hristina Rossetti exhibits a wide range of emotional and poetic styles in her poetry; in the selections included in "The Pre-Raphaelites" her emotional range includes independent ("Song"), cynical ((The P.R.B."), loving and self-sacrificial ("Goblin Market"), gender-aware and critical ("In an Artist's Studio"), traumatized ("May"), and death-hungry ("Sleeping at Last"). Furthermore, she has a gift of writing final two lines that provide a startled double-take, as in "Song":

Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

and "In an Artist's Studio":

Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
    Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

and "May":

With all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and grey.

In each of these poems the lines that precede these final lines support them with strong, sometimes compelling rhythms, rhymes, sounds, and meaning. For example, despite the regular meter and rhyme of "Song", the poem seems unusual and unforgettable, as seen in this last stanza:

I shall not see the shadows,
    I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
    Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
    That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
    And haply may forget.

What in the language or structure of the poem contributes to this?

However, her poetry can falter, sinking into sentimentality, commonplace images, and a singsong instead of singing tone. What do you think of the images and sound in the first stanza of "A Birthday"?

My heart is like a singing bird
    Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
    Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
    That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
    Because my love is come to me.

For me it brings to mind:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree...

Do you agree or disagree and why?

Finally, her religious poetry seems ordinary at best and cloying at worst, an example of how deeply felt emotion does not necessarily yield great poetry. When we come to G.M. Hopkins, compare his poetry of ecstasy, humility, and despair with Christina Rossetti's expressions in "The Three Enemies", "A Better Resurrection", "The Lowest Place", and "Weary in Well-Doing".


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Last modified 21 October 2003