Christina Rossetti: Poems

Christina Rossetti: Poems Summary and Analysis of "De Profundis" (1876)


Christina Rossetti begins her poem "De Profundis" by questioning the arrangement of the universe, observing that Earth feels isolated from the stars. The narrator goes on to complain that even the monotonously revolving moon is out of her reach. Whenever she looks at the stars and sun, she has a strong desire to escape her human, Earth-bound state. Although she is aware of the futility of her wish to attain the "joy and beauty" of the universe, she still strains her heart towards the stars and tenuously holds onto the hope that she can reach them.


The poem "De Profundis" deals with the narrator's longing to escape from her mortal existence and attain eternal bliss. The poem begins with an apostrophe, questioning the arrangement of the universe. The structure and word-choice in these opening lines, heaven "built" and earth "set," suggest that the narrator believes in the idea of a creator of the universe, although she does not specify the creator in the poem.

The poem follows an ABAB rhyme scheme. In the second stanza, Rossetti refers to the moon with the pronoun "she," writing that the moon "repeats her tune," and therefore personifies the moon. Additionally, it is possible to interpret the narrator's feminization of the moon as an expression of her affinity to its repetitive, circular existence. Later, the narrator mildly disparages the moon's monotonous cycle, essentially admitting that she would not want to reach it. She does have a contradictory attitude, though, because she also expresses her jealousy of the moon for being so far away.

Additionally, Rossetti expresses the narrator's admiration for the majestic beauty of the stars and sun through constructed poetic devices, which mostly appear in the third stanza. For example, Rossetti adds musicality with the elision in "scatter'd fire" and the consonance within the phrase "far-trailing train." The colon at the end of the third stanza marks a sudden turn in the poem.

The fourth stanza reveals the narrator's acceptance of her human state, even though she illustrates it with the image of a bound prisoner. The parallel structure and alliteration in the line, "I strain my heart, I stretch my hands" suggests the narrator's determination to continue trying to attain the unattainable.

"De Profundis" means "Out of the Deep" and originally refers to Psalm 130 in the Bible, which is an important psalm of repentance in Christian liturgy. This psalm laments the human's miserable wretched state and may have influenced Rossetti when she was writing "De Profundis." Psalm 130 and "De Profundis" also express similar themes of hope and determination.