In "In the Bleak Midwinter," Rossetti begins her poetic retelling of the Nativity story by describing attributes of the winter season, which is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In this scene, there are traditional elements of the traditional Nativity story found in gospels of the New Testament, including the stable where Jesus was born, his mother, the Virgin Mary, and the angels and animals who worshipped the baby. Rossetti concludes by imagining herself in the position of a Shepherd and Wise Man, and declares that her heart is the one gift she can offer Jesus.
Rossetti opens "In the Bleak Midwinter" with a simple yet powerful description of winter. Her personification of the moaning wind gives the first line a child-like tone. Rossetti pairs up natural elements for straightforward similes: "Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone." The simple couplet rhyme scheme, which continues throughout the poem, gives the reader a sense that Rossetti is telling a familiar and much beloved tale. The phrase "Long ago" adds to the nursery-tale tone.
Rossetti does not introduce Christ and his human incarnation until after the first stanza. When she finally does, it clearly becomes the focal point of the poem. The second stanza encompasses the core of Christian theology: Christ must be born on earth, live and die as a human, and then be resurrected and return at the end of the Earth. In the midst of this complex theology, Rossetti includes the repetition of her opening line, "In the bleak midwinter," as if to bring comfort to such mysterious and detached theological doctrine.
The third stanza shows Jesus as content with the lowly circumstances of his birth. Rossetti's word choice is appropriately humble, as she repeats the pattern, "Enough for Him, whom..." in the first and third lines of this stanza.
In the fourth verse, Rossetti contrasts the magnificent divine with the humble circumstances of Jesus' nativity. She borrows the biblical phrases "Angels and archangels" and "cherubim and seraphim," allowing the internal rhyme sounds to enhance the poem's melodic meter. She emphasizes the importance of Christ's humanity through the image of Christ's mother kissing her baby. In this verse, Rossetti also celebrates the unique value of human love.
In the fifth and final stanza, the poet places herself in the poem by wondering what gift she would offer the baby Jesus if given the chance. Her repetition of "If I were" and "what can I give Him" in this stanza add to the child-like earnestness of the poem. In general, Rossetti limits her poetic devices to the song-like aa bb couplet rhyme scheme. However, her restraint speaks volumes about her attitude towards divine mysteries that require a child's innocent and sincere faith. The final enjambment in the last line suggests the poet's decisiveness in her desire to give her heart to Jesus.