the simplicity of the conversation that the poem conveys.

When the final unstressed syllable of a trochaic line is cut off, the line can be described as catalectic. This happens on the second and fourth lines of each verse where the rhyming words create a stronger, masculine rhyme pattern.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Circle the punctuation marks that are used in the poem
    • How does the punctuation contribute to the tone of the speaker and to the pace of the poem? (Give specific examples?)
  • How does Rossetti use poetic techniques to convey Lalla's ‘silence' (line 13) as she reads the book?
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