Thursday, October 8, 2020

Poems Added in 1875 by Christina Rossetti

Source of book: I own the complete poems of Christina Rossetti


I have mentioned my early love of Christina Rossetti at length in my other posts on her poems, so I won’t repeat myself here. You can read previous posts here:


The Goblin Market and Other Poems

The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems

I love the original illustrations for Rossetti's poems. 


Those two collections were published in 1862 and 1866 respectively. Later, in 1875, additional poems were added to both when they were republished. My edition does not break down which poems went where, and there are a good number of them, so I decided to read them as if they were a separate collection. 


As in the previous collections, I found the religious poetry to be a mixed bag. I no longer ascribe to a number of theological beliefs of hers, particularly the view of atonement, but I do find her beliefs to be genuine, personal, introspective, and compassionate. She is the sort of religious person that I would be happy to be friends with, I believe. 


There are a few poems that stood out to me in this collection. First is this example of religious poetry, which is characteristic of the personal transcendent experience of Rossetti. Her own “thorn,” one imagines, is her involuntary singlehood and longing for human - and divine - connection (both of which are themes in many of her poems.) 


A Rose Plant in Jericho


At morn I plucked a rose and gave it Thee,

A rose of joy and happy love and peace,

A rose with scarce a thorn:

But in the chillness of a second morn

My rose bush drooped, and all its gay increase

Was but one thorn that wounded me.


I plucked the thorn and offered it to Thee;

And for my thorn Thou gavest love and peace,

Not joy this mortal morn:

If Thou hast given much treasure for a thorn,

Wilt thou not give me for my rose increase

Of gladness, and all sweets to me?


My thorny rose, my love and pain, to Thee

I offer; and I set my heart in peace,

And rest upon my thorn:

For verily I think to-morrow morn

Shall bring me Paradise, my gift's increase,

Yea, give Thy very Self to me.


Another poem in the collection is shockingly pessimistic and despairing. Rossetti is able to be so raw and vulnerable in her poetry, sometimes shockingly so. 


Dead Hope


Hope new born one pleasant morn

Died at even;

Hope dead lives nevermore.

No, not in heaven.


If his shroud were but a cloud

To weep itself away;

Or were he buried underground

To sprout some day!

But dead and gone is dead and gone

Vainly wept upon.


Nought we place above his face

To mark the spot,

But it shows a barren place

In our lot.


Hope has birth no more on earth

Morn or even;

Hope dead lives nevermore,

No, not in heaven. 


I was also struck by one of the sonnets in this collection, again fairly dark: it is resignation, not despair, but also captures the feeling that life has passed her by. 


Autumn Violets


Keep love for youth, and violets for the spring:

Of if these bloom when worn-out autumn grieves,

Let them lie hid in double shade of leaves,

Their own, and others dropped down withering;

For violets suit when home birds build and sing,

Not when the outbound bird a passage cleaves;

Not with dry stubble of mown harvest sheaves,

But when the green world buds to blossoming.

Keep violets for the spring, and love for youth,

Love that should dwell with beauty, mirth, and hope:

Or if a later sadder love be born,

Let this not look for grace beyond its scope,

But give itself, nor plead for answering truth—

A grateful Ruth tho' gleaning scanty corn. 


So many great images in this one, and language that sounds so amazing read out loud. The use of “s” sounds throughout to create the impression of rustling of dried leaves and grain. And that last bit, “gleaning scanty corn,” wow. 


One final one, about nature. And about more. 


By the Sea


Why does the sea moan evermore?

Shut out from heaven it makes its moan,

It frets against the boundary shore;

All earth's full rivers cannot fill

The sea, that drinking thirsteth still.


Sheer miracles of loveliness

Lie hid in its unlooked-on bed:

Anemones, salt, passionless,

Blow flower-like; just enough alive

To blow and multiply and thrive.


Shells quaint with curve, or spot, or spike,

Encrusted live things argus-eyed,

All fair alike, yet all unlike,

Are born without a pang, and die

Without a pang, and so pass by. 


Again, longing, the pangs of longing unfulfilled (this is probably the theme of this collection of poems, honestly), and the “bliss” of being all seeing (argus-eyed) yet unfeeling, without the pain of desire. But the sea itself is different. It longs for a connection to heaven, and rails against the boundaries which keep it from transcending. And yet, the two are connected, the beauty that is content to exist, and the desire to transcend. Both are part of our human existence, and to be whole, we must accept both parts of our nature. We should indeed learn to be content and to not be consumed by desire. But we are meaningless without that longing to transcend, to connect, to thrive. 


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