Christina Rossetti's sonnets, ballads, nursery rhymes and devotional verse--all collected in The Complete Poems
--confirm her reputation as one of the leading Pre-Raphaelite poets and a significant voice in Victorian poetry. She is possibly most loved for the elegant and simple "A Christmas Carol", popularly known as "In the Bleak Mid-Winter", first published in 1875 and set to music by Gustav Holst:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Its incantatory repetition and direct, lean diction signal what is strongest in Rossetti's style. These qualities recur in much that's reprinted in this volume, in such poems as "Who Shall Deliver Me?", which echoes George Herbert's deeply religious metaphorical voice: "I lock my door upon myself / And bar them out; but who shall wall / Self from myself, most loathed of all?". In "Grown and Flown", "L.E.L." and "Life and Death", Rossetti's main themes of thwarted love and a yearning for death are entwined:
Sweet sweet love was
Now bitter bitter grown to me...
heart-breaking for a little love...
Life is not good.
One day it will be good
To die, then live again;...
Only dead refuse stubble clothe the plain:
Asleep from risk, asleep from pain.
While Rossetti famously rejected two suitors who did not share her religious fervour, in "Autumn", her striving for High Anglican moral purity strains: "I dwell alone--I dwell alone, alone / Whilst full my river flows down to the sea... O love-pangs, let me be". For her, death is a welcome relief from earthly suffering and "The Convent Threshold" conveys her choice unequivocally: "Your eyes look earthward, mine look up... I choose the stairs that mount above..." But Rossetti's charm lies in the intensity of her fight against denied pleasures and these overflow with sensual abundance and charged eroticism in one of her best known poems, "Goblin Market", in which two young maidens are tempted by the fruits of "goblin men" with "their hungry thirsty roots". The urgent descriptions of obsessive desire are rarely matched in later poems and "Goblin Market" remains an eerie and forceful work. --Cherry Smyth
About the Author
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), sister of the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was educated at home and shared her family's intellectual interests. Ill-health ended her work as a governess and later made her an invalid. Her poetry was first published in 1850 in the Pre-Raphaelite magazine, The Germ, and several volumes of poetry followed, demonstrating an extraordinary emotional and technical range.
Betty Sue Flowers is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.