Christina Rossetti: Poems


Rossetti began writing down and dating her poems from 1842, mostly imitating her favoured poets. From 1847 she began experimenting with verse forms such as sonnets, hymns and ballads; drawing narratives from the Bible, folk tales and the lives of the saints. Her early pieces often feature meditations on death and loss, in the Romantic tradition.[3] She published her first two poems ("Death's Chill Between" and "Heart's Chill Between"), which appeared in the Athenaeum, in 1848 when she was 18.[8][9] Under the pen-name "Ellen Alleyne", she contributed to the literary magazine, The Germ, published by the Pre-Raphaelites from January – April 1850 and edited by her brother William.[1] This marked the beginning of her public career.[10]

Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862, when she was 31. It received widespread critical praise, establishing her as the foremost female poet of the time. Hopkins, Swinburne and Tennyson lauded her work.[1][10] and with the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1861 Rossetti was hailed as her natural successor.[10]The title poem is one of Rossetti's best known works. Although it is ostensibly about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, critics have interpreted the piece in a variety of ways: seeing it as an allegory about temptation and salvation; a commentary on Victorian gender roles and female agency; and a work about erotic desire and social redemption. Rossetti was a volunteer worker from 1859 to 1870 at the St. Mary Magdalene "house of charity" in Highgate, a refuge for former prostitutes and it is suggested Goblin Market may have been inspired by the "fallen women" she came to know.[11] There are parallels with Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner given both poems' religious themes of temptation, sin and redemption by vicarious suffering.[12] Swinburne in 1883 dedicated his collection A Century of Roundels to Rossetti as she had adopted his roundel form in a number of poems, as exampled by her Wife to Husband[13] She was ambivalent about women's suffrage, but many scholars have identified feminist themes in her poetry.[14] She was opposed to slavery (in the American South), cruelty to animals (in the prevalent practice of animal experimentation), and the exploitation of girls in under-age prostitution.[15]

Song When I am dead, my dearest,          Sing no sad songs for me; Plant thou no roses at my head,          Nor shady cypress tree: Be the green grass above me          With showers and dewdrops wet: And if thou wilt, remember,          And if thou wilt, forget. I shall not see the shadows,          I shall not feel the rain; I shall not hear the nightingale          Sing on as if in pain: And dreaming through the twilight          That doth not rise nor set, Haply I may remember,          And haply may forget.

“ ” 1862[16]

Rossetti maintained a very large circle of friends and correspondents and continued to write and publish for the rest of her life, primarily focusing on devotional writing and children's poetry. In 1892, Rossetti wrote The Face of the Deep, a book of devotional prose, and oversaw the production of a new and enlarged edition of Sing-Song, published in 1893.[17]

In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves Disease, diagnosed in 1872 suffering a nearly fatal attack in the early 1870s.[1][4]In 1893, she developed breast cancer and though the tumour was removed, she suffered a recurrence in September 1894. She died in Bloomsbury on 29 December 1894 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.[17] The place where she died, in Torrington Square, is marked with a stone tablet.[18]

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