Explain nature in the poem "The Woodspurge" by Daniel Gabriel Rossetti. 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem “The Woodspurge” illustrates minimalist vocabulary for a serious circumstance.  His images are botanically correct, and nature is the frame work. The woodspurge is a European herb with yellow petals. This is a sensory poem stimulating the sense of sight and the feelings of movement. 

The setting  is the outdoor world  where the narrator is pushed by the wind.  Finally, he no longer can resist the wind and sits down.  Where he finds himself if unclear.  He is out in nature looking for some relief from the ache in his heart. The narrator’s mental and emotional state are precarious. 

Rossetti’s images, distinct and precise, bring the reader into the scene. His language is plain and forceful.

The narrator’s problem remains an enigma.  His grief is all consuming but the reader never knows what it concerns. 

Thematic summary

The poet goes for a walk and has difficulty moving because of the strength of the wind.  Sometimes, the winds stop blowing.  As he sits down, the wind grows still. 

When the narrator sits down, he is so forlorn that he places his head between his knees. In his despair, if he were able to speak, he would say “alas”; instead, he says nothing.

He falls over so that he feels the grass with his head.  He lies there so long that he can hear outside movements and sounds of the passing day.

As he lies in the grass, his eyes are open wide; he fixes his eyes on a ten weeds.  In his sensitive state, he wants to avoid reality; therefore, he focuses his mind on the natural world around him [apparently even counting the weeds].

The speaker looks around and sees a few flowers sunning themselves.  One of the flowers was the Woodspurge which has three leaves that look like cup.

 My eyes, wide open, had the run

Of some ten weeds to fix upon;

Among those few, out of the sun,

The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.

To the poet, his grief is perfection because it does not involve the past or even logical thinking.  From his day spent in nature, the only thing that he brings away evolves from the  image of the woodspurge with its “petaled cup.”

The ordinary aspects of nature help to fill the mind of someone whose grief overwhelms him.  The woodspurge has helped the narrator to find some respite from his exact sorrow. 


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