Friday, October 14, 2005

Some Poems of Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

The World

By day she woos me, soft, exceeding fair:
But all night as the moon so changeth she;
Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy
And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.

By day she woos me to the outer air,
Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety:
But through the night, a beast she grins at me,
A very monster void of love and prayer.

By day she stands a lie:
By night she stands
In all the naked horror of the truth
With pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands.

Is this a friend indeed; that I should sell
My soul to her, give her my life and youth,
Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me


I cannot tell you how it was;
But this I know: it came to pass
Upon a bright and breezy day
When may was young; ah, pleasant May!
As yet the poppies were not born
Between the blades of tender corn;
The last eggs had not hatched as yet,
Nor any bird forgone its mate.

I cannot tell you what it was;
But this I know: it did but pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
With all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and grey.


Blogger Pedantic Protestant said...

BTW --- she has a melancholy attractiveness in those sketches.

Saturday, October 15, 2005 11:35:00 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Christina Rossetti was a fine Christian and a fine Christian role-model. She had a difficult life. Her health was rotten. She suffered her first physical breakdown at the age of 14. She was diagnosed with angina pectoris at the age of 21, and diagnosed with Graves’ disease at the age of 41. She was a semi-invalid during many periods of her life. She died of breast cancer.

Her father died when she was 23, leaving the family financially strapped. Her sister died of breast cancer when she (Christina) was 46. Her mother died when she (Christina) was 55. That’s not unusual. But given her degree of social isolation and how exceedingly close the two of them were, it was a crushing blow. Her brother Dante was a drug addict who died of complications from his addiction.

Christina was a very humble woman. She was intimidated by her sister’s spontaneous piety and her older brother’s (Dante) fame, facility and masculinity.

Both as a poetic and prosaic writer, she was vastly his superior. But modesty hindered her from drawing any invidious comparisons.

She was espoused to be married when her fiancé broke off the engagement. She turned down the proposal of another suitor.

She was Italian on her father’s side and semi-Italian on her mother’s side. This made for a naturally passionate temperament, like her brother Dante--but unlike Dante she made some effort to suppress hers. She was affectionate, but intensively shy, although immovable firm in matters of faith and morals.

Her ardent faith was at once a primary source of comfort and discomfort. As an Anglo-Catholic, with its streak of works-righteousness, she lacked the assurance of salvation that comes from a robust doctrine of sola fide. This further fed into her natural self-doubts. Hers was self-conscious faith, whereas her sister’s was an unself-conscious faith.

The mother and two daughters (as well as live-in aunts) were deeply devout, while the father and two brothers (Dante & Michael) were irreligious.

She made diligent use of her illnesses to read and write, which—along with her life—is her witness to the world.

Readers often comment on a melancholy streak her writing. The marvel is that she radiated as much hope and faith as she died despite her many adversities. Such is a soul afire, even if by candlelight rather than a bonfire.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 4:36:00 PM  

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