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
'Winter: My Secret' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
Throughout Winter: My Secret, the speaker refers to her secret as something which she holds in her possession. She suggests that it is her property and therefore, it is solely up to her who she reveals it to.
Rather than directly list the questions of the curious observer or listener as in Up-hill (see Poems for study > Up-hill > Language, tone and structure), in Winter: My Secret, the speaker echoes the (assumed) questions within her responses in l.1, 2, 5 and 21). Defending her decision to remain in possession of her secret, she uses these responses as the springboard for further reflection on the issue and a way of conveying her own personal wishes.
Investigating language and tone
- Apart from clothing, does anything else convey the gender of the speaker?
- Read aloud the line, ‘Only, my secret's mine and I won't tell' (line 6) several times and describe the tone in which you think that it is spoken
- What message does this tone convey?
Structure and versification
Much of the rhyme scheme of Winter: My Secret is constituted of couplets, triplets, with occasional alternate rhyming words. The couplets and triplets serve to increase the pace at which the poem is read. This, in turn, heightens the sense of passion with which the speaker expresses her feelings. For instance, the rhyming of the words ‘shows', ‘snows' and ‘blows' on adjoining lines (lines 18, 19, 20) conveys the speed at which the speaker wishes to hide her secret away. The words also convey the notion that the enquirer's persistent curiosity will not be easily quenched.
Internal rhyme is rhyme which occurs within a single line of verse, rather than between lines. It is a feature which occurs repeatedly throughout Winter: My Secret.
Writing that ‘today', ‘it froze and blows and snows', (line 3), the manifestations of cold weather are joined together through rhyme. This emphasises the role of winter in making the speaker want to wrap herself up for protection. By placing the words ‘today' and ‘froze' alongside one another, she draws attention to the movement ‘to and ‘fro' between the speaker and the listener and between reticence and revelation.
Later in the poem, Rossetti uses internal rhyme to create a sense of fast movement when she joins the words ‘bounding', ‘surrounding' and ‘astounding' (lines 15-16). She also uses it to emphasize the persistence of the ‘nipping' and ‘clipping' (line 17) effects of the winter wind.
The metre throughout the poem is largely iambic reflecting the conversational expression of feeling as the speaker strives to hide behind a protective mask. Throughout, the use of iambic feet ensures that the rhyming sounds are always stressed. For instance, in the line, ‘His nose to Russian snows' (line 19), the ‘s' sound is stressed to highlight the persistence of the snowy weather.
By structuring the first verse around an iambic rhythm, Rossetti ensures that the repeated word ‘tell' is stressed in addition to the exclamation ‘well' (lines 1, 6, 5). By placing the metric stress on these words, she highlights the way in which the speaker teases the listener by asking whether or not it would be wise to reveal her secret. Likewise, the word ‘all' is repeated at the start of the second verse (lines 7, 8) to emphasise the encompassing nature of the secret.
The occasional inversion of feet (l.6, 23, 24), or use of dactyls and anapaests (l.17, 20) within the iambic rhythm, reflect a conversational style which varies as emotions change and passion rises and falls. For instance, by using enjambement in the third verse and placing the word ‘March' at the start of a line, Rossetti both highlights the overflowing nature of the speaker's thoughts and links the month of ‘March' to the month of ‘April' which is given an initial stress on the following line.
Winter: My Secret is unusual in the sense that it is full of punctuation marks which affect the speed, tone and rhythm with which the poem is read.
- Question marks indicate the curiosity of the listener as well as the teasing nature of the speaker. For instance, she begins with the question, ‘I tell my secret?' (line 1). Instead of being a direct question, the phrase challenges the listener to perceive things from her perspective as she voices her thoughts aloud, seeming to weigh up whether or not it would be appropriate to remove her mask of reticence
- The colon in the title, Winter: My Secret, introduces both the divide and the correlation between the season and the evasiveness of the speaker. Throughout the poem, colons and semi-colons are used to create caesurae which introduce a note of hesitancy. They are also used as an expression of the teasing voice of the speaker as she indicates disclosure of her secret, before withdrawing herself. The colon which ends the promising line, ‘You want to hear it? well:' introduces the idea that something significant is about to be declared. Thus, it works to enhance the auditor's disappointment, anticipated by the speaker as she moves onto claims that the secret is hers to keep.
Investigating structure and versification
- Note down all the rhymes that you can find in the poem
- What is the effect of linking certain words together through rhyme?
- What effects are created by the use of internal rhyme?
- How does the punctuation work to change the tone of the speaker?
- Give specific examples.
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