Thackeray's decorative initial onstructing a mock ideal world does not stop Rossetti from addressing some of the problems of her age, with a special emphasis on infant mortality. In Victorian times death was an ever present reality. Births were often fatal for both mother and child. And the missing knowledge about the importance of hygiene saw children at a constant risk for their lives throughout their childhood. Thus it is not unusual to present this fact of life within a book of nursery rhymes :

Your brother has a falcon,
Your sister has a flower;
But what is left for mannikin,
Born within an hour?

I'll nurse you on my knee, my knee,
My own little son;
I'll rock you, rock you, in my arms,
My least little one. [426.

This poem shows how a mother awaits her child's death. In the first stanza she begins by describing what the baby's siblings own. His brother owns a "falcon" to play with, his sister a "flower" to take care of. Then she poses the question what will be left over for "mannikin, born within an hour." The word "mannikin" indicates that is a very small baby, and the fact that it was born within an hour indicates that it was born prematurely. The second stanza expresses how the mother is determined to "nurse" the child "on her knee," holding it close and warm while awaiting the obviously inevitable death. The repetitive "I'll rock you" indicates that the mother is finding it hard to let go of her child. By holding it close to her she wants to keep it alive with force, while at the same time she is also saying good-bye to her "least little one."

The poem "Why did baby die" [428] shows the grief immediately after the child's death. The poem expresses the struggle to come to terms with the apparent senselessness, the waste of live and compares it to the fading of a flower. In "Baby lies so fast asleep" [442] the inevitable is being accepted. there is no point in asking "why" anymore. The baby is describes as "fast asleep." Then the question is raised if such a little child can go to heaven. The second stanza hints at a positive aspect, namely that the child is now safe from harm ("No pain can grieve her"). A snowdrop, a flower whose white colour indicates the child's innocence is put in her hand and the final good-bye is expressed by giving the child a last kiss ("Kiss her once and leave her").

Rossetti also addresses other social problems, for example poverty. In the poem "There's snow on the fields" [427], the poem contrasts the cold outside the house, with the warmth inside of the house, near the chimney with the warm food the speaker is eating. With such poems Victorian children were made aware of their much better position in life compared to children who lived on the streets or had to work for their living in mills and factories. They were encouraged to be thankful for what they had. "A Diamond or a coal" [438] compares the two objects and summarises that a diamond may be pretty to look at, but the coal ensures the immediate survival in winter - giving warmth and heating food. The underlying principle is that you cannot eat money, that it does not keep you alive.

The third problem Rossetti addresses is orphanage. In "My baby has a father and a mother" [426] a baby is declared rich because it has both parents, who will guarantee a safe upbringing both emotionally and financially. Another baby is an orphan ("fatherless, motherless") which is described as "forlorn as may be". No security nor stability is given in this child's life.

Religious Aspects in Sing-Song

 decorative initial 'S' ing-Song encloses no direct reference to God or biblical stories. Roderick McGillis therefore cites Georgina Battiscombe to be noting "that Sing-Song contains 'no mention of God, or of the Christian stories so familiar to Victorian children, or indeed, of religion in any form' (144)" [McGillis, 220]. However, though God is not addressed personally, a poem like "Who has seen the wind?" [438] illustrates that His presence can only be felt but not seen. "Rushes in a watery place" [429] describes the beauty of (God's) creation that added much to Christina's childhood happiness.

Although no allusion is made to any biblical story — that are often as in the New Testament parables also stories to educate believers of what is right and wrong — Sing-Song teaches a certain ethic of how to behave. The mention of contemporary problems, for example (see 3.6) is supposed to make children aware of the fact that there are less fortunate people. In "The dear old woman in the lane" [440] children are asked for a Christian kind of charity, as the poem describes the pleasure of caring for an elderly lady. In "Hurt no living thing" [439] the message is clearly to respect all forms of life and to treat them with care.

Especially the poems that deal with infant mortality bear the Christian message that death is not the end and thus are indeed religious. Several poems describe the presence of angels as protectors of little children, such as "Angels at thy foot" [426] and "Three little children" [436]. In the last poem angels take care of orphaned children by becoming their 'guardian angels'. This indicates that Rossetti indeed saw religion as a solution to these worldly problems.

The poem "A baby's cradle with no baby in it" [427] stresses that death is not an ending. The baby has, in fact, gone "home to Paradise" and the only thing that remains is his "body ". In describing heaven as a home, Rossetti illustrates a place one need not fear. It is a place where the baby is safe. In "Our little baby fell asleep" [426], death is decribed as "falling asleep." The sleep imagery indicates that the death was without suffering. But death is not the end. Although mother and child are separated for 'days and days, and weeks and weeks', eventually there will be a reunion "but then he'll wake again". This strongly alludes to Jesus waking from death on Easter Sunday. The separation will leave the baby unchanged in his affections for his mother "And come with his own pretty look/ And kiss Mamma again".

An end to the separation by death is concluded in "Good-bye in fear" [441] as well. At first sight, the "good-bye" seems to be forever, which is underlined by the word "never." But the line "Good-bye till earth shall wane" hints at a reunion after the world is over and then this will also mean "never to part again."


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Last modified 15 March 2007