hristina Rossetti's "A Ballad of Boding" is religious dream vision presented in the form of an allegorical ballad. It presents a symbolic account of the Rapture and the Apocalypse, according to the book of Revelations. Rossetti's first-person narrator tells of a dream in which three ships, representing Love, Power, and lowly Virtue, are confronted by the devil in the form of a horned monster. The passengers of the third ship recognize the evil ways of the monster even in his disguised form, and are rescued by an angel. The passengers of the first two ships, however, have no such protection:
I saw that thing accurst
Wreak his worst
On the first and second crew:
Some with baited hook
He angled for and took.
The monsters "baited hook" is prefigured by the material luxuries of the first two ships; before the appearance of the monster, the narrator describes passengers who leave the "weariness and painfulness" of the ship of Virtue for the "pleasures ever changing, ever graceful, ever new" of the ship of Love, or the promise of militaristic power of the Worm ship. Rossetti emphasizes that material conditions of the passengers are merely appearances, and that "what seems is not always as it seems," implying the existence of a reality beyond appearance in which the situations of the passengers are inverted.
In the tradition of allegory, "A Ballad of Boding" is filled with meaningful details, many of which correspond to the imagery of Revelations. The three ships are characterized by their figureheads, a Classical image of "a Love with wings" for the first, a vicious and earthly "Worm with stings" for the second, and "A Lily tangled with a Rose" for the third, symbolic of purity and virtue. The musicians on the third ship play harps and scarlet trumpets, instruments played by angels in Revelations, while the musicians on the other ships play earthly instruments characteristic of light romantic music and military marches, respectively. Since the sudden appearance of the monster symbolizes the coming of the Judgment Day, the poem is an exhortation to the reader to consider spiritual matters before it is too late.
1. Like Rossetti's "The Convent Threshold," "A Ballad of Boding" is concerned with the coming of Judgment, which can occur at any time, unexpectedly. How similar are the strategies used by these poems to convince their readers of the urgency of this matter?
2. The opening lines "There are sleeping dreams and waking dreams; / what seems is not always as it seems" can be read as a straightforward representation of Christianity eschewing earthly appearances for divine realities. However, the narrator uses the word "seem" even in making Christian judgments about the vision, as in lines 26-27, "Winged Love meseemed like Folly in the face; stinged Worm meseemed loathly in his place." What sense can we make of this apparent discrepancy?
3. In dramatic monologues such as Dante Rossetti's "The Blessed Damozel" visions of the world or of heaven are generally the projections of the speaker's mind, rather than objective realities. How does the narrator of "A Ballad of Boding" relate to these narrators? Is she reliable?
4. How do the poem's ballad form and its repetitive, rhythmic style produce the poem's desired religious effect?
Last modified 8 June 2007