The poetry of Christina Rossetti: A 19th-century analysis
By Nava Atlas | On January 31, 2023 | Updated February 10, 2023 | Comments (0)
This appreciation and in-depth analysis of the poetry of Christina Rossetti (1830–1894), the esteemed English romantic poet, is excerpted from Essays by Arthur Christopher Benson, published by William Heinemann (London), 1896.
Rich in insights and references to other poets of the period, this essay and the book from which it came are in the public domain.
- Christina Rossetti's Poetry: An Overview
- Early artistic development
- Words creating vivid scenes
- An affinity with Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- The sensuous imagery of fruit
- The land of dreams and visions
- The creation of the modern ballad
- The inner life with autobiographical savor
- Austerity and religious piety
- Sonnets of love clouded by a sense of loss
- A stoic note of pure desolation
- In service of passionate religious fervor
- “Christmas Carol”
- The Face of the Deep
- The “singer of Death”
Christina Rossetti’s Poetry: An Overview
Few poetical writers lived more consistently in the shadow of death than Christina Rossetti. There was a certain taint of doom about her writings from the first, and something of the hollow-eyed listlessness of low vitality, that characterizes the artistic work of the school to which she primarily belonged, is never absent for very long together from her writings.
There is extant a portrait of her at about the age of thirty-six, by her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which will be familiar to many readers.
After subtracting from it the languorous mannerism of the artist, there remains in the wide, pathetic eyes, the wistful uplifting of the eyebrows and the depressed curves of the stately mouth something dreary and uncomforted about the whole aspect.
And a later photograph has the same regretful patience. For many years she had been an invalid, and lived a life of singular seclusion in Torrington Square, one of the dreariest and least romantic of London thoroughfares. Latterly she had been an acute sufferer from a wearing disease, borne with silent fortitude.
One after another, her mother, and the two aunts to whom she devoted her tenderest care, were taken from her; and her brother William Michael, the critic and editor of Shelley, was the only survivor of the brilliant circle in which her life began.
Her fervent religious faith, inspired and matured by desolate experience, had nothing dreary or undecided about it; it issued in a sedulous dutifulness and a patient devotion that were the best proof of its sincerity.
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Learn more about Christina Rossetti
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Early artistic development
Her artistic nature developed early, and before she was seventeen, a little volume entitled Verses by Christina Rossetti, dedicated to her mother, was printed by her maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, at his private printing-press in Regent’s Park … Here her precise delineation of natural objects, and a certain delicate antique charm, are distinctly observable.
But in 1850, under the nom-de-plume of Ellen Alleyne, she contributed verses to the Germ, that fertile organ of the pre-Raphaelites, Holman Hunt, Thomas Woolner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and others.
Of these lyrics we shall presently have occasion to quote one, “Dreamland,” which shows how early her lyrical gift had matured. And indeed it may be said that of the seven poems which she contributed to the Germ, at least five are among her best lyrics.
In 1862 appeared Goblin Market and other Poems; and in this, as is so often the case with the work of poets done before the thirty-fifth year—the year that has so often been fatal to genius—she reached the zenith of her poetical powers.
Not that much of her later work was not excellent, and would have sufficed for a definite reputation; but it may be said that twenty or thirty of these earlier poems are those by which she will be best remembered.
Words creating vivid scenes
Some writers have the power of creating a species of aerial landscape in the minds of their readers, often vague and shadowy, not obtruding itself strongly upon the consciousness, but forming a quiet background, like the scenery of portraits, in which the action of the lyric or the sonnet seems to lie.<
I am not now speaking of pictorial writing, which definitely aims at producing, with more or less vividness, a house, a park, a valley, but lyrics and poems of pure thought and feeling, which have none the less a haunting sense of locality in which the mood dreams itself out.
Christina Rossetti’s mise-en-scène is a place of gardens, orchards, wooded dingles, with a churchyard in the distance.
The scene shifts a little, but the spirit never wanders far afield; and it is certainly singular that one who lived out almost the whole of her life in a city so majestic, sober, and inspiriting as London, should never bring the consciousness of streets and thoroughfares and populous murmur into her writings.
She, whose heart was so with birds and fruits, cornfields and farmyard sounds, never even revolts against or despairs of the huge desolation, the laborious monotony of a great town. She does not sing as a caged bird, with exotic memories of freedom stirred by the flashing water, the hanging groundsel of her wired prison, but with a wild voice, with visions only limited by the rustic conventionalities of toil and tillage.
The dewy English woodland, the sharp silences of winter, the gloom of low-hung clouds, and the sigh of weeping rain are her backgrounds; and it is strange that one of Italian blood should write with no alien longings for warm and sun-dried lands.
Robert Browning, who brings into sudden being by a word, the whole atmosphere of the fiery Italian summer, the terraced vines, the gnarled olive, the bulging plaster where the scorpion lies folded, still yearned for an English spring morning.
But Christina Rossetti, unlike even her brother, had no leanings to the home of her race.
An affinity with Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The critic of future ages, if he were confronted with the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Miss Rossetti, and a history of their lives, would, it may be said, acting on internal evidence only, assign such poems as Aurora Leigh and the Casa-Guidi Windows to Miss Rossetti, and trace the natural heart-beats which still thrilled her for the home of her origin, and equally attribute the essentially English character of Miss Rossetti’s feeling to the English poetess.
It is said that Miss Rossetti never visited Italy, and had no wish to do so. It is a strange thing that the two greatest of English poetesses should have, so to speak, so passionately adopted each other’s country as their own.
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Dante Gabriel Rossetti illustration from Goblin Market
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The sensuous imagery of fruit
The only point in which Christina Rossetti’s imagery may be held to be tropical, is in the matters of fruit. In “Goblin Market,” in the “Pageant of the Months,” even in such a poem as the “Apple Gathering,” and in many other poems she seems to revel in descriptions of fruit which the harsh apples and half-baked plums of English gardens can hardly have suggested.
Keats is the only other English poet who had the same sensuous delight in the pulpy juiciness of summer fruit. It will be found, I think, that in the majority of English poets fruit is quite as often typical of immaturity and acidity as of cooling and delight. And even Stevenson couples the onion and the nectarine as the noblest fruits of God’s creation. But the …
Plump unpecked cherries
Bloom down-cheeked peaches,
Wild free-born cranberries,
All ripe together
In summer weather.
… are hardly the produce of the rushy glen where the leering goblin merchants tramped and whisked up and down.
The land of dreams and visions
This leads me to speak of another region which Christina Rossetti trode with an eager familiarity—the land of dreams and visions. With the exception of Coleridge, who, in his three great poems, moved in that difficult and turbid air with so proud a freedom, it may be said that no English poet except Christina, her brother, and James Thomson, have ever successfully attempted such work.
Mr. Yeats, it is true, of younger writers, has passed beyond the threshold of that eerie and unsubstantial land; but with him it is the melancholy Celtic twilight, the home of old earth-spirits, neither high nor hopeful, but with a bewildered sadness, as of discrowned kings and discredited magicians.
To a characteristically English poet such as Wordsworth, such a region, as he betrays in the memorable sonnet, “The world is too much with us,” was a place of desperate soulless horror.
But Christina Rossetti, in “Goblin Market,” and the “Ballad of Boding,” as her brother in “Rose Mary,” and “Sister Helen,” passed successfully along the narrow road of allegory. In English hands such subjects are apt to pass with fatal swiftness into the ludicrous and the grotesque.
Witness the merry horned demons and the cheerful oddities, so far aloof from fantastic horror, of our English gargoyles and stall-work, the straddling and padding forms of Bunyan. What is needed is a sort of twilight of the soul, a simple directness such as children value, a sense of grave verisimilitude, hopelessly alien from the business-like Puritan mind.
The creation of the modern ballad
Then, too, there is the singular creation of the modern ballad, initiated by Coleridge, and carried to supreme perfection by D. G. Rossetti, and in a less degree by his sister; that vague, dream-laden writing which, using old forms of austere simplicity, charges them with a whole world of modern sicknesses and degenerate dreams.
Matthew Arnold went so passionately in search of in a poem like the “Scholar Gipsy,” and yet could contrive no inner picture of the haunted wanderer’s thoughts, but only touch in the external aspects of the phantom traveller, as seen unexpectedly by human toilers and pleasure-seekers engaged in homely exercises.
But Miss Rossetti, in such poems as “Brandons Both,” and in a supreme degree in the exquisite ballad of “Noble Sisters,” which we will quote in extenso, laid a secure hand on the precise medium required:—
“Now did you mark a falcon,
Sister dear, sister dear,
Flying toward my window
In the morning cool and clear?
With jingling bells about her neck.
But what beneath her wing?
It may have been a ribbon,
Or it may have been a ring.”
“I marked a falcon swooping
At the break of day;
And for your love, my sister dove,
I ‘frayed the thief away.”
“Or did you spy a ruddy hound,
Sister fair and tall,
Went snuffing round my garden bound,
Or crouched by my bower wall.
With a silken leash about his neck;
But in his mouth may be
A chain of gold and silver links,
Or a letter writ to me?”
“I heard a hound, highborn sister,
Stood baying at the moon;
I rose and drove him from your wall,
Lest you should wake too soon.”
“Or did you meet a pretty page,
Sat swinging on the gate;
Sat whistling, whistling like a bird—
Or may be slept too late—
With eaglets broidered on his cap,
And eaglets on his glove?
If you had turned his pockets out,
You had found some pledge of love.”
“I met him at this daybreak,
Scarce the east was red;
Lest the creaking gate should anger you,
I packed him off to bed.”
“Oh patience, sister. Did you see
A young man tall and strong,
Swift-footed to uphold the right
And to uproot the wrong,
Come home across the desolate sea
To woo me for his wife?
And in his heart my heart is locked,
And in his life my life.”
“I met a nameless man, sister.
Who loitered round our door;
I said: ‘Her husband loves her much.
And yet she loves him more.'”
“Fie, sister, fie; a wicked lie,
A lie, a wicked lie.
I have none other love but him,
Nor will have till I die;
And you have turned him from our door,
And stabbed him with a lie.
I will go seek him through the world
In sorrow till I die.”
“Go seek in sorrow, sister,
And find in sorrow too;
If thus you shame our father’s name,
My curse go forth with you.”
The inner life with autobiographical savor
But such writings, exquisite as they are, are but the outworks and bastions of the inner life. One could almost wish that Christina Rossetti were further removed by time and space, and were passed beyond the region of letters, biographies, and personal memoirs, which before long will possibly begin “to tear her heart before the crowd.”
Nowadays, in the excessive zest for personal information, which received such shameful incentives from Carlyle, and still more shameless encouragement from his biographers, we may thank God, as Tennyson did, that there are yet poets of whom we know as little as we know of Shakespeare, about whom even the utmost diligence of researchers has disinterred but a handful of sordid and humiliating facts.
But Miss Rossetti’s poems are so passionately human a document as to set one tracing by a sort of inevitable instinct the secrets of a buoyant and tender soul, sharpened and refined by blow after blow of harsh discipline. The same autobiographical savor haunts all her work as haunted the eager dramas of Charlotte Brontë.
Step by step it reveals itself, the sad and stately development of this august soul. The first tremulous outlook upon the intolerable loveliness of life, the fantastic melancholy of youth, the deep desire of love, the drawing nearer of the veiled star, disappointment, disillusionment, the over-powering rush of the melancholy, that had waited like a beast in ambush for moments of lassitude and reaction.
Then was the crisis: would the wounded life creep on on a broken wing, or would the spiritual vitality suffice to fill the intolerable void? It did suffice; and the strength of the character that thus found repose was attested by the rational and temperate form of faith that ministered to the failing soul.
Austerity and religious piety
At such a moment the sensuous spirit is apt to slide into the luxurious self-surrender that Roman Catholicism permits. To me, indeed, it is a matter of profound surprise that Miss Rossetti did not fall into this temptation.
But just as she had, with instinctive moderation, chosen the cool and temperate landscape of her adopted country, so the National Church of England, with its decorous moderation, its liberal generosity, its refined ardour, was the chosen home of this austere spirit.
The other danger to be feared was that of a bitter renunciation of old delights, a sojourn in the wilderness of some arid and fantastic pietism. An elder sister of Miss Rossetti’s indeed sought the elaborate seclusion of a religious house; and had Dante Gabriel Rossetti—to use the uncouth Puritan phrase — “found religion,”” there is no doubt that he too would have reverted to the Church of his fathers.
But Miss Rossetti became, as Mr. Edmund Gosse has, in a penetrating criticism in the Century Magazine (June 1893) pointed out, the poetess, not of Protestantism, but of Anglicanism.
We must retrace our steps for a moment, and touch first on Miss Rossetti’s love lyrics. Very occasionally she allowed herself, in the early days, to speak of love with the generous abandon of an ardent spirit, as in the exquisite lyric where she still lingers in the pictorial splendor of the pre-Raphaelite school.
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered 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 daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work in it gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleur-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
Sonnets of love clouded by a sense of loss
As a rule, her thoughts of love are clouded by some dark sense of loss, of having missed the satisfaction that the hungering soul might claim. Take two sonnets:
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 planned;
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.
The curtains were half-drawn, the floor was swept
And strewn with rushes; rosemary and may
Lay thick upon the bed on which I lay,
Where through the lattice ivy-shadows crept.
He leaned above me, thinking that I slept
And could not hear him; but I heard him say,
“Poor child, poor child!” and as he turned away
Came a deep silence, and I knew he wept.
He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold
That hid my face, or take my hand in his,
Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head.
He did not love me living; but once dead
He pitied me; and very sweet it is
To know he still is warm, though I am cold.
In these sonnets the veil of some pathetic possibility unfulfilled is drawn reverently aside, and the soul-history is written in plain characters. But again the poet is more reticent; and only in sad allusions, incessantly recurring, in unhappy hints, she reveals the hunger of the spirit, the hand that was held out in hope for the heavenly bread, and closed upon a stone.
After this the mood becomes one of reluctant certainty, with little bitterness or recrimination; the surrender is accepted, but the thought of what might have been is for ever present.
A stoic note of pure desolation
Then, as in some desolate estuary, the tide begins to set strongly in from the vast and wholesome sea. Sometimes a stoic note is struck of pure desolation, as in the noble lyric;—
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place,
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin?
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night,
Those who have gone before?
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
But this bitterness is not enduring. From the first, even in what we may call her Pagan days, the sense of responsibility and deliberate choice had been hers. We venture to quote the noble allegory, “A Triad,” omitted, in some vigorous revulsion of spirit, from her later writings:
Three sang of love together, one with lips
Crimson, with cheeks and bosom in a glow,
Flushed to the yellow hair and finger tips;
And one there sang who, soft and smooth as snow,
Bloomed like a tinted hyacinth at a show;
And one was blue with famine after love,
Who, like a harpstring snapped, rang harsh and low
The burden of what those were singing of.
One shamed herself in love; one temperately
Grew gross in soulless love, a sluggish wife;
One famished, died for love. Thus two of three
Took death for love, and won him after strife.
One droned in sweetness like a fattened bee;
All on the threshold, yet all short of life.
In service of passionate religious fervor
Into the service, then, of her religion, Miss Rossetti brought all the passionate fervour of her unsatisfied heart, all her intense enthusiasm after art, and passed steadily, we believe, to the forefront of all English religious poetry.
She had not, perhaps, the curious felicity of George Herbert, but, on the other hand, she had the balanced simplicity that stepped clear of his elaborate conceit, the desperate euphuism of Crashaw, and even the pathetic refinement of Henry Vaughan.
Again, her passionate imagery put her ahead of the soft beauty of Keble, too apt to degenerate into a honied domesticity; above the pensive richness of Charles Wesley, whose Puritan outlook made his hand unsure; above even the divine ardour of Newman, whose technical dogmatism and paucity of human experience limited his range.
With Miss Rossetti it was as the strong man armed, in the Gospel parable. When the stronger victor came, the spoil was annexed, and the ancient pride of defense was applied by a more dexterous hand. Can there be found in the rank of English religious poetry two more majestic lyrics than …
A BETTER RESURRECTION
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but, dimmed with grief,
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf.
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk;
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk.
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see.
Yet rise it shall—the sap of spring.
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold.
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King.
O Jesus, drink of me.
Or the third of the “Old and New Year Ditties?”
Passing away, saith the World, passing away;
Chances, beauty, and youth sapped day by day;
Thy life never continueth in one stay,
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May;
Thou, root-stricken, shall not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered, Yea.
Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away,
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play.
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day,
Lo! the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay;
Watch, thou, and pray.
Then I answered, Yea.
Passing away, saith my God, passing away;
Winter passeth after the long delay;
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May.
Though I tarry, wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray,
Arise, come away, night is past, and lo! it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered, Yea.
The last-mentioned poem is indeed worthy of a technical remark. It is written in an irregular dactylic metre, the longer lines having a beat of five accents, the shorter of three or two; but the whole scheme of rhyme, all three stanzas—a common form with Miss Rossetti—is actually built upon one single rhyme throughout.
For such a conception one would be inclined to predicate certain failure; the simplicity is too rude and daring; but consider the result. For sheer simplicity again note her “Christmas Carol”:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away,
When He comes to reign.
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Enough for Him whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay.
Enough for Him whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Throng’d the air,
But only His mother,
In her maiden bliss.
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.
… which, from beginning to end, has the very note of a Tuscan Adoration.
This exquisite felicity did not continue. It could not be expected that it should. Miss Rossetti had always been capable in her writings of complete and unexpected failures; in many of her lyrics everything is there—style, feeling, harmony, but somehow the mood does not quicken into poetry.
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12 Poems by Christina Rossetti, Victorian Poet
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The Face of the Deep
In later life she published an immense volume, the Face of the Deep, extending to over 550 pages, a devotional commentary on the “Apocalypse.” This is written in uncouth and shapeless prose, as a rule; and though it has many suggestive and striking thoughts, and some images of exquisite beauty, yet it is a singular monument of failure.
Scattered up and down in it are several hundred religious lyrics, which are never exactly commonplace, but seldom satisfactory. I venture to quote one, which may serve as a fair sample, p. 119, chap. iii. v. 10:
Wisest of sparrows, that sparrow which sitteth alone
Perched on the housetop, its own upper chamber, for nest.
Wisest of swallows, that swallow which timely hath flown
Over the turbulent sea to the land of its rest;
Wisest of sparrows and swallows, if I were as wise!
Wisest of spirits, that spirit which dwelleth apart,
Hid in the Presence of God for a chapel and nest,
Sending a wish and a will and a passionate heart
Over the eddy of life to that Presence in rest,
Seated alone and in peace till God bids it arise.
One word must, perhaps, be said here on the question of her technical skill and metrical handling. With characteristic humility, she was herself of opinion, as appears from a letter to Mr. Gosse, that the inspiration of her sonnets was wholly derived from her brother. That was an entire, if affectionate, mistake.
There is no real or even apparent connection. There is none of the intricate scheming, the subtle inter-weaving of tremulous tones which make D. G. Rossetti’s sonnets the most musical of English sonnets. But the consequence is that Dante Gabriel’s sonnets are not in the least characteristically English.
The sonnets of Milton and Wordsworth may be regarded as the true examples of English sonnet-writing, stiff, grave, sober, drawing through precise and even stilted metres to a sonorous and rhetorical close. D. G. Rossetti’s are exotic work essentially.
But that is not true of Miss Rossetti’s. They are simple and severe. In such a sequence as “Monna Innominata,” there is not a trace of the luscious and labyrinthine ecstasies of her brother’s work; they are indeed far more like Mrs. Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese.
Trust me, I have not earned your dear rebuke;
I love, as you would have me, God the most;
Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost;
Nor with Lot’s wife cast back a faithless look,
Unready to forego what I forsook.
This say I, having counted up the cost.
This, though I be the feeblest of God’s host,
The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook.
Yet while I love my God the most, I deem
That I can never love you overmuch;
I love Him more, so let me love you too;
Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such,
I cannot love you if I love not Him,
I cannot love Him if I love not you.
This severity is not the same in her lyrics; it will be obvious from the specimens already quoted, that, if anything, the metrical scheme is not strict enough. In many lines will be found a deficiency of syllables, musically compensated for by variety of accent; many of her rhymes are almost licentious in their vagueness.
For some reason I have found that they do not offend the critical judgment, as Mrs. Browning’s do. Whether it is that the directness and simplicity of the feeling overpowers all minute fastidiousness, or whether they are all part of the careful artlessness of the mood, is hard to determine.
But the fact remains, that none but the most inquisitive of critics would be likely to hold that the art is thereby vitiated.
The “singer of Death”
Lastly, of all the great themes with which Miss Rossetti deals, she is, above all writers, the singer of Death. Whether as the eternal home-coming, or the quiet relief after the intolerable restlessness of the world, or as the deep reality in which the fretful vanities of life are merged, it is always in view, as the dark majestic portal to which the weary road winds at last.
True, in one of the earliest and most beautiful of all her lyrics, the sense of dissatisfied loneliness is carried on beyond the gate of Death.
When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house;
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange boughs;
From hand to hand they pushed the wine,
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach;
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
For each was loved of each.
I listened to their honest chat.
Said one: “To-morrow we shall be
Plod, plod along the featureless sands,
And coasting miles and miles of sea.”
Said one: “Before the turn of tide,
We will achieve the eyrie-seat.”
Said one; “To-morrow shall be like
To-day, but much more sweet.”
“To-morrow,” said they, strong with hope.
And dwelt upon the pleasant way.
“To-morrow,” cried they one and all,
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon;
I, only I, had passed away.
“To-morrow and to-day,” they cried;
I was of yesterday.
I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the tablecloth;
I all-forgotten shivered, sad
To stay and yet to part how loth.
I passed from the familiar room,
I, who from love had passed away.
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day.
If we can but read into it the hallowing radiance of a tremulous hope, the poem, which as Ellen Alleyne she contributed to the Germ in the days of her unregenerate energies, may be her requiem now:
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.