Dante Gabriel Rossetti's narrative poem "The Staff and the Scrip" tells the story of a pilgrim who visits the land of one Queen Blanchelys and discovers that the land has been ravaged by the evil Duke Luke. The pilgrim visits the queen, with whom he apparently falls in love, and vows to defeat her enemy. He succeeds, but at the cost of his own life. Upon the pilgrim's death, the queen receives his staff and scrip (pouch), the standard equipment of the Christian pilgrim, and she keeps them as mementos of him:
Till night they hung above her bed,
Till morning wet with tears.
Year after year above her head
Her bed his token wears,
Five years, ten years.
This stanza begins at the time of the pilgrim's death but quickly flashes forward to five years later and ten years later, compressing all these widely separated times into one moment. This treatment of time resembles that of "The Passover in the Holy Family," but here it suggests that for the queen, the pilgrim's death has caused time to stop or to become meaningless. The two objects which represent her late beloved also lose whatever meaning they may have held:
And once she woke with a clear mind
That letters writ to calm
Her soul lay in the scrip; to find
Only a torpid balm
And dust of palm.
1. Given that the scrip appears in the title of the poem and that the pilgrim asks for the queen to receive it in the event of his death, the reader expects that this object will have some major significance. However, on opening the scrip the queen finds that it contains nothing of any importance; it has no apparent meaning. A similar pattern appears in "The Woodspurge," in which the title object of the poem also lacks meaning. Do the scrip and the woodspurge convey the same impression of meaninglessness, or do these two symbols differ in any way?
2. At the end of the poem, Queen Blanchelys dies and joins her beloved in heaven. This seems a happy ending, but the queen's afterlife in heaven, like her life after the pilgrim's death, is completely timeless and stagnant: "Not tithed with days' and years' decease / He [God] pays the wage He owed, / But with imperishable peace [...]" How should we interpret this situation? Does this poem really end happily?
3. Does Queen Blanchelys represent an example of Rossetti's Fair Lady? Why does he name her "Blanchelys," which means "White Lily"?
4. "The Staff and the Scrip" revolves around a vow made to God, and ends with the hero and heroine receiving an eternal reward in heaven. However, Rossetti did not believe in the Christian faith, and the last line of the poem, "Thy jealous God," suggests a negative attitude toward that God. Does this poem have a religious message, and if so, what is it?
Last modified 14 October 2004