Christina Rossetti: Poems

Christina Rossetti: Poems Summary and Analysis of "Death's Chill Between" (1848)


A young woman nurses her broken heart after the death of her lover. While the woman's mother attempts to pull her daughter out of misery, the young woman wishes either for her beloved to return or for her own death. The narrator asks her mother to let her mourn alone, promising that soon, she will learn how to handle her grief, although death is still welcome. Suddenly, the girl goes into a trance-like state and hears a low voice, soft footfall, and a knock on her door. She believes that her lover has returned, welcomes the deceased young man into the house, and provides refreshments. The young woman promises to protect her beloved from all harm. She says that they will take rest from the sorrow and sing sweet songs together. Talking about weeping jerks the young woman back to reality and her aching heart. She tells her mother that she finally understands that the deceased young man will never return.


“Death’s Chill Between” is made up of seven six-line stanzas, each with the rhyme scheme ABABCC and varying between seven and eight syllables in a line. The absence of a strict meter and syllable count make it feel like an elegy, the free flowing grief of a young girl in mourning.

Rossetti crafts a one-sided conversation between a mother and her daughter, who must come to terms with the death of her beloved. The theme of tragic love was a central focus in the ideology of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The intensity of the young woman's passion matches the acuteness of her grief. Over the course of the poem, she must repress both of these raw emotions and stow them into the recesses of her memory. Her memory is the only place that true love can exist in its unadulterated form, unsullied by the struggles of earthly life. This is a difficult lesson for her to learn, but Pre-Raphaelite philosophy emphasizes the transience of contentment. This defeatist attitude cultivates a lugubrious tone, which is common in Rossetti’s work.

Pre-Raphaelite notions of love are similar to medieval representations of courtship. Both of these viewpoints, then, are rooted in Christ’s perfect love for the church. In this poem, Rossetti expresses the idea that death protects the integrity of love from being sullied by sin or physical complications. The young woman in "Death's Chill Between" is connected to her dead lover by a “love-cord” rather than a “life-cord,” meaning that the connection of love is powerful than life itself. This Gothic-inspired image expresses Rossetti's belief in the intense spiritual connection that exists between the hearts of true lovers. The young woman’s lover only comes to her as a phantasm borne from her memory, and not as a physical man. She addresses the deceased young man in apostrophe, not actuality. His soft voice does not call her not into sinful temptation, but rather, ignites the communion of their minds. In this way, their courtly love can only remain pristine in absentia, an ideal that the Pre-Raphaelites embraced.

The Pre-Raphaelites certainly considered spiritual love to be far more meaningful than a physical relationship, but the movement also acknowledged many kinds of love. This poem, for instance, also celebrates the relationship between the grieving daughter and her caring, concerned mother. In turn, the young woman acts maternally towards her lover's ghost. She promises to shelter him from harm and sing him to sleep, like a mother would do for her baby. Although this behavior might seem unusual for two lovers, it shows that the movement’s ideals pervade all of the loving relationships in Rossetti's work, not just the romantic ones.

The ideal of tragic love in this poem comes out of the Pre-Raphaelite belief that humans must renounce any and all desire for carnal fulfillment during their existence on earth. That renunciation includes the very desire to remain alive. In the first and third stanza, Rossetti repeats the end rhyme in her narrator’s promise to bear her grief. The young woman resolves to be strong in life, although she will “not struggle long”. Her preoccupation with her dead lover combined with her resigned attitude towards life suggest that she would welcome her own death. Her renunciation of worldly attachment aligns with Rossetti’s religious beliefs as well as her artistic inclinations. Rossetti often expressed the idea that the realms of the mind and spirit transcend the physical world.