decorated initial 'C'hristina Rossetti's "Monna Innominata" gives voice to the unnamed woman glorified by Dante, Petrarch, and other poets. These poets place their beloved ladies on such pedestals that the women become almost devoid of individualized personalities, and instead their admirers continously praise their generalized virtue and beauty. Rossetti's inclusion of lines by Dante and Petrarch at the start of each sonnet serve to further emphasize the connection between the traditional male perspective and her reversal of in it this poem. While Rossetti does employ a relatively more empowered female who idealizes her beloved as opposed to his idealization of her, the speaker still portrays some of the traditionally more submissive feminine traits, such as in her statement "Since woman is the helpmeet made for man" (5.14). In sonnet 4, Rossetti illustrates the conflict between the beloveds, however: while the speaker holds eternal love, her man's love became more fleeting in nature. Notably of interest In relation to Beatrice and Laura, the speaker says "I lov'd and guess'd at you, you construed me--/ And lov'd me for what might or might not be" (4.6-4.7). In the case of both Dante and Petrarch, the poets did not know their beloveds very well: Beatrice and Laura became idealized objects of love rather than actual people.

Throughout the poem, the speaker's love for her man and her love of God come into conflict. However, she eventually concludes that "I cannot love you if I love not him,/I cannot love Him if I love not you" (6.13-6.14). The religious overtones prominent in "Monna Innominata" seems to not only reflect the poet's deep religious beliefs, but also the reconcilation between earthly and spiritual love. She portrays herself as humble in terms of God, as when she calls herself "the feeblest of God's host" (6.7), and also in terms of her beloved, saying that should he choose another over her, she will "commend [him] to that nobler grace" (12.4).

Rossetti takes the lead with her "Monna Innominata", giving power to the female voice and making clear her position in terms of the tradition of romantic poetry. While vascillating between her active and passive roles, the speaker makes clear both her love of God and her beloved.

Questions

1. Does it seem that Rossetti intended "Monna Innominata" as a feminist poem? What factors support or contradict the power of women here?

2. Does the inclusion of so many religious references suggest merely the religious beliefs of the speaker, or reflect the poet's beliefs as well? To what extent does the poet seem to use the speaker as a conduit for her own thoughts?

3. Besides creating a direct relationship between Rossetti's own poem and that of Dante and Petrarch, what purpose do the two poets' lines before every sonnet serve?

4. Does the female perspective taken in this poem serve to enhance or detract from the tradition of love poems? Does it seem as powerful as poems based on the male perspective, such as Dante's or Petrarch's?

5. In what ways does the love Rossetti portrays in this poem differ from the type of love in her other poems, such as "After Death"?

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Last modified 24 October 2003