The Poetry of Rossetti (Christina) Critical Essays

Christina Rossetti

Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Christina Rossetti began writing poetry in her early teens. Her verse, always simple, pure, direct, never lost some of the childlike and direct quality evident in her earliest work. Indeed, she later wrote a nursery rhyme book (SING SONG), full of pleasant and sharp little rhymes for children. She even included a rhymed alphabet, containing six or eight onomatopoetic references for each letter. Her skill and facility in light verse can be seen in the lines like the following from “An Alphabet”:

K is a King, or a Kaiser still higher;K is a Kitten, or quaint Kangaroo.L is a Lute or a lovely-toned LyreL is a Lily all laden with dew.

Her deftness in children’s verse and in slight lyrics lasted throughout her poetic career.

Christina Rossetti is, however, far more frequently remembered for her religious or devotional poetry. Living in partial seclusion with her family (primarily with her mother until the latter’s death in 1886), Christina Rossetti saw little of the London around her but lived intensely within her own private world of religious contemplation and meditation. Her poetry, the product of inward contemplation rather than a weapon for a public cause like that of the Pre-Raphaelites, was most frequently devotional. Her themes were faith and the peace of the eternal spiritual life.

Her religion was not theological or doctrinal, however, in the manner of many Victorians, for she concentrated on simple faith and applied her simple and pure lyrics to celebration of that faith. In this simple faith, Jesus being the object of much of her devotion; she wrote a number of poems on the incidents in His life and used Good Friday and the Resurrection as a subject for several of her best poems. In devoting her poems, the products of her faith, to Jesus, she idealized the peace that the individual could find in his dedication to Christianity and the life of the spirit. She seemed, often, to picture herself as humble and unworthy, to long for the peace of eternal rest without ever being sure she could obtain it. She made religion a haven, frequently in her poetry presenting religion as a resting place from the cares of a troubled life. This theme, along with her simple diction, is evident in the following passage from “I Do Set My Bow in the Cloud”:

Then tell me: is it not enoughTo feel that, when the path is roughAnd the sky dark and the rain cold,His promise standeth as of old?When heaven and earth have past awayOnly His righteous word shall stay,And we shall know His will is best.Behold: He is a haven-rest,A sheltering-rock, a hiding place,For runners...

(The entire section is 1301 words.)