Give a critical appreciation of "The Blessed Damozel," stanza 1, in relation to symbolism.
By setting this poem in Heaven, Rossetti creates a scene in which Christian symbolism will predominate. The first stanza, which describes the setting and the character, contains several symbols. First, the "gold bar of heaven" symbolizes the boundary of the afterlife which separates the blessed damozel from her earth-bound love. Gold symbolizes purity and perfection, yet it is often associated with trial because gold is purified with fire. The damozel should be happy in heaven, but she leans over the bar, longing for her loved one, as she experiences a trial of her patience even in that perfect world.
The damozel holds three lilies, which are also symbolic. The number three stands for perfection again as it is the number of the Trinity. Lilies represent purity, beauty, and innocence as well as resurrection. Although the poem doesn't specify that the lilies are white, the painting Rossetti painted as a companion to this poem shows white lilies. White also symbolizes purity. The lilies the damozel holds reinforce the idea that she is the perfect woman in the perfect place; she has left the imperfections and pain of the world behind and now lives in the eternal state of sinlessness.
The stanza ends by referring to the seven stars in the damozel's hair. Seven is another number of perfection, reflecting the idea that God created the earth and everything in it in six days and rested on the seventh. Thus seven represents completion, fullness, and repose. In mentioning seven stars, Rossetti certainly wanted to allude to the Seven Sisters, the constellation of the Pleiades. This symbolizes feminine charm, as the Pleiades were beautiful nymphs. Yet there is sorrow associated with them as well; in some myths they committed suicide to mourn the fate of their sisters or their father. Rossetti has no problem incorporating Greek mythology into the Christian setting; later in the poem his unorthodox views of Heaven become more apparent.
Rossetti begins the poem by introducing the setting and main character, using symbolism that implies beauty, femininity, purity, and perfection but also hints at the sorrow the damozel feels despite being in a place of eternal joy.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti in The Blessed Damozel relies heavily on symbolism. For example, in the first stanza, he mentions flowers in general, lilies and "a white rose." As a Victorian poet, Rossetti was well versed in flower symbolism, which became a high art in the--in some ways voiceless--Victorian era. Flower symbolism began in some ancient religions and flowers were linked to deities like Apollo and Diana. Therefore, Rossetti's use of "flowers" ties the Blessed Damozel to a religious theme. The symbols of specific flowers had enlarged meanings in the Victorian era., during which the lily was readily associated with chastity, virtue, the Trinity, faith, beauty, sweetness, virginity, and purity, among other things. This again enforces a religious theme in addition to introducing a theme of virgin purity. The meaning associated with the rose, of any color, is love and remembrance. The white rose, a gift to the damozel from Christ's Mother "Mary" for the virtue of service to others, is specifically associated with the meaning of purity. This symbolism underscores the theme of virgin purity. The introduction of Mary narrows the religious theme to the Christian religion.