Explain the symbolism in Christina Rossetti's poem "Uphill."

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Christina Rossetti's poetry was known to her contemporaries as some of the most influential and deeply spiritual poetry being composed at the time. Her family was deeply religious, and Rossetti often examined matters of faith in her works, making her language easily accessible in order to appeal to a wider range of audiences.

This poem could easily be compared to other poems (such as Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken") where the speaker compares a journey along a road to the struggles of life. But in this poem, there are other, definitely biblical, symbols that influence the meaning as well.

The poem does open with a road that is "up-hill all the way." This symbolizes a difficult journey.

The "inn" referenced in the second stanza could allude to the place where Mary and Joseph searched for housing just before Jesus was born. Like the traveler in the poem, Mary was weary and in need of rest. Since there was no room in the "inn," she gave birth to Jesus in a stable. Jesus is known as a place of rest for those who are weary, as is found in Matthew 11:28: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. "

The "door" referenced in the third stanza also symbolizes the path to salvation, both from the weariness of life and from Hell. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus compares the path to salvation as standing at a door and knocking: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them and they with me."

In the poem, the speaker questions whether she will meet others who have stood at this door, and she knows that her knock will be answered—she will receive the spiritual rest she longs for.

The phrase "all who seek" in the fourth stanza alludes to the words of Matthew 7:7–8: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." Therefore, the beds are symbols of spiritual rest, which can be found in seeking Jesus. Everyone who comes to the door and knocks will find this bed of spiritual rest, as promised in Scripture.

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Printed originally in a magazine in 1861, Christina Rossetti’s meaningful poem speaks to the passage of life. Using the metaphor of a road and journey for a person’s life, the poet tells the reader what to expect during the his trek into the next life.

Rossetti uses the device of an allegory which uses an abstract idea or "pictorial device" to represent "a deeper symbolic meaning." The first person narrator seems speak rhetorically to someone who might have questions about the road of life. Through these questions, the poet expresses her view of gaining a place in the next world.

Symbols in the poem

Journey = the path of life

Uphill= the difficulties encountered along the way

The inn=Heaven

The dark hours=death

The Wayfarers=those who have died

The door=the gates of Heaven

Labor=what a person did during his life

The beds=a place in Heaven

The poem

Here is a paraphrase of the poem. The questions the speaker asks help to establish Rosetti's above symbols:

1st question

      Is life always difficult and an uphill battle?

     Yes, it is until the end of a person’s life.

2nd question

     Will it take all of life to travel this uphill road?

      Yes, every waking moment will be spent on this journey.

3rd question

      When I get to summit, will there be rest.

      Death is the night that encompasses as a slow darkness.

4th question

      What if I cannot find this place because it is too dark?

       You will be able to find it when you arrive.

5th question

       Will there be other travelers there? [the dead]

       The people who have passed on before you will be there.

6th question

        Is it necessary to knock or call out to someone to be allowed to come inside?

        No one will make you wait outside the door.

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?

They will not keep you standing at that door. 

7th question

        Will this place provide comfort and solace after the difficult journey?

         How hard you worked in life will be reciprocated in Heaven.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

Of labor you shall find the sum.

8th question

        Will there be room for everyone?

        For all who seek Heaven, there will be room for them.


Rossetti discusses the difficulties that a person faces in life. She is hopeful that after the hard travail there will be a place peace and solace when she gets to the end of her life. Life is an uphill battle with many hazards along the way.  Her questions are those that many people ask about the journey toward Heaven.  Where, when, who, how—all of these questions are answered in this lovely poem. 

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