In Rossetti's "Sister Helen," describe the attitude depicted and how the last two lines of each stanza function in it.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the process of editing the poem, Rossetti understood the implications of the atmosphere he created in "Sister Helen."  In his correspondence, he writes that: "...the subject is enormous—in fact, once thought of, I cannot think how I never did it before. Moreover, the excess of her [Sister Helen's] provocation (in spite of the height of her spite) humanizes her somewhat.” Rossetti is confident about the "enormous" atmosphere in his poem.  There is a complexity in such an atmosphere.  On one hand, it is undeniable that there is a profound sense of "spite" in Sister Helen.  She starts off with it and there is a continuance of this throughout the poem.  This is contrasted with the delving of her brother, a sense of child- like innocence and almost hope amidst a setting where cold condemnation has been established.  The closing lines of each stanza operates as almost a plea from such a condition.  In calling out to Mary Mother, an appeal to the divine is registered.  It is almost a desire to escape such an atmosphere where the forceful nature of spiteful action is challenged with questions rooted in optimism.  The result is an atmosphere where one is filled with ambiguity.  Poised between the brother's queries and Sister Helen's resolute condition, the atmosphere conveys the "enormous" nature of the subject.  The poem's atmosphere is the result of issues of judgment, mercy, and seeking paths out of the painful ambiguity that both notions cause.  It is an atmosphere where all between "Heaven and Hell" is "lost."

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