Pilgrimage and resurrection

What is a pilgrim?

A pilgrim is someone who is on a journey to a sacred destination. It is a religious mission, to achieve spiritual blessing or enlightenment. In Victorian Britain, the great subtext for this was John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, a two-part allegory of the journeys of Christian and Christiana, his wife, to the Heavenly City along the road of life. After the Bible, it was the most read and best known religious work.


The notion of pilgrimage or spiritual journey is central to many of Rossetti's poems:

  • The most obvious example of this is Up-hill. Here, the metaphor of climbing a mountain conveys the pilgrimage of life. This has scriptural roots. In Old Testament times, temples were constructed on the top of mountains and hills. Just as the pilgrim in Up-hill must travel up a road that winds ‘up-hill all the way' (line 1), pilgrims throughout history have travelled up winding roads in order to meet with God and to worship him
  • The space of the temple, where this meeting took place, is described, celebrated and re-figured in A Birthday
  • In A Better Resurrection, the speaker laments that she can no longer see the ‘everlasting hills' (line 7). Taken in the context of the biblical allusions to meeting with God on the heights of mountains, her lament suggests that she can no longer discern the route she must take to true worship.

See Ascent and descent.


The speaker of A Convent Threshold begins her monologue by declaring her intention to ‘choose the stairs that mount above' and anticipates climbing ‘Stair after golden skyward stair' towards paradise (lines 4-5). The image of climbing stairs suggests gradual and progressive movement towards a destination. It also suggests that the journey will be tiring and therefore must be one of active perseverance. Throughout, the speaker alludes to the upward movement of her soul to heaven. This imagery of the stair climb also has a scriptural basis. In Genesis, Jacob's dream of a stairway resting on the earth and leading up to heaven is described (Genesis 28:15). See Ascent and descent; Jacob's dream of a staircase to heaven.


Linked to the idea of new life in heaven is the theme of resurrection (which means ‘rising again'). At the heart of the Christian faith in which Rossetti believed lies Jesus' resurrection from the dead. He himself claimed,

‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die' (John 11:25-6)

For more information on the resurrection see Aspects of literature > Big ideas from the Bible > Death and Resurrection.

Jesus' resurrection is the central image of many of Rossetti's devotional poems:

  • In The Lowest Place, the speaker recognises that it is only because Christ died that she is able to ‘live and share / Thy glory by Thy side' (lines 3-4). It is because of his subsequent resurrection that she is able to glimpse this ‘glory'
  • In A Better Resurrection, the speaker looks forward to reaching this glory and rising again in a different form. She prays that Christ would ‘Cast into the fire' (line 21) the remnants of her old life and remould her until she can be ‘A royal cup' (line 23) ready to both receive Jesus into her life and offer herself fully to him
  • In L.E.L., Rossetti uses the imagery of the resurrection to bring hope to an otherwise desperate situation. Comforting the forlorn and rejected L.E.L., the angel encourages her to look towards eternal life. She claims that ‘true life is born of death' and anticipates a time ‘When new spring builds new heaven and clean new earth' (lines 38, 42). Here, she is alluding to the Second Coming of Christ (see Aspects of literature > Big ideas from the Bible > Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times, the Second Coming).
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