Christina Rossetti: Poems

Christina Rossetti: Poems Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Compare and contrast the tragic love in "Maude Clare" and "Death's Chill Between." Why is the young woman an unsympathetic character? How could the inclusion of the additional stanzas (that Rossetti actually wrote) change the reader's view of Maude Clare?

    Both of these poems center around unrealized love. Although Sir Thomas does not return Maude Clare's love, the reader feels a sense of embarrassment and pity for her outburst. The problem is that the poem does not contain much information about Maude Clare and Sir Thomas' emotional relationship and subsequently, her motivations to confront her former lover. Rossetti had written additional stanzas explaining Maude Clare's character more thoroughly, which soften the tone of her attack on the married couple. As the poem stands, though, Maude Clare comes off as the aggressor because of her strong will. By contrast, the young woman in "Death's Chill Between" does read as a victim because she reacts to the death of her lover with ladylike sadness, instead of ferocious anger.

  2. 2

    How does Rossetti juxtapose the nightingale and the skylark in "Bird Raptures"? What does this contrast demonstrate about her views on natural beauty?

    In the poem, Rossetti shows more appreciation for the nightingale, who comes out at night, than the lark, who sings during daytime hours. Rossetti prefers the nightingale because it is rare to hear its song, which makes it more special for Rossetti and her companion. The song of the nightingale is transient, unlike the lark's call, which is much more common. Therefore, the nightingale's song is elevated to sublime status. Rossetti's preference for nighttime and the nightingale illustrates her fascination with sublime beauty which, by definition, is not accessible or commonplace.

  3. 3

    Discuss the crisis of faith after the narrator's dream in "The Convent Threshold," and explore why Rossetti may have chosen to write about a dream in this instance.

    The dream of Lucifer, who was determined to acquire "light" and knowledge, serves as a warning to the narrator not to blindly pursue these things. Rossetti often invokes a dream state to offer a glimpse into a character's true desire, and subsequently, reveal an innate crisis of humanity. Here, Rossetti uses the dreamscape to contrast irrational love and rational knowledge, both of which are important to the Christian faith. However, an unquestioning love of God is the most vital tenet of the religion, according to Rossetti.

  4. 4

    In "Love Came Down at Christmas," Rossetti sets the stage for the nativity story by describing a familiar winter scene. Discuss her use of poetic devices in the juxtaposition of the humble and the magnificent.

    Rossetti uses couplets to foreshadow the entry of the carpenter king, who was both lowly and exalted. At first, couplets appear to be simple and ordinary. However, in this instance, Rossetti's couplets complete each other, fulfilling the first word with a new word. Jesus, as the second Adam, filled an empty place. Additionally, the narrator of Christ's birth story is poor, but Rossetti still makes sure to include him in this tale of divine magnificence.

  5. 5

    Describe Rossetti's use of the sonnet form in "Remember." Identify the turning points in the poem and discuss whether or not the sonnet form relates to the message.

    Rossetti uses the form of the Petrarchan sonnet to illustrate the mental process of her narrator, who is contemplating the value of being remembered. In the beginning octave, the narrator asks her lover to remember her even though she cannot be with him. The narrator makes a dramatic turn with the volta between the stanzas. In the last sestet, the narrator renounces her need to be remembered.

  6. 6

    Discuss the various meanings of the journey in "Up-hill". What are the possible interpretations of "journey"?

    In "Up-hill," the journey could represent one of three things: the narrator's road towards death, her journey of life, or her crossing into the afterlife. All of these interpretations, however, are thematically similar - expressing the difficulty of life on Earth and the uncertainty of what happens after death. It is also possible that Rossetti used "journey" as a metaphor to describe the writing process, with the inn representing the final written piece.

  7. 7

    How does Rossetti treat the matter of free will or agency in "Goblin Market"?

    Rossetti's version of the fall of man embodies the standard Christian beliefs about human free will. Laura knows that she should not eat the goblins' fruit, but she chooses to do so anyway. Lizzie warns her sister not to take the risk, but ultimately knows that the decision belongs to Laura. After Laura exerts her powers of agency, she is subsequently trapped by her choice. She can no longer live a normal life after tasting the goblins' fruit. At the end of the poem, Lizzie jumps into action and saves Laura. This trajectory corresponds to Christian notions of choice, slavery to sin, and the freedom to act.

  8. 8

    In the poem "A Birthday," Rossetti uses several poetic devices to express her joy at the arrival of her beloved. Explain the effectiveness of these devices in enhancing the poem's emotional impact.

    Rossetti's narrator compares her heart to a series of phenomena that occur in the natural world, including a fruit-laden tree, a young plant, a rainbow, and a songbird. This repetition of similes gives the lines an air of excitement, building up the reader's anticipation about what the narrator will feel when she finally meets her love face-to-face. By the end of the poem, the most resonant moment is the narrator's admission that she cannot find the right words to express what she is feeling. In this way, Rossetti uses the limitations of language as a device to increase the power of the reader's emotional experience.

  9. 9

    Choose a classic interpretation of "Goblin Market" - either from a feminist, Christian, or moral/social perspective, and discuss the merits and/or flaws of that interpretation.

    The feminist interpretation of "Goblin Market" focuses on the charged imagery of ripe fruit, the threats of male sexuality and Rossetti's frank inclusion of female desire. This interpretation, however, is problematic because in Victorian times, Laura would have never been able to return to her youth and beauty after losing her virtue. Additionally, Lizzie is the victim of sexual violence when she goes to save Laura, but somehow, Lizzie's virtue is not tainted. In the Christian interpretation, Laura represents Eve, the goblin men are the equivalent of Satan, their fruit is the temptation to sin, and Lizzie is the Christ figure.

  10. 10

    What does the narrator in "De Profundis" believe about beauty and joy? How does this align with Rossetti's Pre-Raphaelite beliefs?

    The narrator implies that sublime phenomena represents beauty that can only be seen from a distance. The "scattered fire" of stars and the "sun's far-trailing train" are sublime images that only appear beautiful when seen from afar. This idea is inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite doctrine that love at its purest can only exist when the lovers are separated. Similarly, during this narrator's life on Earth, she must be satisfied with longing for the moon, but never being able to touch it.