Extra Christina Rossetti poem / Weekly Assignment #9

November 1, 2006 at 3:44 pm (Weekly Assignments)

This is one of my favorite Christina Rossetti poems, but it’s rarely anthologized. It was written in 1862, the year Lizzie Siddal died, so it might be about her; it might also be about Rossetti’s mother. Note the almost militant transfiguration of the “Blessed Damozel” image. Note, too, the unusual rhyme scheme of the sestet and that the volta comes at the twelfth line instead of the ninth.


Ten years ago it seemed impossible
That she could ever grow as calm as this,
With self-remembrance in her warmest kiss
And dim dried eyes like an exhausted well.
Slow-speaking when she has some fact to tell,
Silent with long-unbroken silences,
Centred in self yet not unpleased to please,
Gravely monotonous like a passing bell.
Mindful of drudging daily common things,
Patient at pastime, patient at her work,
Wearied perhaps but strenuous certainly.
Sometimes I fancy we may one day see
Her head shoot forth seven stars from where they lurk
And her eyes lightning and her shoulders wings.

[Added note: Yes — questions and answers appended to this post, please!]



  1. Holly Ellern said,

    Are we supposed to post questions this weekend? I don’t remember hearing otherwise, so I’ll just post one anyway.
    What is the nature of the artistic relationship between Christina Rosetti and her brother D.G. Rosetti?

  2. Daniela Newland said,

    I hope it’s okay to use this as our blog this week.
    I’d like to know whether contemporary readers of Christina Rossetti commented on/were upset about the homoerotic images in “Goblin Market” when it was first published or if they even perceived them as homoerotic.

  3. Eric G said,

    I’ll take Daniela’s question, again.

  4. Matt Simmons said,

    What’s going on with all the doubling in CR’s poetry?

  5. Aaron Bobick said,

    This is kind of slighly off subject, but I’m curious, and someone can reseach it this week if they want. I was reading A.S. Byatt’s “Possession” over the summer and there’s a character in there that I thought sounded a lot C.R. Her name is Christabel LaMotte. She could also be E.B.B. Is there anything out there comparing aspects of Byatt’s LaMotte to Rosetti? He made her out to be a beautful yet sub-par poet.

  6. Chris Nelson said,

    Ok, my question may be way off base, but I’m curious: Is there any criticism (new or contemporary to the poem) dealing with allusions to drug addiction in “Goblin Market?”

  7. Meredith Willis said,

    I’m snatching Holly’s question.
    My Question:
    What were Christina Rossetti’s religious convictions especially in relation to ?Monna Innominata??

  8. Daniela Newland said,

    I’m taking Meredith’s question. Again, I think. Oh, I got an easy math problem: zero plus thirty-eight. I can do that.

  9. Eric G said,

    Did Christina Rossetti have any mental problems during her lifetime, or is the allusion of mental illness that is so frequent in the poetry a reference to her society, family history, etc?

  10. Jake Burnett said,

    In what way can “Song” be considered a love poem? “When I am dead my dearest” is hardly a Hallmark Valentine’s sentiment…

  11. Josh Gane said,

    “In Progress” seems to describe a woman who has grown quietly aware of life’s deep essence, whereas she used to live and percieve in a different manner. Can anyone think of any other poems, songs, or other works of art that parallel this transformation?

  12. Laura Robinson said,

    What exactly is known about Rossetti’s personal love life, and is there a correlation between the timing of relationships (or a specific relationship) and her composing poems such as “A Birthday”?
    (Other musings… I love the line… “Because the birthday of my life is come, my love is come to me.” *Also, it’s really interesting how closely Rossetti ties a relationship to God with a relationship with a man in “Monna Innominata.” There is a 20 year span between “Birthday” and “Monna”… and I wonder how that reflects on her personal journey through life, faith, and love.)

  13. Laura Robinson said,

    I’ll take Jake’s question…

  14. Lindsay S. said,

    Dibs on Aaron’s question… (by the way, Byatt is a woman…)
    Lizzie in “The Goblin Market” – Lizzie Siddel – any subliminal relationship? Discuss.

  15. Susanna Branyon said,

    The very funny person who previously used my anthology scribbled in the margins of “An Apple Gathering” the words “walk of shame” and “kicked out,” which to me (when juxtaposed with a fruit tree) smack of The Garden of Eden: is there any analysis out there that views the poem through this lens?

  16. Susanna Branyon said,

    Josh, I’m going to muse on your question…

  17. Chris Nelson said,

    I’ll take Eric’s question

  18. Jake Burnett said,

    It is entirely possible that the choice of the name “Lizzie” in Goblin Market was determined by Christina Rossetti’s sister-in-law, though I was unable to find direct evidence for such an assertion (e.g., a letter to Lizzie Siddal or a manuscript version of the poem with all of the two-syllable women’s names of Rossetti’s acquaintance crossed out except “Lizzie”). History and biography hint circumstantially at that conclusion though. To wit:
    Siddal’s relationship with Rossetti’s family was, for a long time, not a good one. Dante did not even introduce his model to his family for 5 years(he and she met in 1849, she did not meet Christina until 1854). She was lower class than they were, and apparently during her first visit did not make a very good impression.
    Indications are that this changed in 1860 (around the time Goblin Market would have been conceived and written), when Dante (finally!) married Lizzie. When Siddal became pregnant, Christina was very pleased at the prospect of becoming an aunt, and reconciliation with the laudanum-addicted often-sick woman who had usurped so much of her brother’s time and affection seems to have occured. As Christina wrote to her friend Mary Haydon: “My sister-in-law proves an acquisition now that we know her better” (cited by Hawksley 172).
    However, the child was still-born (having probably died two weeks before delivery) in May of 1861. Lizzie never really recovered, and would die from a laudanum overdose the following year (the year that “Goblin Market and Other Poems” was published). Given this, and the mother-image ending of Goblin Market, it is poignant to imagine that the heroic Lizzie of the poem is a peace overture or friendly gesture to Lizzie Siddal.
    Hawksley, Lucinda. _Lizzie_Siddal:_Face_of_the_Pre-Raphaelites_. Walker & Company: New York, 2004.

  19. Eric G said,

    I was not able to find much information concerning Victorian perceptions of Rossetti’s poetry as homoerotic. However, William Michael Rossetti did omit the “Sappho” poetry from his edition of Rossetti’s work because of lesbian allusions (Keener 304). Keener also stipulates that very few overtly lesbian literature was published in the last seventy-five years, and nearly none prior to the last century (302). The lack of research in this manner may be attributed to the taboo of studying lesbianism in literature prior to the 1970s. Applicants who submitted resumes with lesbian literature were not considered for teaching positions primarily for that reason, and the “charge or even suspicion of lesbian” would lead to dismissal (simply studying lesbian connotations in literature was believed to be a sign of homosexuality in the scholar) (Keener 302). In this respect, I’m not surprised I didn’t find anything.
    Keener, Karen M. “Out of the Archives and into the Academy: Opportunities for Research and Publication in Lesbian Literature.” College English (1982): 301-13.

  20. Matt Simmons said,

    Perusing some basic biographical information on Rossetti (wikipedia, VictorianWeb, etc.) reveals that mental illness was very close to her–her father’s poor mental health caused the family great financial distress, and she herself suffered a nervous breakdown at 14, which started a long bout with depression. So, she would have obviously been quite familiar with mental anguish in her own life.
    Now, the question of mental illness as some sort of commentary on or interaction with her society–I couldn’t find anything written on it. Speculations, anyone?

  21. Chris Nelson said,

    Boy, did I get lucky. A big, big thanks to Dr. French for sending along Dr. Harrison’s fine article, in which, we are told that indeed Christina Rossetti did suffer from depression that manefested itself in physical reactions. Also, given the scope of your question, I would venture that society did play a role in the imagery of mental illness presented in her poetry, as Dr. Harrison states, “Her condition was surely in part a product of the moral and religious values dominant in her cultural milieu (and to which she rigidly adhered) in combination with the authoritative influence of the Victorian medical establishment. This is ultimately to argue that the symptoms she experienced at an early age were as much the product of ideology as physiology.”
    Once again, my hat is off to both Dr. French and Dr. Harrison for their insight.
    Harrison, Antony. “Christina Rossetti: Illness and Ideology.”

  22. Chris Nelson said,

    Crap. Sorry Matt. I posted before I saw you had. This thing is confusing at times.

  23. Lindsay S. said,

    Before I looked for any “real” criticism based on the correlation between Christabel LaMotte and Christina Rossetti, I did a google search, simply to see what I could find. Strangely enough, reviewers of the film version of Possession reference Rossetti constantly in comparison with LaMotte; however, it appears it’s more from journalistic technique than from any factual information (nothing from Byatt, I’m afraid). What I found very interesting, is how reviewers would add it as parentheses in their plot synopsis – i.e., “the poet, Christabel LaMotte – based on the the real-life poet Christina Rossetti.” My favorites are when they speculate on the inspiration for Randolph Henry Ash: both Tennyson and Robert Browning are mentioned, probably because they’re the two most prominant male poets the reviewers could think of. LaMotte is also described as a “Christina Rossetti/Virgina Woolf-esque poet” – a bizarre comparison indeed.
    But – lo and behold – I find that Byatt has in fact spoken on the inspiration. She says that Rossetti was indeed her original inspiration for the character of LaMotte; however, she ended up being “too Christian, too self-destructive.” In the end, she settled on Emily Dickinson as the prime inspiration for LaMotte, and as a result, there has been some scholarship comparing the work of Dickinson and LaMotte.
    So… that’s all I have to say, other than my contention against your statement that Byatt described (or portrayed) the character of LaMotte as a “beautiful but sup-par poet.” But that’s a discussion for another time. đŸ™‚
    Chinn, Nancy. “‘I Am My Own Riddle’ – A.S. Byatt’s Christabel LaMotte: Emily Dickinson and Melusina.” Papers on Language and Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 37.2 (2001): 179-204.

  24. Anonymous said,

    This answer is coming a little late, because there are no available questions. So I took my own. I also love this poem, and it does remind of some similar themes in art pieces. However, this seems very original at the same time. It is obviously the story of a woman who has had a tough life (dried tears) and has somehow come to peace with it. The last couple of lines, however, are what set this poem apart.

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