espite the Ruskinian aesthetic values that Christina Rossetti clearly shared with the members of the first brotherhood, commentators on her volumes of poetry published during the most productive years of Morris, Swinburne, and her brother had to strain somewhat, as modern critics do, to understand how the religious dimension of her poetry is fully compatible with the nonreligious, purely aesthetic values of the second generation of Pre-Raphaelite poets. Yet such values do obtrude in her poetry, and her reviewers clearly intuited some authentic compatibility between them and her religious devotion, struggle as some of these critics must to articulate it.
J. R. Dennet, for instance, was less than clear-minded about possible relationships between the orthodox religious element of Rossetti's verse and the more general values of the Pre-Raphaelites, but he did perceive that their "sensuousness" and Christina Rossetti's own is somehow reconciled in her poetry with religious devotion. After pronouncing her poems unequivocally Pre-Raphaelite, he observed that
her pieces [are] full of that phase of religious feeling which contemplates, not without sentimentality, God made man, which, we may almost say, agonizes at the feet of a Saviour who suffers and yearns, who is bleeding and aching with fleshly wounds. To have attributed to Pre-Raphaelitism such qualities as these would, perhaps, have been to give it a definition rude or incorrect. But whether right or wrong . . . it was not a mistake to fix upon these as the distinguishing features of Miss Rossetti's poetry, and if with these we name a pervading sensuousness, we have the list of its essential characteristics compiete. ["Miss Rossetti's Poems" 47]
As Herbert Sussman and many other critics have pointed out, precisely this apparent paradox of sensuous spirituality is central to the Pre-Raphaelites, sensory phenomena being looked upon by them and by Ruskin as figures of transcendent Truth.
Unlike Dennet, Alice Law, writing during the heyday of aestheticism, discerned no conflict between Rossetti's religiosity and the work of the other Pre-Raphaelites, primarily because she perceived medievalism as the essential feature of Pre-Raphaelite art and poetry. Aware that the central movement of Rossetti's poems is repeatedly from sensuality and eros to spirituality and agape, Law was confident that the same modulation of one type of passion into another, higher type was characteristic of Pre-Raphaelitism, [52/53] and, of course, of the medieval writers the Pre-Raphaefites admired and imitated. Law was apparently untroubled by the issue of orthodoxy, as she described "how Miss Rossetti, like her medieval prototype, sought and found consolation for the unsatisfied yearnings of the heart in devout prostration of the spirit, and the up-lifting of the soul to God. As in the Pre-Raphaelite heroine, the earthly love became transfigured by the heavenly; the overflowing of human emotion found an outlet in religious ecstasy" (Law, "Poetry of Christina Rossetti," 450).
Like Law, an anonymous reviewer for The Critic in 1895 found un-problematical the transposition of earthly, sensuous passion to a spiritual plane, a movement that occurs repeatedly in Christina Rossetti's poetry. Comparing Dante Gabriel Rossetti's work with that of his sister, this critic explains that "their characters as artists are singularly alike. Both think in sensuous, concrete images.... Both are strongly attracted by moral ideas, which, with rare exceptions, are used by the brother as poetic material, but which finally become dominant in the sister, though to the weakening of her art. Sensuousness is the key-note in the poetry of both.... The 'Rossetti virus' is a peculiar mingling of sense and soul in a sort of mystical aestheticism" (The Critic, 21). It is striking that this reviewer should have hit upon the same terms, in describing the Rossettis' "mystical aestheticism" that Alice Law used to describe the unique character of such poetry. The coincidence is understandable, however, because the simultaneously concrete and spiritual, aesthetic and mystical, effects of much Pre-Raphaelite poetry result largely from the poets' use of phenomenal reality as a vehicle for their quest after the ideal. The typological mindset and procedures that they most often employ in this quest are rooted in religious tradition and in medieval literature. Each generation of Pre-Raphaelites either pervasively or sporadically imitated such literature with a high degree of self-consciousness.
Writing two years before Alice Law and the American reviewer of The Critic, Edmund Gosse discussed more fully than either of them the problem that Christina Rossetti's religious devotion seems to pose for those who wish to perceive her as wholly Pre-Raphaelite. He acknowledged that "critics have taken for granted that she was a satellite, and have been puzzled to notice her divergences from the type." Candidly, he further explains,
of these divergences the most striking is the religious one. Neither Gabriel Rossetti, nor Mr. Swinburne, nor Morris has shown any decided interest in, the tenets of Protestantism. Now Miss Christina [53/54] Rossetti's poetry is not merely Christian and Protestant, it is Anglican; not her divine works only, but her secular also, bear the stamp of uniformity with the doctrines of the Church of England. What is very interesting in her poetry is the union of this fixed religious faith with a hold upon physical beauty and the richer parts of nature which allies her with her brother and their younger friends. She does not shrink from strong delineation of the pleasures of life even when she is denouncing them. ["Christina Rossetti" 214.]
Gosse did not ultimately see Rossetti's devout Anglicanism as an element that set her apart from the other Pre-Raphaelites. Rather, he perceived it as a "very interesting" aspect of the work she accomplished in her true "historical position" as a Pre-Raphaelite. His language suggests his belief that her poetry's religiosity visibly adds a dimension to Pre-Raphaelitism that illuminates that movement's pervasive aesthetic.
A crucial system of values in Christina Rossetti's aesthetics — derived from the tradition of courtly love, as well as Petrarchan and Dantean poetry — was absent from Tractarian poetics and sublimated in Ruskin. The importance of this tradition to Rossetti resulted in the apparent bifurcation of her creative energies and the division of her works into the traditional "secular" and "devotional" categories. Yet every careful reader of her poetry must observe that the two categories very often overlap or modulate into one another, as is especially clear in works like Goblin Market (with its overt patterns of Christian symbolism), "Three Nuns," "The Convent Threshold,," "Twice," and Monna Innominata. Such poems suggest that the "division" between the two spheres of Rossetti's creative activity are reconciled in a holistic aesthetic that comes out of her grounding in medieval poetry and medieval theology. As William Michael Rossetti notes in his brief biographical memoir to his sister's Works, Saint Augustine and Thomas à Kempis were two of her favorite authors (p. 1xix), and one is often surprised, in her prose works, to come upon detailed knowledge of such medieval matters as those concerning the life of Gregory the Great which she reveals in Time Flies, 50-52. Unlike Gerard Manley Hopkins, who shared his imagistic conventions exclusively with the movement Jerome Bump has identified as "religious medievalism," Christina Rossetti derived her poetic practice also from the "rival" variety of medievalism: what Bump describes as "the secular religion of courtly love ("Hopkins' Imagery," 100). Clearly, however, among the writers who were the foremost practitioners in verse of the courtly love ethos (Petrarch and Dante, for instance), the secular-especially the erotic-and the religious interpenetrate, often becoming metaphors for one another. This is commonly the case in Rossetti's ostensibly secular poetry concerned with obstacled or unfulfillable love.
Ultimately, Christina Rossetti's medievalist combination of eros and agape, of the phenomenal and the ideal, of the sensual and the spiritual, [54/55] became central to the art of the aesthetes in the 1880s and 1890s. Along with Pater and her brother, she must be seen finally as an unwitting mediator between Ruskinian and decadent aesthetics. As Graham Hough reminded readers forty years ago,
the attempt to find a connection between art and religious experience is a major preoccupation of the later nineteenth century... [Dante] Rossetti's poetry is filled with Christian imagery; Pater is obsessed with the conflict between pagan and Christian religious ideals, and many of the aesthetes of the nineties found that the worship of beauty could be satisfactorily consummated only within the Catholic Church. A French critic in the nineties wrote a book on Ruskin et la religion de la Beauté. [The Last Romantics, 24.]
As we have seen, for Ruskin the perception of the beautiful is contingent upon the perception of the divine. Such perception transforms our consciousness of the world around us, as well as our desires, motives, goals. That is, the "radiance" that results from perceptions of divine immanence is shed (as in "An Old World Thicket") upon all perceived phenomena and informs all experience. Similarly, for Christina Rossetti "Love" (which Ruskin does not discuss in the context of aesthetics) is an overwhelming attraction to what is perceived as the beautiful (or ideal). Not surprisingly, in "The Key" to Called to Be Saints Rossetti is effusive in using the terminology of aesthetics to describe the saints (men translated to the realm of the ideal) she will discuss in her book:
How beautiful are the arms which have embraced Christ, the hands which have touched Christ, the eyes which have gazed upon Christ, the lips which have spoken with Christ, the feet which have followed Christ. How beautiful are the hands which have worked the works of Christ, the feet which treading in his footsteps have gone about doing good, the lips which have spread abroad His Name, the fives which have been counted loss for Him. How beautiful upon the mountains were the feet of them who brought glad tidings . . . how beautiful was the wisdom of those unlearned and ignorant men, whose very opponents felt they had been with Jesus. [Christina Rossetti, Called to Be Saints, xiii.]
In many of her "secular" poems, obstacled earthly love is often transposed into divine love, eros into agape (as it is in Petrarch, Dante, and many of their troubadour precursors) without requiring alterations in language and image patterns. ("Twice" and Monna Innominata are typical of these.) Many of Rossetti's love poems, however, serve to expose misguided, that is, transient earthly ideals of love; in doing so, they savor [55/56] love's absence, love's decay, or its demise; often they express the laments of loves deluded victims. In every case the focus is upon earthly love's inadequacy and the impossibility of achieving genuine fi:dfillment through it, as Rossetti suggests in "The Heart Knoweth Its Own Bitterness": "How can we say 'enough' on earth- / 'Enough' with such a craving heart?" Only religion provides dependable idealities. "0 Jesus, quicken me.... / 0 Jesus, rise in me.... / 0 Jesus, drink of me."
Because the aesthetes, too, found ultimate satisfaction only in idealities, it is no surprise that, as John Dixon Hunt has observed, Rossetti's "piety and moral fervour were no obstacle to [their] appreciation [of her]" (Pre-Raphaelite Imagination, 103). Indeed, John Heath Stubbs has quite properly insisted that Pater, "the real philosopher of the later Aesthetic Movement [in England] ' " held much in common with Christina Rossetti"s and with Ruskin's "aesthetic Hellenism [and] a religiosity whose source must be looked for in the 'ritualist' tendency which had followed up the Oxford Movement, and which had affinities, also, with the aesthetic Catholicism of Chateaubriand!' ("Pre-Raphaelitism and the Aesthetic Withdrawal," originally published in The Darkling Plain, 147-78. Reprinted in Sambrook, 166-85. This comment appears on page 167 of Sambrook.). Pater's 1868 review, "Poems by William Morris," located the source of Morris's poetry (and by extension much Pre-Raphaelite poetry) in the second of two major strains of the medieval spirit, those of "mystic religion" and "mystic passion! These correspond, of course, to Jerome Bump's "rival" varieties of medievalism. Like Morris's early work, much of Christina Rossetti's poetry of disappointed love originates in this medievalist strain of "mystic passion" where the "strong suggestion" of "a choice between Christ and a rival lover" often emerges, and where "religion shades into sensuous love, and sensuous love into religion" (Sambrook, 106). As we have seen, Pater described the Provençal sources of Morris's poetic topoi in terms that apply equally well to much of Christina Rossetti's love poetry: "Earthly love ... becomes a prolonged somnambulism. Of religion it learns the art of directing towards an imaginary object sentiments whose natural direction is towards the objects of sense. Hence a love defined by the absence of the beloved, choosing to be without hope, protesting against all lower uses of love, barren, extravagant, antinomian" (Sambrook, 106-7).
For Christina Rossetti, even more than for Morris, the imaginative energies of the artist must be directed to capturing all "higher" uses of love in order to awaken perceptions in the reader of that which is truly beautiffil and therefore ideal. With Rossetti, as with Ruskin and the aesthetes, the perception of beauty does result in "love" that is, an irrepressible desire for the ineffable and unattainable, for the divine spiritual essence of material beauty. Ultimately, therefore, the effects of mimesis and [56/57] aesthesis become identical and interchangeable in discourse. Pater and his followers perceived the beautiful as divine; Ruskin and Rossetti perceived only the Divine, finally, as beautiful.
In Rossetti's poetry the union of the sensual and the spiritual, the quest to attain an ideal of transcendent love and-beauty, and the frequently medievalist atmosphere appealed to the aesthetes. But other components of her work powerfiffly attracted them as well. They admired the formal sophistication of her poems; her use of commonplace details for symbolist purposes, often to achieve nournenal effects; the lushness of her imagery; the melancholy moods of many of her poems whose focus is on mutability and death; and the literary self-consciousness — one might even say the parodic quality-of many of her poems.
Rossetti's aestheticist critics believed that in her poetry she had made the full dimensions of her matter inextricably dependent upon the forms and styles she employed and therefore ultimately ineffable outside of the poems themselves. This belief is clear in Alice Law's opening comments on Rossetti's poetry. "Like some magic webl" she explains, "it seems woven of a substance so elusive, intangible, and of such an almost gossamer tenuity as defies handling, and constitutes at once the critic's ecstasy, wonder, and despair." Law attempts to be precise on this point. When she first read Rossetti's poems, the beauty of them, she insists, "danced ever before me, but, like the phantom of her own Fata Aforgana, it eluded capture. The absence of all harsher and more rugged qualities, of all topical didacticism, of rigid philosophical system on which we can lay hold, their seeming artless, yet aesthetic and finished perfection, all these combine to give the poems an air of elevated inaccessibility which renders critical approach difficult'" In the following paragraph Law modulates, appropriately, into fully Paterian rhythms and diction in order to describe her responses to Rossetti's poetry. The influence of Pater's conclusion to The Renaissance is unmistakable here: "We are all at times conscious of the passing of certain swift and fugitive emotions which only a very gifted minority among us is qualified to express. Miss Rossetti is one of these; she has . . . condensed into word-crystals the mind's melancholy vapours, its evanescent clouds of dream, that indescribable 'nothingness" which eluding our clumsier mental grasp floats tantalisingly about us, but threatens to melt imperceptibly at a touch." ["Poetry of Christina Rossetti," 444-45]
Striking in these passages is the extent to which Law, like many other critics of Rossetti in the 1890s, was sensitive almost exclusively to the aestheticist effects of her poetry. Similarly significant to the historical critic is the fact that after Rossetti"s death the writers most eager to champion [57/58] her work were aesthetes themselves or had very dear affinities with the aesthetic movement and its central figures. They included Arthur Symons, Edmund Gosse, William Sharp, Richard La Gallienne, and Oscar Wilde, in addition to Alice Law.
These writers, and other more modem commentators as well, focus special attention upon two aestheticist characteristics in Christina Rossetti's work beyond its artistic polish, its "finished perfection." Both are, clearly, extensions of other traits peculiar to Pre-Raphaelitism. The first characteristic is Rossetti's sometimes almost monotonous attention to the commonplace, which has obvious connections with the Ruskinian and Pre-Raphaelite concern for a truthfid representation of natural detail. And the second characteristic-the Keatsian, melancholy gloom that dominates a great number of her poems-is often also the pervasive mood of her brother's poetry, as well as that of works by Swinburne and Morris, although these two younger poets energized their despondency in various ways.
Christina Rossetti's preoccupation with the details of quotidian experience is often apparent in the images, settings, and events of her poems, but it is far more pervasive in her prose writings: her letters, her devotional commentaries, and her single collection of short stories with the appropriately prosaic title, Commonplace and Other Stories (1870). John Dixon Hunt has quite properly observed that the stories in this volume foreshadow the "'vocabulary' of urban description[,] . . . the accompanying chorus of grief and pain,", and the "essentially unheroic" emphasis upon Cccommonplace circumstances" that dominate the fiction of the 1890s in England and are usually seen to originate from late nineteenthcentury French realism, with its symboliste qualities. Indeed, as Hunt mentions, the reviewer of Commonplace for the Sunday Times (12 June 1870) compared Rossetti's work to modern French fiction. Hunt himself sees significant resemblances between her stories and such aestheticist fiction as Arthur Moore's "Second Thoughts," Ella D'Arcy's Afonochromes, and the anonymous "Three Stories" of The Yellow Book, volume 2 (Hunt, Pre-Raphaelite Imagination, 223-25). Yet the emphasis on realistic details in Rossetti's fiction, while portending such fiction of the 1890s, clearly looks back-ward as well, growing out of the figural tendencies and the essentially typological mentality that link Christina Rossetti's literary values to the aesthetics of the first Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the first two volumes of Ruskin's Modern Painters. The central images and minor details in Rossetti's stories are thoroughly pedestrian and realistic, as are the settings of many historicist and literary paintings by members of the first brotherhood.
Not in print version.
It was, in fact, precisely [58/59] the realistic representation, the "reduction" of sacred history to the level of quotidian detail and mundane experience, that invited such attacks upon early works by Pre-Raphaelite artists as the now-notorious critique by Dickens of John Everett Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents. Without the benefit of Millais's obviously exalted subject matter, Christina Rossetti typically assumes, in the background of her stories, the potentially transcendental value of even the most ordinary images and events.
Rossetti's attention to the prosaic details of fife, however, looks backward not only to its sources in Ruskin and the aesthetics of the first PreRaphaelite brethren, but also, and even more fimclamentally, as we shall see, to the hermeneutics of medieval Christian theology. Yet in admiring and perhaps even imitating Rossetti's performance in Commonplace and her manifestly symbolist poems, aestheticist writers of the nineties seemed to ignore the ultimately sacramental purpose behind her ostensibly aestheticist practices. As is already clear, her intent was not to be an aesthete, but rather, in a minor key, to be a prophet.
Rossetti's aestheticist critics were able to underplay the seriousness of her Christian values, perhaps, because they so greatly admired her symbolist uses of the commonplace details of life and her lush, Keatsian depiction of melancholy states of mind. The intense representation of such moods is insistent in nearly all her work, as is her preoccupation with death. (See, for instance, "Rest" "The Dead Bride," "When I Am Dead, My Dearest," "The Dream," 'Wife to Husband' "Night and Death "Death's Chill Between," "The Last Answer," and "Sweet Death.") Both traits result from her extremely heightened sensitivity to mutability.~Although salvation, as a reward for suffering endured in life and as a release from lifes multifarious pains, is unquestionably Christina Rossetti's own ultimate goal and that of many poetic personae she creates, it is never a certainty. Indeed, her anxiety over the extreme uncertainty of salvation inspires the despondent moods of her poetry and complicates the efforts of renunciation that characters in her poems either spontaneously make or that they learn to value after episodes of misguided self-indulgence.
Typical in her works is an emotional and psychological pattern that begins with optimistic expectations but modulates into melancholy pessimism. We see this pattern even in her devotional writings. The opening of her first commentary on "Nights and Days" in Seek and Find is telling. Rossetti begins by insisting that we must view the diurnal round, that inescapable reminder of mutability, from a wholly optimistic Christian perspective: "There is something full of hope, noble and very consolatory in this sequence of evening and morning, night ending in day, not day in [59/60] night; night introducing to the opportunities and capabilities of day, not day hastening downwards to the recess and obliteration of night" (SF, 68). The emergence of day out of night symbolizes resurrection: "We behold, as in a lovely figure, the death-stricken life which we lead in this world's twilight, passing out of itself into the immortal life of heaven's noon; that noon attained, our probationary course is fillfilled and finished" (SF, 68). Rossetti's probing mind is, however, hardly satisfied with such simple Christian optimism. She goes on to quaW, and in effect, to retract it:
Nevertheless, because this world is fraught with the confusion and ruin, with the disjointedness (so to say), the disproportion, the reversals of blessings into curses and life into death brought about by the Fall, it is no marvel that while "evening and morning" compose the entire day of our hopes, morning and evening make up the recurrent days of our duty; labour before repose, watchful effort before sleep.... Still, although we must do with our might whatsoever our hand findeth to do, because we are hastening to that grave where there is neither work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom (Eccles. ix. 10), there is yet a certain fretting anxiety which may beset us in our daily round of duty, but which has no promise of blessing. (SF, 69)
Rossetti's poems, devotional and nondevotional alike, most often through their melancholy tone reflect the "fretting anxiety" caused by her hypersensitivity to mutability, a term that, when applied to her work, comprehends her preoccupation with "the confusion and ruin, . . . the disjointedness, . . . the reversals of blessings into curses and life into death brought about by the Fall'"
A passage cited earlier from Walter Pater's essay, "On Aesthetic Poetry," is, ironically, relevant to any consideration of the appeal Christina Rossetti's melancholy concern with mutability and death had for the writers of the 1890s. In its "pagan spirit,' he asserts, "aesthetic poetry" is characterized by "the continual suggestion, pensive or passionate, of the shortness of life. This is contrasted with the bloom of the world, and gives new seduction to it-the sense of death and the desire of beauty: the desire of beauty quickened by the sense of death" (Sambrook, 113). Pater finds this "complexion of sentiment ... at its height" in Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but it is also and repeatedly apparent in his sister's poetry. In 'Wife to Husband," for instance, we see precisely the kind of contrast between death [60/61] and "the bloom of the world" that Pater describes. In this poem a dying wife compares her own dolorous fate to the specifically sensual pleasures that will remain for her widower:
I must drift across the sea,
I must sink into the snow,
I must die.
You can bask in the sun,
You can drink wine, and eat: Good bye.
Rossetti presents an even more emphatic contrast between death and worldly beauty in "Sound Sleep" All around the central figure of the poem, who is dead and awaiting resurrection, "'wild flowers are creeping," and
There the wind is heaping, heaping
Sweetest sweets of Summer's keeping,
By the corn fields ripe for reaping.
Such juxtapositions of death and the beauties of the world that impel desire are, in fact, ubiquitous in Rossetti's works and often account for the lush melancholy, that Keatsian gloom that overshadows but enriches them.
According to John Dixon Hunt, it was this aspect of Rossetti's poetry "which seems to have had the most influence upon the nineties." It was what "Dante Gabriel referred [to] when he described his sister as 'seated by the grave of buried hope."' As Hunt further explains, "like her brother and like Pater, . . . she saw the transience and the vanity of all earthly things. Part of her poetry surmounts this and celebrates the divine security of immortal life.... But another part of her poetry seems too fascinated with . . . earthly corruption to be able to seek the consolations of immortality" (77). The attraction this latter characteristic of her work held for the aesthetes is apparent from many of the admiring statements reviewers of the nineties made about her poetry. Arthur Symons acknowledged that "Rossetti's genius is essentially sombre, or it writes itself on a dark background of gloom. The thought of death has a constant fascination for her, almost such a fascination as it had for Leopardi or Baudelaire.' The comparisons with Leopardi and Baudelaire, for those with the traditional view [61/62] of Rossetti, are startling. Symons saw even in her religious poems (some of which he described as "magnificent" and "splendid") a corollary to her preoccupation with death: the "recurring burden of a lament over the vanity of things, the swiftness of the way to death, the faithlessness of affection, the relentless pressure of years" (Studies in Two Literatures, 142, 143).
As Pater revealed, however, such concerns with mutability are irresistible to the aestheticist sensibility when they are presented alongside an unusual awareness of what William Morris called "the beauty of life." Edmund Gosse commented upon precisely this feature of Rossetti's poetry when he remarked that "her habitual tone is one of melancholy reverie, the pathos of which is strangely intensified by her appreciation of beauty and pleasure" (215). And these comments by Richard La Gallienne reflect the same perception: "The note of loss and the peculiar sad cadence of the music, even though the song be of happy things, is [a] distinctive characteristic of Miss Rossetti's singing. It wells through all, like the sadness of the spring. Her songs of love are nearly always of love's loss; of its joy she sings with a passionate throat, but it is joy seen through the mirror of a wild regret (review of Poems, 132). La Gallienne's responses to Rossetti's "tragic" note, like the remarks of Gosse, focus upon the frequently observed Keatsian qualities of her verse: the juxtaposition in it of images of beauty taken from nature and preoccupations with love, mutability, loss, and death.
Aesthetes in the 1890s were clearly attracted by these characteristics of Christina Rossetti's poetry, along with its other typically Pre-Raphaelite components: its realistic — sometimes lush and sometimes austere — pictorial descriptions of nature; its commonplace details; its concern with the psychology of passion; its medievalism; and its pursuit of stylistic and formal innovations. Especially appealing to such writers as a very significant aspect of these last traits was Rossetti's literary self-consciousness, a quality that inescapably accompanies any intensive concern with style and form and that implicitly insists upon the autonomy of art, whose value in the world is absolute.
Recent studies of Rossetti have begun to expose the full extent to which her art depends upon literary models. Despite the ostensibly personal and sincere voice that speaks from many of her lyrics of disappointed love as well as from almost all of her devotional poetry, her work is as genuinely intertextual in its extrapolation of particular models as any poetry written by Swinburne or Morris or her brother. This is not to say that what she wrote was mostly derivative or merely imitative, but rather that its inspiration, forms, techniques, and sanction often came from eclectic literary, religious, and philosophical sources that she, like any important poet, [62/63] adapted in order to express her own special preoccupations. These clearly included the whole range of typical Pre-Raphaelite concerns, which she presents from an especially intense sacramental angle of vision. While treating such traditional topics as erotic and spiritual love, mutability, the quest for salvation, and the beauty of nature, however, Rossetti self-consciously imitated and revised tradition or diverged from it in an avantgarde pursuit of appropriate, if not ideal, forms and prosodic modes. Thus her concerns (and her poetry) are at once traditional and radically innovative, sincere and artificial, self-effacing and self-promoting, selfexpressive and parodic. Because of these features of her poetry Rossetti stands out (perhaps in greater relief than any of her contemporaries) as a pivotal figure in some of the most important cultural transitions that took place between 1850 and 1900. Moving freely between aesthetic and moral value systems that derive syncretically from medieval, Romantic, and contemporary literary and religious culture, she is able to forge and to sustain her individuality, to reinforce and retain her artistic, as well as her personal, integrity.
If we perceive Rossetti's art as multivalent-as a vehicle of self-expression, aesthetic exploration, spiritual sustenance, and self-recovery through cultural synthesis-we can best approach her poetry from a variety of critical perspectives in turn. This procedure must begin, however, with analysis of the culture of ideas and the specific literary texts out of which her unique sensibilities, her aesthetic values and procedures, her emotional predispositions and religious faith, evolved. It concludes with a determination of the new cultural directions to which her poetry points.
Last modified 24 June 2007