Rossetti's "Mary's Girlhood" resembles the apocryphal texts of early Christianity. Similar to these stories, Rossetti gives an unknown or forgotten account of a holy person. As if witness to her coming of age, Rossetti paints an intimate portrait of the young Virgin. Through the synthesis of well-known Biblical symbolism and believable factuality, Rossetti endows the poem a sense of authority.

In the first portion of the poem, Rossetti describes Mary's nature as a child. Pure and holy, Mary is also intelligent, respectful, patient, faithful, charitable, peaceful and hopeful. Rossetti's reportage of the Virgin's qualities leads to the second portion of the poem, which serves to validate the believability of girl's description. The poem's first stanza of the second half creates a sort of works cited:

These are the symbols. On that cloth of red
I' the centre is the Tripoint: perfect each,
Except the centre of its points, to teach
That Christ is not yet born. The books — whose head
Is golden Charity, as Paul hath said —
Those virtues are wherein the soul is rich;
Therefore on them the lily standeth, which
Is innocence, being interpreted.

Hence, Rossetti gives the reader a list of Biblical symbols; he employs these references to say, "I am not making this up. These are descriptions found in the Bible." The second half of the poem validates the first. This indicates Rossetti's appeal to the audience that his narrative not be disregarded or considered blasphemous.

Discussion Questions

1. What poetic devices does Rossetti use to create a believable account of the Virgin Mary as a child?

2. How does Rossetti translate "Mary's Girlhood" into his painting The Girlhood of Mary Virgin?

3. How does this poem relate to the PRB ideas of symbolism and realism?

4. Is Rossetti's poem didactic?

Last modified 26 June 2007