alt=" decorative initial ""T"> he image of Christina Rossetti longing for a child is an ambivalent one. The wish for a baby is in her case also the wish for a partner and for the sexuality out of which a child is conceived. That longing for sexuality is of course not expressed verbatim in Sing-Song. This would have hardly been possible in Victorian times. Rossetti could not say what she wanted to say explicitly, as Isobel Armstrong points out, "the unmarried woman has something important to say about sexual feeling, but is blocked by convention from saying it" [47]. Therefore, she carefully disguised her message in some of the poems. Both "My baby has a mottled fist" and "I know a baby" express the joy of being kissed. This can be understood to be kissed only by the baby she speaks of, but could also include the father of the child. "Love me — I love you" [426] praises the intense love between mother and child. "A motherless soft lambkin" articulates the desire to care for somebody, and in reverse may well show Christina's wish for somebody to care for her.

The dog lies in his kennel,
And puss purrs on the rug,
And baby perches on my knee
For me to love and hug.

Pat the dog and stroke the cat,
Each in its degree;
And cuddle and kiss my baby,
And baby kiss me. [434]

In this poem, Rossetti expresses the simplicity of pleasure. Dog and cat lie on the floor — the cat purring (which articulates content). The baby touches the speakers knee and thus evokes feelings of physical sensation. The child demands to be touched and caressed. In the second stanza the speaker turns to satisfy the needs of dog and cat by patting and stroking them. Then she turns to cuddle and kiss the baby. Transferring this scene to a description of sexual contact between a man and a woman, the poem expresses the wish to touch and caress, as well as being caressed, and the physical pleasure that derives from it, which could even lead to expressing the joy by voicing it (moaning instead of purring).

The Social Acceptance Connected to Motherhood

Apart from the longing for a child and a husband, Sing-Song also discloses the desire to be socially accepted. Acceptance comes with fulfilling the gender concept of being a good wife and mother ('The Angel in the House').

However, Rossetti, being an unmarried woman poet, was not fulfilling her 'socially-ordained role'. Yet, Motherhood in Sing-Song is clearly connected to the concept of a child being born inside marriage and thus inside a socially ordained form of living. This becomes obvious in the poems "Eight o'clock" [426], "Mother shake the cherry tree" [432], "Wee wee husband" [439], "I have a little husband" [439] and "What does the bee do?" [440] Illegitimacy is not mentioned. (But one has to consider that these poems were written for the nurseries. They were partly supposed to morally educate children. It could not be the aim of such a book to advocate illegitimacy.) The importance of marriage is stressed in poems like "A ring upon her finger" [437] and "If I were king" [430], which states "I'd make you queen/ For I'd marry you". Love is only right if its sanctioned by marriage, and being married turns a woman to a queen. An ideal world is created which mocks the Victorian reality. Everybody is married and all families consist of a father and a mother. After the wedding, the roles are consigned as follows:

What does the bee do?
Bring home honey. And what does father do?
Bring home money.
And what does mother do?
Lay out the money.
And what does baby do?
Eat up the honey. [440]

Like the busy bee, who brings home naturalia, the father is supposed to go out to work and return home with money. His task is to use his work force to earn his wage. The money makes a living for the family. The mother "lays out" the money. She is not spending it for her own personal pleasure, but to buy food from it, which will nourish all of them. One of the things she buys from the money is honey, that eventually feeds the baby.

The whole poem is designed like a circle, which starts with the bee and ends with the baby eating the honey. It shows that everybody has his station in life: the father has got his job and the task to maintain the family, the mother has to bring home the food, prepare it for eating and generally take care of the household, which also includes the baby, and the bee supports the beehive. (A theme also taken up in "Mother shake the cherry tree", where mother and children spent all day playing in the garden, while the father returns home exhausted after a long day of working. [432]) The only one without a certain task is the baby, who only lives to be fed and is not yet of any use to his family. This underlines again the carefreeness of childhood without the responsibilities of adult life.


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Last modified 15 March 2007