Christina Rossetti: Poems


(Art and Poetry [The Germ, No. 3], March 1850)

She sat alway thro' the long day

Spinning the weary thread away;

And ever said in undertone:

'Come, that I be no more alone.'

From early dawn to set of sun

Working, her task was still undone;

And the long thread seemed to increase

Even while she spun and did not cease.

She heard the gentle turtle-dove

Tell to its mate a tale of love; 10

She saw the glancing swallows fly,

Ever a social company;

She knew each bird upon its nest

Had cheering songs to bring it rest;

None lived alone save only she;--

The wheel went round more wearily;

She wept and said in undertone:

'Come, that I be no more alone.'

Day followed day, and still she sighed

For love, and was not satisfied; 20

Until one night, when the moonlight

Turned all the trees to silver white,

She heard, what ne'er she heard before,

A steady hand undo the door.

The nightingale since set of sun

Her throbbing music had not done,

And she had listened silently;

But now the wind had changed, and she

Heard the sweet song no more, but heard

Beside her bed a whispered word: 30

'Damsel, rise up; be not afraid;

For I am come at last,' it said.

She trembled, tho' the voice was mild;

She trembled like a frightened child;--

Till she looked up, and then she saw

The unknown speaker without awe.

He seemed a fair young man, his eyes

Beaming with serious charities;

His cheek was white but hardly pale;

And a dim glory like a veil 40

Hovered about his head, and shone

Thro' the whole room till night was gone.

So her fear fled; and then she said,

Leaning upon her quiet bed:

'Now thou art come, I prithee stay,

That I may see thee in the day,

And learn to know thy voice, and hear

It evermore calling me near.'

He answered: 'Rise, and follow me.'

But she looked upwards wonderingly: 50

'And whither would'st thou go, friend? stay

Until the dawning of the day.'

But he said: 'The wind ceaseth, Maid;

Of chill nor damp be thou afraid.'

She bound her hair up from the floor,

And passed in silence from the door.

So they went forth together, he

Helping her forward tenderly.

The hedges bowed beneath his hand;

Forth from the streams came the dry land 60

As they passed over; evermore

The pallid moonbeams shone before;

And the wind hushed, and nothing stirred;

Not even a solitary bird,

Scared by their footsteps, fluttered by

Where aspen-trees stood steadily.

As they went on, at length a sound

Came trembling on the air around;

The undistinguishable hum

Of life, voices that go and come 70

Of busy men, and the child's sweet

High laugh, and noise of trampling feet.

Then he said: 'Wilt thou go and see?'

And she made answer joyfully:

'The noise of life, of human life,

Of dear communion without strife,

Of converse held 'twixt friend and friend;

Is it not here our path shall end?'

He led her on a little way

Until they reached a hillock: 'Stay.' 80

It was a village in a plain.

High mountains screened it from the rain

And stormy wind; and nigh at hand

A bubbling streamlet flowed, o'er sand

Pebbly and fine, and sent life up

Green succous stalk and flower-cup.

Gradually, day's harbinger,

A chilly wind began to stir.

It seemed a gentle powerless breeze

That scarcely rustled thro' the trees; 90

And yet it touched the mountain's head

And the paths man might never tread.

But hearken: in the quiet weather

Do all the streams flow down together?--

No, 'tis a sound more terrible

Than tho' a thousand rivers fell.

The everlasting ice and snow

Were loosened then, but not to flow;--

With a loud crash like solid thunder

The avalanche came, burying under 100

The village; turning life and breath

And rest and joy and plans to death.

'Oh! let us fly, for pity fly;

Let us go hence, friend, thou and I.

There must be many regions yet

Where these things make not desolate.'

He looked upon her seriously;

Then said: 'Arise and follow me.'

The path that lay before them was

Nigh covered over with long grass; 110

And many slimy things and slow

Trailed on between the roots below.

The moon looked dimmer than before;

And shadowy cloudlets floating o'er

Its face sometimes quite hid its light,

And filled the skies with deeper night.

At last, as they went on, the noise

Was heard of the sea's mighty voice;

And soon the ocean could be seen

In its long restlessness serene. 120

Upon its breast a vessel rode

That drowsily appeared to nod

As the great billows rose and fell,

And swelled to sink, and sank to swell.

Meanwhile the strong wind had come forth

From the chill regions of the North,

The mighty wind invisible.

And the low waves began to swell;

And the sky darkened overhead;

And the moon once looked forth, then fled 130

Behind dark clouds; while here and there

The lightning shone out in the air;

And the approaching thunder rolled

With angry pealings manifold.

How many vows were made, and prayers

That in safe times were cold and scarce.

Still all availed not; and at length

The waves arose in all their strength,

And fought against the ship, and filled

The ship. Then were the clouds unsealed, 140

And the rain hurried forth, and beat

On every side and over it.

Some clung together, and some kept

A long stern silence, and some wept.

Many half-crazed looked on in wonder

As the strong timbers rent asunder;

Friends forgot friends, foes fled to foes;--

And still the water rose and rose.

'Ah woe is me! Whom I have seen

Are now as tho' they had not been. 150

In the earth there is room for birth,

And there are graves enough in earth;

Why should the cold sea, tempest-torn,

Bury those whom it hath not borne?'

He answered not, and they went on.

The glory of the heavens was gone;

The moon gleamed not nor any star;

Cold winds were rustling near and far,

And from the trees the dry leaves fell

With a sad sound unspeakable. 160

The air was cold; till from the South

A gust blew hot, like sudden drouth,

Into their faces; and a light

Glowing and red, shone thro' the night.

A mighty city full of flame

And death and sounds without a name.

Amid the black and blinding smoke,

The people, as one man, awoke.

Oh! happy they who yesterday

On the long journey went away; 170

Whose pallid lips, smiling and chill,

While the flames scorch them smile on still;

Who murmur not; who tremble not

When the bier crackles fiery hot;

Who, dying, said in love's increase:

'Lord, let thy servant part in peace.'

Those in the town could see and hear

A shaded river flowing near;

The broad deep bed could hardly hold

Its plenteous waters calm and cold. 180

Was flame-wrapped all the city wall,

The city gates were flame-wrapped all.

What was man's strength, what puissance then?

Women were mighty as strong men.

Some knelt in prayer, believing still,

Resigned unto a righteous will,

Bowing beneath the chastening rod,

Lost to the world, but found of God.

Some prayed for friend, for child, for wife;

Some prayed for faith; some prayed for life; 190

While some, proud even in death, hope gone,

Steadfast and still, stood looking on.

'Death--death--oh! let us fly from death;

Where'er we go it followeth;

All these are dead; and we alone

Remain to weep for what is gone.

What is this thing? thus hurriedly

To pass into eternity;

To leave the earth so full of mirth;

To lose the profit of our birth; 200

To die and be no more; to cease,

Having numbness that is not peace.

Let us go hence; and, even if thus

Death everywhere must go with us,

Let us not see the change, but see

Those who have been or still shall be.'

He sighed and they went on together;

Beneath their feet did the grass wither;

Across the heaven high overhead

Dark misty clouds floated and fled; 210

And in their bosom was the thunder,

And angry lightnings flashed out under,

Forked and red and menacing;

Far off the wind was muttering;

It seemed to tell, not understood,

Strange secrets to the listening wood.

Upon its wings it bore the scent

Of blood of a great armament:

Then saw they how on either side

Fields were down-trodden far and wide. 220

That morning at the break of day

Two nations had gone forth to slay.

As a man soweth so he reaps.

The field was full of bleeding heaps;

Ghastly corpses of men and horses

That met death at a thousand sources;

Cold limbs and putrifying flesh;

Long love-locks clotted to a mesh

That stifled; stiffened mouths beneath

Staring eyes that had looked on death. 230

But these were dead: these felt no more

The anguish of the wounds they bore.

Behold, they shall not sigh again,

Nor justly fear, nor hope in vain.

What if none wept above them?--is

The sleeper less at rest for this?

Is not the young child's slumber sweet

When no man watcheth over it?

These had deep calm; but all around

There was a deadly smothered sound, 240

The choking cry of agony

From wounded men who could not die;

Who watched the black wing of the raven

Rise like a cloud 'twixt them and heaven,

And in the distance flying fast

Beheld the eagle come at last.

She knelt down in her agony:

'O Lord, it is enough,' said she:

'My heart's prayer putteth me to shame;

Let me return to whence I came. 250

Thou for who love's sake didst reprove,

Forgive me for the sake of love.'