Though I till now be barren, now at length,
Lord give me strength
to bring forth fruit to Thee.

Even today, scholars still tend to classify Christina Rossetti as a "spinster" or a "nun of art" [Norton Anthology 876, 873]. This view has also influenced the way in which her poetry has been conceived. Because Rossetti never married, the central themes of her poetry were considered to be renunciation, a general world-weariness which developed out of sexual frustration, and, the hope for a better life after death. The possibility that Rossetti on the contrary longed for a child — a theme that runs through some of her poems — has not yet been closely investigated.

To most critics of Rossetti, Sing-Song. A Nursery Rhyme Book has seemed limited to the realm of the nurseries. This way of regarding the poem resembles critical treatment of Rossetti's "Goblin Market", which was also for a long time considered to be written only for children. But like "Goblin Market," Sing-Song is more than just a book of children's verse, for its poetry reveals several levels whose full significance lie beyond that of children. Marya Zaturenska describes these levels as "undertones. . .full of subtleties" [195]. And Peter Hunt assists this view when he states, that Sing-Song "speaks to readers at many different levels" [160].

A brief look at the biographical situation of Rossetti in 1872 will show that this voilume was written at a very bleak moment in her life. Nevertheless, it is one of her "most charming and gayest" books. [Zaturenska, 194] Writing Sing-Song was, according to Jan Marsh, "part of a recuperative process" [422]. At 42, Rossetti takes a sentimental look back on her own childhood (3.1), says good-bye to her longing for motherhood (3.2) and for a partner (3.3), as well as to the social acceptance (3.4) that would have come with fulfilling the Victorian gender concept of being a wife and mother.

Furthermore, apart from Sing-Song's being highly autobiographical, in it, Rossetti also addresses, and thus shows herself to be aware of, some of the problems of her age (3.5) — namely infant mortality, poverty and orphanage.

Seeking solace in religion was Christina Rossetti's solution to her unfulfilled longing for a child. It is hinted at in Sing-Song (3.6), but becomes even more distinctive in her religious poetry (4). She could not find a partner in real life. Therefore, she turned her hopes towards life after death. There, she hoped to find an end to what she describes as her 'infertility' (4.1), as well as a husband, Jesus Christ, who would give her the sensuality and sexuality she was longing for throughout her life (4.2).


Victorian Web Main Overview next section Pre-Raphaelitism

Last modified 15 March 2007