Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In September, 1848, Rossetti, along with other fellow painters such as John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, founded the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, whose goal was a return to simplicity, to a direct presentation of nature, and to faithfulness and accuracy in detail. The name was derived from the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, who was a symbol for them of a departure from the simplicity of presentation and the use of bright colors, which produced a direct emotional effect in pre-Renaissance paintings. The ideals of this group were applied to poetry as well as to painting: simplicity of syntax, imagery, and diction, with themes that concentrated on the experience of sense perception and created emotional resonance.

Although “The Woodspurge” has a plant’s name as its title, the poem does not have nature, or even the woodspurge itself, as its subject. Nature does play an indirect role in the poem, but it is not the focus here or in other works by Rossetti. Both in his painting and in his poetry, the function of nature is to act as a background for the presentation of human action and emotion. The depiction of details from nature, although precise and accurate, is not meant to draw attention to nature itself but to mirror a psychic state or inner experience.

“The Woodspurge” does not tell a story or embody an ethical or moral lesson; it does not deal with contemporary issues or events. It is removed from any cultural or...

(The entire section is 581 words.)