It cannot be proved with certainty that Christina Rossetti was longing for a child. Her biographers describe her as a person who cared little for children outside the family circle. Nevertheless, her failure as a governess cannot be seen as an indication that she would have failed at being a mother. The contemporary novels Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre illustrate an isolated and often little rewarding profession. The relationship between a mother and her own child was much closer and intimate - as Christina's relationship to her mother Frances demonstrates. It seems that she was longing for this kind of intimacy with a child of her own:
My baby has a mottled fist,
My baby has a neck in creases;
My baby kisses and is kissed,
For he's the very thing for kisses. [428.]
Already the beginning of the poem raises the question of the lyrical self. Who is the speaker that starts the poem with "my baby". Is this an imagined situation or Rossetti's own wishful thinking ? This question cannot be answered with certainty. It has to be noted though, that the way the baby is described is of a special motherly tenderness.
In the first two lines Rossetti's speaker, the mother, describes the baby's "mottled fist" and "neck in creases", probably watching the child while it is asleep. She seems to realise that a baby is a little human being - with its limbs being so much smaller than those of an adult. The baby "kisses" and thus gives love and affection to his mother who kisses it back in return. The act of kissing is described like a play where both mother and child enjoy playful kisses. The last line concludes "For he's the very thing for kisses". The baby is thus characterised to be male.
I know a baby, such a baby -
Round blue eyes and cheeks of pink,
such an elbow furrowed with dimples,
such a wrist where creases sink.
"Cuddle and love me, cuddle and love me,"
crows the mouth of coral pink:
Oh the bald head, and oh the sweet lips,
And oh the sleepy eyes that wink. [442.]
This poem seems to be influenced by the same emotions as "My baby has a mottled fist". The first line seems to echo the dedication of Sing-Song. The question of the lyrical self is raised once more. The poem seems to be highly autobiographical - Rossetti speaking of the baby she really knew and was so fond of she dedicated the nursery rhyme book to.
As in "My baby has a mottled fist", Rossetti describes the features of the baby in a motherly tenderness: blue eyes and rosy cheeks, dimples and the little wrist . And, similarly, the baby is willing to be loved and give love in return ("cuddle and love me"). The maternal features become even further explicit in the poem "Crying, my little one":
Crying, my little one, footsore and weary?
Fall asleep, pretty one, warm on my shoulder:
I must tramp on through the winter night dreary,
While the snow falls on me colder and colder.
You are my one, and I have not another;
Sleep soft , my darling, my trouble and treasure;
Sleep warm and soft in the arms of your mother,
Dreaming of pretty things, dreaming of pleasure. [428.]
From the first line onwards the mother's concern for the child's well-being is foregrounded. The baby is in pain, because it is tired. The mother softly ("pretty one") tell her cherished child to fall asleep while she continues walking through the snow. The second stanza underlines the overwhelming love she feels for her child "You are my one and I have not another". The child is her sole possession in this world. She repeats her request for the child to sleep ("sleep soft"), then calling it "my trouble and treasure". Trouble and treasure contrasts the two sided-nature of the child. On the one hand it is physically demanding on the mother, on the other hand it is the only possession she owns and its affection is probably the only kind of love she receives. Throughout the poem, the imagery of warm and cold is contrasted. The child is kept warm and soft, while the mother walks through the snow and dreary night. While she suffers from the cold and exhaustion of walking and carrying the child, she wants her child to be warm and enjoy the experience, having pleasant dreams.
Last modified 15 March 2007