We have seen D. G. Rossetti's infatuation with physical beauty and imagined virtue of the female figure. This is not a new literary inclination. Centuries before, Dante wrote of his love for Beatrice, a woman he only knew from a distance. Following Dante, Petrarch praised the virtue of Laura, a woman he loved deeply but had little contact with. Given that Rossetti believed his life paralleled Dante's, there is little wonder why he was moved to such a similar infatuation. However, beyond this self-fulfilling connection, Rossetti found a solid truth in this view of love which is evident in his poetry and his female portraits.

After D.G. Rossetti published The House of Life, Christina Rossetti responded to his, Dante's, and Petrarch's notions of the blatant inequality of Love with her own sequence of sonnets, "Monna Innominata." In it, she gives a voice to the female that has been silenced by the male imagination. She shows that the elevated women these men write about are more than pleasures for the male eye — they have voices, revealing thoughts that mar the Love these men seek to perfectly capture.

In Sonnet 6, Rossetti discusses the connection between Love between a man and a woman and Love for God. Her female narrator asserts equality and does not spare many chances to bite at the naivety of men. With the first eight lines she makes Love for God clear:

Trust me, I have not earned your dear rebuke,
I love, as you would have me, God the most;
Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost,
Nor with Lot's wife cast back a faithless look Unready to forego what I forsook.

In a choice between God or a man, she chooses God. In the next three lines, she sarcastically remarks her lowly status as one of God's creatures:

This say I, having counted up the cost,
This, though I be the feeblest of God's host,
The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook.

Yet how feeble is this woman really? This 'sorriest sheep' will choose God over a man.

Characteristically, the sonnet turns at the ninth line, now discussing what she feels about her decision to put God first:

Yet while I love my God the most, I deem
That I can never love you overmuch;
I love Him more, so let me love you too.

She admits that her love for God is tied to her love to the man she is addressing. She asks her lover to acknowledge this tie, for true Love is beyond that of the flesh. This is emphasized in the last three lines:

Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such
I cannot love you if I love not Him,
I cannot love Him if I love not you.

Questions

Jason Isaacs notes that Christina Rossetti "often found herself caught between the claims of worldly passions and celestial faith" (Isaacs) and the importance of these themes in her poetry. In Sonnet 6 above, she states that both are tied though God comes first for the religious couple. Beyond Sonnet 6, how else does she reconcile love of the flesh with love of religion in her poetry?

Though of the same blood, Christina and Dante Gabriel led quite different lives while remaining somewhat close. In which ways are the following differences attributed to their contrasting views?

Though Dante Gabriel was an atheist, he often evoked religious ideas when working with the subject of Love, as in his use of heaven in the "Blessed Damozel" (both the painting and the poem). What is his intent and how does it differ from Christina's use of religion in her poetry?

Though The House of Life and "Monna Innominata" both have the same form (sequences of sonnets), they each have quite different effects on the reader that seem rooted beyond the content. Is this difference driven by the passing of time? Is it the voice/tone of the narrator? What can be said of the different styles of Christina and Dante Gabriel?
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Last modified 29 February 2008