How does  Dante Rossetti create an acute sense of despair in the poem "The Woodspurge"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

 “The Woodspurge” by Dante Rossetti employs a simple and seemingly unemotional style to denote the pain of the speaker. Even his rhyme scheme is simply every last word rhymes. The initial focus on the setting slowly moves the reader in the direction of simple walk on a windy day with a person whose concentration is on the wind.

Further examination of the poet’s word choice indicates a more serious subject than just a walk on a windy day. The speaker walks in the wind which blows and then quiets down. It is still and dead at times.  

The center of the poem deceptively speaks to nature, but it is the interpretation of the speaker and his psychological struggle that is at the heart of the poem. Because his mood is bleak, nature does nothing to help his mental state. The wind blows the man forward---when it is still, the man sits on the hill. He seems unconnected to anything other than letting nature have its way with him.

The speaker’s emotions swell over him; and he drops his head between his knees. His lips are pursed to speak, yet he says nothing. Apparently, he lies down on the grass with his ear pressed against the ground. He could hear the sounds of the day---the insects, the movements, or whatever was near the hill.

The narrator opens his eyes wide and looks around.  He fixes his eyes on some weeds.  In the middle of the weeds, a woodspurge grows toward the sun.  Each flower has three cups. 

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me, -
The woodspurge has a cup of three

 The man suffers from a grief that is beyond description, yet it does not have to fill the mind and emotions. As he tries to move his attention to something other than his intense hurt, he looks and remembers the woodspurge with its three cups.

The symbolism of the woodspurge growing in the middle of the weeds becomes the impetus of the narrator. From weeds springs forth a plant with unusual cup-like flowers.  The flower catches the eye because it finds itself growing out of the midst of weeds.  The plant may be the man who now tries to move his attention from his grief to something else that takes his mind from the bleakness of his emotions.

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