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' - Imagery, symbolism and themes
Imagery and symbolism
Winter - The poem presents winter as a dangerous season. To avoid the biting winds and the draughts that cannot be excluded, the speaker must wrap herself securely in a ‘shawl, / A veil, a cloak' (lines 11-12). Otherwise, she suggests that the snow and the wind have the potential to envelop and freeze the life out of her.
The speaker suggests that anyone who ‘ever shows / His nose to Russian snows' (lines 18-19) opens himself up to being ‘pecked at' by the wind and the cold rendering him numb and frozen. Russia is a country renowned for its cold winters.
More on Russian winters: The whole of northern Russia is within the Arctic Circle and parts of the year experience Arctic temperatures. The harsh Russian winters have helped to defeat invaders such as Napoleon. In 1812, he sent his armies into Russia in an attempt to invade. Many died because of the freezing conditions. As a result, he had to withdraw his troops from the country.
More on intertextuality - A Better Resurrection: In Rossetti's poem, A Better Resurrection (also written in 1857 and included in Goblin Market and Other Poems, see Poems for study > A Better Resurrection) the speaker compares her life to a ‘frozen thing' (line 13) and laments the lack of greenness surrounding her. Following this, she likens the resurrection of Christ to the ‘sap of spring' (line 15) that brings new life. Just as she cannot glimpse the coming of spring whilst living in the midst of winter, neither, she suggests, can she glimpse Christ whilst caught up in a state of spiritual numbness. As in Winter: My Secret, winter is seen to be a time of concealment and trial.
Spring - The speaker describes spring as ‘an expansive time' (line 23) in view of the expansion and abundance of natural phenomena at this time. With flowers blossoming, fruit ripening and animals giving birth, spring is considered as a period of new life. However, the speaker voices her distrust in the season. Recognising the transient and fleeting nature of spring, she realises that it can't be relied upon:
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro' the sunless hours. (lines 24-27)
The fact that flowers, which have the potential to bring joy in May, can wither after just one frost points to the notion that the pleasures derived from nature can be short-lived. The speaker suggests that the peck of the cold wind is to be preferred to the ‘peck of dust' that March brings, since it motivates a person to action, protecting herself from negative influences.
Summer - The speaker describes summer as a ‘languid' time
And golden fruit is ripening to excess. (28-30)
In view of the lethargy that the summer weather gives rise to, she suggests that the season is the one in which her secret is most likely to be revealed. Without the need for ‘a veil, a cloak and other wraps' (line 12), she is not protected as she might be and therefore, stands in danger of revealing more than previously.
Throughout her poetry, Rossetti associates the singing of birds with divine inspiration and joy. With this in mind, the diminishment of the bird songs in Winter: My Secret can be associated with the lack of divine inspiration, natural activity and pure expression.
Eating as a form of attack – The speaker's sense of being under attack from the curiosity of others is conveyed through a series of words which suggest animals of prey, such as dogs ‘nipping', ‘biting', ‘bounding' and ‘buffeting' her, then birds by which she is ‘pecked at'.
Clothing and disguise - Whilst veils, cloaks and wraps (line 12) may protect the speaker from the fierce and biting winds of the winter season, they also serve to hide her from curious onlookers who seek to find out her secret. Suggesting that she wears her ‘mask for warmth' (line 18), the speaker indicates that it is, for her, a form of comfort.
The door and hallway - The speaker uses the metaphor of enquirers knocking on a front door as they seek to gain entry into her innermost thoughts. She extends the image by describing the vulnerability she would experience as that felt when cold winds penetrate into the hallway:
And let the drafts come whistling thro' my hall;
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro' my wraps and all. (lines 13-16)
This stands in marked image to the motif of the door being opened in many other of Rossetti's poems.
More on intertextuality - Goblin Market: In Goblin Market, Rossetti describes the goblin men as they surround Lizzie with their ‘puffing and blowing' (line 333) (see Poems for study: Goblin Market). By describing the drafts as ‘buffeting' and ‘astounding' the speaker of Winter: My Secret associates them with unwanted intrusion. Like the goblin men who seek to throw Lizzie off the course that she is on, the winds that the speaker of Winter: My Secret describes threaten to destabilise her identity and render her vulnerable to an unspecified attack.
Investigating imagery and symbolism
- What associations do you have with the idea of a mask?
- How may a mask be a comforting piece of clothing for the speaker?
- Why do you think that the speaker describes her identity in terms of a house?
- How effective is this image?
- Why does the speaker suggest that winter is the most preferable season?
The use of the personal pronouns ‘my' and ‘I' throughout the poem point to the speaker's sense of her individual identity. Holding a secret in the face of persistent enquiry implies a strong sense of self for the person who does so. The first line both begins and ends with the pronoun ‘I'. This suggests that the speaker encloses her secret within her own individual identity and that nothing can break through and disturb the concealed interior.
The speaker suggests that she may be only teasing the listener when she declares that her secret may be ‘just my fun'. Nonsense was the poem's title in the manuscript version and hints at the playfulness of the speaker's tone.
The revelation that there may in fact be ‘no secret after all' (line 8) suggests that the poem is more about the act of concealment and the practice of secrecy than it is about a particular secret itself.
Reprimanding the reader for being ‘too curious' (line 4), the speaker emphasises that the secret is hers to give away or to conceal as she wishes. She suggests that her reticence to share her secret is a direct result of the reader's curiosity.
In Goblin Market, Rossetti highlights the dangers of curiosity when she suggests that it was Laura's own curiosity that caused her downfall. In her later book of devotional prose, The Face of the Deep, Rossetti warns her readers against curiosity, which she perceives as a sin and compares to obedience. Referring to Eve's decision to eat the fruit in the Garden of Eden, she highlights the dangers of approaching God with ‘idle curiosity' instead of acceptance and obedience (p. 531).
- What associations do you with the notion of something being nonsense?
- How appropriate do you think that the title Nonsense is for the poem?
- What does the speaker suggest the dangers of curiosity are?
- What moral lessons do you think that the poem can be seen to convey?
- How can these lessons be compared to the lessons given in Goblin Market?
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