In Christina Rossetti's "A Better Resurrection" the speaker contemplates the transition from a physical life on Earth to a purely spiritual existence after death. Indeed, the speaker actively calls upon Jesus to "quicken" this passage. On the cusp of bodily expiration, the speaker examines the boundary between this life and the afterlife through the use of three similes describing the human body: the passing seasons, day turning into night, and finally, a broken bowl.
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall — the sap of spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
"A Better Resurrection" deals with the fact that physicality is inadequate for the kind of existence that the speaker desires. For example, her heart is "too numbed" to experience emotions such as "hopes and fears". Hence, she wants her useless body to "rise" to heaven where a new "spring" will come. Her direct calls to Jesus show that this transition is a deeply religious one, and at the close of the poem, her command to Jesus to "Cast" her body into the fire and to "Melt and remould" it is reminiscent of John Donne's forceful holy sonnet that begins, "Batter my heart three person'd God". On account of these pleas for divine intervention, Rossetti's poem emerges an expression of clear religious fervour and longing.
"At home" also deals with the passage of life to death, yet this time the speaker has already moved on into the spiritual world which is clearly marked by the reference to the speaker's "spirit" or ghost.
When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house:
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange boughs;
From hand to hand they pushed the wine,
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach;
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
For each was loved of each.
I listened to their honest chat:
Said one: "To-morrow we shall be
Plod plod along the featureless sands,
And coasting miles and miles of sea."
Said one: "Before the turn of tide
We will achieve the eyrie-seat."
Said one: "To-morrow shall be like
To-day, but much more sweet."
"To-morrow," said they, strong with hope,
And dwelt upon the pleasant way:
"To-morrow," cried they, one and all,
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon;
I, only I, had passed away:
"To-morrow and to-day," they cried;
I was of yesterday.
I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the table-cloth;
I, all-forgotten, shivered, sad
To stay, and yet to part how loth:
I passed from the familiar room,
I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day.
This time, Christina Rossetti uses physical experiences rather than emotional experiences to describe human existence, and her emphasis falls immediately upon the pleasures of the senses; eating and drinking and singing. Rossetti uses alliteration in the phrase, "they sucked the pulp of plum and peach" in order to emphasise the sensation and sound of eating — we can almost hear their lips smacking. The verbs Rossetti uses, such as "pushed" and "sucked", also immediately appeal to the senses.
Yet, instead of embracing a life unfettered by an earthly body (like the speaker of "A Better Resurrection") the speaker of this poem expresses only nostalgia for this intensely physical past. Even the speech of the living serves as a lamentation in that the repetitious "To-morrow" accentuates the absence of yesterday. In this way, "At Home" celebrates the present and future but only in order to mourn the loss of the past.
1. At what point in her life did Christina Rossetti write "A Better Ressurection? What are the clues?
2. At the end of "A Better Resurrection" Rossetti abandons simile and employs a stonger instrument, the metaphor. What does this shift achieve?
3. Is "At Home" an entirely secular poem?
4. What do we make of the line, "plod plod across the featureless sands"? Why are they "featureless"? Is this from the speaker's point of view or from that of the living?
5. What is the significance of the "eyrie seat" in "At Home"?
6. In "A Better Resurrection" Rossetti uses the seasons and the passing of the day to express the passing of time. What technique does she use in "At Home"?
7. Do you think that these two poems have the same speaker? Why or why not?
8. Assuming that the two poems do have the same speaker, in what order would it make sense to read them? In chronological order with respect to the status of the actual speaker of the poem ie the person longing for death followed by the soul recently departed?
Last modified 8 June 2007