12 Poems by Christina Rossetti, Victorian Poet

Christina Rossetti, Victorian Poet

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) is one of the most enduring and beloved of Victorian poets. Born in London, she was youngest of four artistic and literary siblings, the best known of whom is the pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Her long poem Goblin Market, is perhaps her most famous work. She was praised by her contemporaries, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and was considered by some as the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Christina Rossetti’s poetry reflected her devotion, passion, pensiveness, and occasionally, playfulness.

Symbolism and lyricism used in her work expressed earthly love and divine inspiration. Her poetry touched on themes of nature, death, and sexuality. Being deeply religious, she took much inspiration from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Rossetti began writing poetry at a young age; by sixteen she had written more than fifty poems. She wrote prolifically throughout her life, experimenting with various forms such as hymns, sonnets, and ballads. 

Though she wrote several works of fiction and nonfiction, it’s for her poetry that Christina Rossetti is best remembered. In her lifetime as well as posthumously she had several collections of poetry published, including:

  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866)
  • Speaking Likenesses (1874)
  • A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
  • New Poems (1896)

Following is a sampling of poems by Christina Rossetti, a small taste of her vast body of work:

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Echo

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.
O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low
As long ago, my love, how long ago. 

 

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Christina Rossetti

You might also like: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
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Remember

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad. 

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Fata Morgana

A blue-eyed phantom far before
Is laughing, leaping toward the sun:
Like lead I chase it evermore,
I pant and run.
It breaks the sunlight bound on bound:
Goes singing as it leaps along
To sheep-bells with a dreamy sound
A dreamy song.
I laugh, it is so brisk and gay;
It is so far before, I weep: 
I hope I shall lie down some day,
Lie down and sleep. 

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Fluttered Wings

The splendour of the kindling day, 
The splendor of the setting sun, 
These move my soul to wend its way, 
And have done 
With all we grasp and toil amongst and say. 
The paling roses of a cloud, 
The fading bow that arches space, 
These woo my fancy toward my shroud, 
Toward the place 
Of faces veil’d, and heads discrown’d and bow’d. 
The nation of the awful stars, 
The wandering star whose blaze is brief, 
These make me beat against the bars 
Of my grief; 
My tedious grief, twin to the life it mars. 
O fretted heart toss’d to and fro, 
So fain to flee, so fain to rest! 
All glories that are high or low, 
East or west, 
Grow dim to thee who art so fain to go. 

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Dream Land

Where sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep,
She sleeps a charmed sleep:
Awake her not.
Led by a single star,
She came from very far
To seek where shadows are
Her pleasant lot.
She left the rosy morn,
She left the fields of corn,
For twilight cold and lorn
And water springs.
Through sleep, as through a veil,
She sees the sky look pale,
And hears the nightingale
That sadly sings.
Rest, rest, a perfect rest
Shed over brow and breast;
Her face is toward the west,
The purple land.
She cannot see the grain
Ripening on hill and plain;
She cannot feel the rain
Upon her hand.
Rest, rest, for evermore
Upon a mossy shore;
Rest, rest at the heart’s core
Till time shall cease:
Sleep that no pain shall wake;
Night that no morn shall break
Till joy shall overtake
Her perfect peace. 

 

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Eve

‘While I sit at the door
Sick to gaze within
Mine eye weepeth sore
For sorrow and sin:
As a tree my sin stands
To darken all lands;
Death is the fruit it bore.
‘How have Eden bowers grown
Without Adam to bend them!
How have Eden flowers blown 
Squandering their sweet breath
Without me to tend them!
The Tree of Life was ours,
Tree twelvefold-fruited,
Most lofty tree that flowers,
Most deeply rooted:
I chose the tree of death.
‘Hadst thou but said me nay,
Adam, my brother,
I might have pined away; 
I, but none other:
God might have let thee stay
Safe in our garden,
By putting me away
Beyond all pardon.
‘I, Eve, sad mother
Of all who must live,
I, not another
Plucked bitterest fruit to give
My friend, husband, lover— 
O wanton eyes, run over;
Who but I should grieve?—
Cain hath slain his brother:
Of all who must die mother,
Miserable Eve!’
Thus she sat weeping,
Thus Eve our mother,
Where one lay sleeping
Slain by his brother.
Greatest and least 
Each piteous beast
To hear her voice
Forgot his joys
And set aside his feast.
The mouse paused in his walk
And dropped his wheaten stalk;
Grave cattle wagged their heads
In rumination;
The eagle gave a cry
From his cloud station; 
Larks on thyme beds
Forbore to mount or sing;
Bees drooped upon the wing;
The raven perched on high
Forgot his ration;
The conies in their rock,
A feeble nation,
Quaked sympathetical;
The mocking-bird left off to mock;
Huge camels knelt as if 
In deprecation;
The kind hart’s tears were falling;
Chattered the wistful stork;
Dove-voices with a dying fall
Cooed desolation
Answering grief by grief.
Only the serpent in the dust
Wriggling and crawling,
Grinned an evil grin and thrust
His tongue out with its fork. 

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A Daughter of Eve

A fool I was to sleep at noon,
And wake when night is chilly
Beneath the comfortless cold moon;
A fool to pluck my rose too soon,
A fool to snap my lily.
My garden-plot I have not kept;
Faded and all-forsaken,
I weep as I have never wept:
Oh it was summer when I slept,
It’s winter now I waken.
Talk what you please of future spring
And sun-warm’d sweet to-morrow:
Stripp’d bare of hope and everything,
No more to laugh, no more to sing,
I sit alone with sorrow. 

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A Birthday

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me. 

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A Bruised Reed He Shall Not Break

I will accept thy will to do and be,
Thy hatred and intolerance of sin,
Thy will at least to love, that burns within
And thirsteth after Me:
So will I render fruitful, blessing still,
The germs and small beginnings in thy heart,
Because thy will cleaves to the better part.—
Alas, I cannot will.
Dost not thou will, poor soul? Yet I receive
The inner unseen longings of the soul, 
I guide them turning towards Me; I control
And charm hearts till they grieve:
If thou desire, it yet shall come to pass,
Though thou but wish indeed to choose My love;
For I have power in earth and heaven above.—
I cannot wish, alas!
What, neither choose nor wish to choose? and yet
I still must strive to win thee and constrain:
For thee I hung upon the cross in pain,
How then can I forget? 
If thou as yet dost neither love, nor hate,
Nor choose, nor wish,—resign thyself, be still
Till I infuse love, hatred, longing, will.—
I do not deprecate. 

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A Chilly Night

I rose at the dead of night 
And went to the lattice alone 
To look for my Mother’s ghost 
Where the ghostly moonlight shone. 
My friends had failed one by one, 
Middle aged, young, and old, 
Till the ghosts were warmer to me 
Than my friends that had grown cold. 
I looked and I saw the ghosts 
Dotting plain and mound: 
They stood in the blank moonlight 
But no shadow lay on the ground; 
They spoke without a voice 
And they leapt without a sound. 
I called: ‘ O my Mother dear, ‘ — 
I sobbed: ‘ O my Mother kind, 
Make a lonely bed for me 
And shelter it from the wind: 
‘ Tell the others not to come 
To see me night or day; 
But I need not tell my friends 
To be sure to keep away. ‘ 
My Mother raised her eyes, 
They were blank and could not see; 
Yet they held me with their stare 
While they seemed to look at me. 
She opened her mouth and spoke, 
I could not hear a word 
While my flesh crept on my bones 
And every hair was stirred. 
She knew that I could not hear 
The message that she told 
Whether I had long to wait 
Or soon should sleep in the mould: 
I saw her toss her shadowless hair 
And wring her hands in the cold. 
I strained to catch her words 
And she strained to make me hear, 
But never a sound of words 
Fell on my straining ear. 
From midnight to the cockcrow 
I kept my watch in pain 
While the subtle ghosts grew subtler 
In the sad night on the wane. 
From midnight to the cockcrow 
I watched till all were gone, 
Some to sleep in the shifting sea 
And some under turf and stone: 
Living had failed and dead had failed 
And I was indeed alone. 

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A Chill

What can lambkins do
All the keen night through?
Nestle by their woolly mother
The careful ewe.
What can nestlings do
In the nightly dew?
Sleep beneath their mother’s wing
Till day breaks anew.
If in a field or tree
There might only be 
Such a warm soft sleeping-place
Found for me! 

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Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti page on Amazon
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When I Am Dead, My Dearest

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget. 

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