Christina Rossetti wrote “Amor Mundis” as a companion poem to “Up-Hill”, and they together form an excellent example of what critics call the ‘dialogic poetry’ – a particular genre that makes use of dialogues or conversations between two people. The poems make use of the much used (and probably clichéd) parallel between life and roads: thus, “Up-Hill” shows the way to progress, betterment, and possibly to heaven, whereas in “Amor Mundis” the downhill path is, as the poem suggests, “hell’s own track”.
The metaphoric equation of life with a journey abounds in literature, but probably the most famous English work making use of such an allegory is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Here, these two poems of Rossetti seem to be influenced by the Bunyan model, even if a little.
We are also reminded of the Temptation of Eve by Satan which caused the Fall of Man. They probably desired an easy, effortless lifestyle, but that resulted in their banishment from the Eden to the earth where they had to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. Christina Rossetti wants to convey a similar idea through “Amor Mundis” – the downhill path is easy and there are lots of worldly attractions around to lure the passer-by, but the path probably a definite descend unto the hell. The Latin phrase ‘Amor Mundis’ may be translated into English as ‘love of the world’ – but the poetess here seems to warn us against humankind’s love and desire for worldly things, so that the Fall of Man does not happen twice.
The general tone of the poem is melancholic, conveying a remorseful sense of hopeless misery. The first couple of stanzas present a pair of lovers in a happy and delightful surrounding, on the top of a hill, which alludes to pious and contented state of human life. Shortly, the two lovers begin their journey down the hill, and the surrounding begins to become grimy and dark. The ominous shadow of death soon looms large on them. Thus, from looking at the “heaven where grey cloud-flakes are seven”, the couple arrive at a place where a “thin dead body” is waiting for the eternal term, alias the final judgment. Nevertheless, as the poem concludes, hopelessness engulfs as the lovers understand that it is too late to turn back, and despite their realization that the downhill path leads to doom, turning back is not possible.
The two poems “Up-Hill” and “Amor Mundis” were published four years apart, in 1861 and 1865 respectively. Hence, in most collections or anthologies, there are often several poems in between. Nevertheless, the author herself indicated that the two poems are meant to be together by placing them side by side when she published her collection of poetry, titled Poems, in 1876. One should also note that the later poem was placed earlier in that collection, which seems to be quite significant – that way, the author does not subscribe to an existential hopelessness that knows no bound and cannot be altered. Rather, she prescribes the humanity to move along the path uphill for attaining salvation, by placing “Amor Mundis” first and “Up-Hill” after that.