"The Heart Knoweth Its Own Bitterness" by Christina Rossetti is a poem filled with depressing messages about the fruitless search for fulfillment in life. Not only does Rossetti fail to convey satisfaction with life on earth, but she does not express a convincing amount of anticipation for any type of heavenly reward. She articulates the feeling that her life has been a process of searching that has left her "beggared sense and soul" (stanza 2, line 8).

In the third stanza, Rossetti's language becomes more confident as she describes how she used to only "strive for pleasure," but in a mature revelation, divulges that now her primary concern is the salvation of her soul. It would appear at this point in the poem, that Rossetti has embraced religion as something that will generate a sense of purpose in her life. In the following stanza however, Rossetti again changes the tone of her confession to expose a deep sense of longing that she feels to find a companion that will "take [herself] and keep" (stanza 4, line 8). She continues this explanation of her desire in the next stanza, but in this stanza, her language is much more graphic as she uses words such as "scratch," "stroke," "pierce," and "probe" (stanza 5, lines 1-3). Although she seems to have an overwhelming desire for this unknown subject, she subsequently explains how she does not feel that this recipient of her yearning is worthy of her affection.

In the final stanza, Rossetti articulates her disdain for life on earth and uses starkly religious language to conclude her thoughts on life's search for meaning:

Not in this world of hope deferred,
This world of perishable stuff: --
Eye hath not seen nor ear hath heard
Nor heart conceived that full "enough":
Here moans the separating sea,
Here harvests fail, here breaks the heart:
There God shall join and no man part,
I full of Christ and Christ of me.

Questions

1.What is the "it" that Rossetti refers to in the first stanza? Is it life, love, religion or something else alluded to in the poem?

2.What is the effect and purpose of the graphic and somewhat sexual language that Rossetti uses in the fifth stanza?

3.In the final stanza, does Rossetti imply that marriage to Christ will be her role after death? ("there God shall join and no man part")


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Last modified 22 October 2003