Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tuesday Poem: Christina Rossetti

A Pause

They made the chamber sweet with flowers and leaves,
     And the bed sweet with flowers on which I lay;
     While my soul, love-bound, loitered on its way.
I did not hear the birds about the eaves,
Nor hear the reapers talk among the sheaves:
     Only my soul kept watch from day to day,
     My thirsty soul kept watch for one away:-
Perhaps he loves, I thought, remembers, grieves.
At length there came the step upon the stair,
     Upon the lock the old familiar hand:
Then first my spirit seemed to scent the air
     Of Paradise; then first the tardy sand
Of time ran golden; and I felt my hair
     Put on a glory, and my soul expand.

Christina Rossetti,  written circa 1853

Christina 1848 by her brother Dante Gabriel
 

Christina Rossetti's father was an Italian political refugee and poet.  Her mother was the daughter of another Italian writer, Gaetano Polidori.  Christina's uncle was John Polidori who accompanied Byron and Shelley to the continent and wrote The Vampyre.  Although she was born in London and spent most of her life there, Christina was very Italian in temperament - which didn't fit very well with English Victorian notions of womanhood.   She and her brother Dante Gabriel were known as the 'two storms' but while he was allowed to go his own bohemian way, Christina had to conform and she found it difficult to subdue her rebellious disposition.   Much of Christina's poetry is about loss, loneliness and renunciation - themes that mirror her own life.  She broke off two engagements to men she loved  passionately because of religious differences (one was a Catholic, one an aetheist).   She seems to have regretted both decisions in later life.   Her mother was deeply, inflexibly, religious, an older sister became a protestant nun, and Christina's life under their influence was very restricted.  She was always very shy and spent most of her life at home, avoiding social contact,  writing poetry - some of which was erotic and passionate.  Her most famous poems are 'A Birthday',  'In the Bleak Midwinter', which was set to music by Holst, and 'Goblin Market' - one of the most erotic poems in the English language.   The poem above, A Pause, was written at a time when she had just broken off her engagement to the Pre-Raphaelite painter James Collinson who had converted to Roman Catholicism.  

Christina Rossetti:   Learning not to be First, originally published by Oxford University Press,  is available as a Kindle book on Amazon for £2.86.

For more Tuesday Poems, please go to the hub on www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com

For a review of  contemporary American poet Stanley Plumly's collection 'Now that my father lies down beside me' , go to my book review site .

4 comments:

  1. The poem is lovely, but the poet's story, sad.

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  2. thanks for this! didn;t know much about her - interesting - love Goblin Market!

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  3. I hadn't encountered this poem before, either. Thanks so much for posting. It's amazing how much autobiography weaves its way into a writer's poetry.

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  4. What a gorgeously heartbreaking poem. Thanks for posting this, Kathleen, and all the biographical material.

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