In "The Staff and the Scrip" Dante Rossetti depicts a Pilgrim undertaking an inevitably fatal task for the sake of both earthly love and moral duty. The Pilgrim is informed in the beginning of the poem that he will be killed if he attempts to defeat the wicked Duke Luke, and the Queen urges him to stay behind with her. However, as suggested by the first stanza above, in which the particular tears of the Queen are "confused . . . with visages supreme not known to him," the Pilgrim views earthly life as a place where hardships are to be endured, and men tested, in the hope of a divine afterlife. As he rides out into battle, his thoughts are on the "lands he never knew," the afterlife that will be his reward for his steadfast trust in God.

Right so, he knew that he saw weep
       Each night through every dream
The Queen's own face, confused in sleep
       With visages supreme
              Not known to him.

'Lady,' he said, 'your lands lie burnt
       And waste: to meet your foe
All fear: this I have seen and learnt.
       Say that it shall be so,
              And I will go.'

She gazed at him. 'Your cause is just,
       For I have heard the same:'
He said: 'God's strength shall be my trust.
       Fall it to good or grame,
              'Tis in His name.'

'Sir, you are thanked. My cause is dead.
       Why should you toil to break
A grave, and fall therein?' she said.
       He did not pause but spake:
              'For my vow's sake.'

Whereas the Pilgrim is described in terms of his motion onward, the Queen is described as stationary, oriented only towards her present situation; she "sat idle" in her still, silent hall as the Pilgrim entered. Her maids, meanwhile, despair of finding meaning in the world, the eldest dismissing reports of strange signs with the phrase "'Tis our sense is blurr'd." The Pilgrim leaves to the Queen his staff and scrip which, rather than the "letters writ to calm her soul" that the Queen looks for, are reminders of the transience of life.

Questions

1. How do the beliefs of the Pilgrim differ from that of the narrator? What place does the narrator have in the poem? What signs of his presence can we find?

2. How does the Pilgrim relate to earthly objects and people? Consider the line "He kissed its blade, all bare, / instead of her." Where does his love for the Queen fit into his worldview?

3. As in The Blessed Damozel and the poem with the same title Rossetti presents religious conceptions that he does not personally believe in, but complicates them by blurring the lines between secular and religious love. Do these two poems share a similar relationship to religion, or do they differ in any fundamental aspects?

4. What effect is Rossetti attempting to produce with short lines and terse verbal exchanges of the poem?

5. How does the depiction of time in the poem relate to its view of the world? To Rossetti's conception of time and meaning in general?


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Last modified 26 June 2007