decorated initial 'A'n "The Blue Closet," William Morris describes four women standing together singing a song in a secluded mysterious room. The room seems neither of this earthly world nor of a heavenly world, yet the blue closet represents a special place in which these four women indulge in song as they await the reunion between Lady Louise and Lord Arthur. Desperate for the reunion, the women try not to sing too loud so that they may still hear the death bells to know if Arthur has died. Lady Louise reminisces about the time long ago when they were together and then yearns desperately for his return. At the end of the poem, they reunite at last in death and enter heaven together.

What matter that his cheeks were pale,
         His kind kiss'd lips all grey?
'O, love Louise, have you waited long?'
         'O, my lord Arthur, yea.'

What if his hair that brush'd her cheek
         Was stiff with frozen rime?
His eyes were grown quite blue again,
         As in the happy time.                            70

'O, love Louise, this is the key
         Of the happy golden land!
O, sisters, cross the bridge with me,
         My eyes are full of sand.
What matter that I cannot see,
         If ye take me by the hand?'

And ever the great bell overhead,
And the tumbling seas mourn'd for the dead;
For their song ceased, and they were dead.

Christina Rossetti's "Bride Song" presents a woman who has died with her desire for love unfulfilled. She waited for the return of her beloved who has now arrived "too late for love, too late for joy/ too late, too late" (lines 1-2). Christina Rossetti describes this woman's life as joyless and monotone:

We never saw her with a smile
    Or with a frown;
Her bed seem'd never soft to her,
    Though toss'd of down;
She little heeded what she wore,
    Kirtle, or wreath, or gown;
We think her white brows often ached
    Beneath her crown,
Till silvery hairs show'd in her locks
    That used to be so brown.

We never heard her speak in haste:
    Her tones were sweet,
And modulated just so much
    As it was meet:
Her heart sat silent through the noise
    And concourse of the street.
There was no hurry in her hands,
    No hurry in her feet;
There was no bliss drew nigh to her,
    That she might run to greet.

The poem ends with the narrator instructing the man not to weep today now that the woman is dead. The narrator states that those who loved her must now move to commemorate her with a crown and flowers.

Both "The Blue Closet" and "Bride Song" expose women's painstaking and eager anticipation of the return of a man. "The Blue Closet" ends on a positive note giving the reader an image of the woman and man entering heaven's gates together. "Bride Song" concludes without hope for a love beyond this world. Rossetti leaves the reader with the tragic image of the beloved standing alone in front of his dead woman and their dead love.

Questions

1. Morris describes Arthur as quite unattractive in death with "His cheeks were pale...His kind kiss'd lips all grey...His hair was stiff with frozen rime" (lines 63-68). However, his only attractive feature is his eyes which have "grown quite blue again, As in the happy time" (lines 69-70). Lady Louise can not see her beloved now since "[her] eyes are full of sand" (line 74). This does not seem to hinder her joy in being with her beloved but is Morris making a commentary on the value or quality of heavenly love versus earthly love?

2. The narrator in "Bride Song" speaks to the beloved when asking towards the end of the poem:

Is she fair now as she lies?
    Once she was fair;
Meet queen for any kingly king,
    With gold-dust on her hair.
Now there are poppies in her locks,
    White poppies she must wear;
Must wear a veil to shroud her face
    And the want graven there:
Or is the hunger fed at length,
    Cast off the care?

Rossetti suggests that she once was quite beautiful and could still be beautiful in death. The narrator wonders if the woman's desire for love is still written across her face or if, in death, the woman was freed from her obvious torture. Is their peace in death for this unfulfilled woman? In Rossettie's "After Death", the dead woman's spirit gets satisfaction from the attention and pity of her beloved. Could this woman be fulfilled similarly by her beloved's late attention?

3. Dante Gabriel Rossetti creates a watercolor in 1857 entitled The Blue Closet. The painting and the poem have many parallels and are known to be linked. Rossetti depicts the four women standing together in a claustrophobic blue-tiled room. In looking at this painting, one is just as mind-boggled and confused about the location and situation of their mysterious location. Where are these women? What is the blue room?

4. Rossetti's title suggests that her poem is a song. Morris describes the women as singing some of the lines throughout the poem. Why do these two authors use the form of a song? Are either of them trying to bring a lighthearted feeling to a tragic subject?


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Last modified 10 November 2004