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The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics) Paperback – November 1, 2001
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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.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
My DreamHear now a curious dream I dreamed last night,
Each word whereof is weighed and sifted truth.I stood beside Euphrates while it swelled
Like overflowing Jordan in its youth:
It waxed and coloured sensibly to sight,
Till out of myriad pregnant waves there welled
Young crocodiles, a gaunt blunt-featured crew,
Fresh-hatched perhaps and daubed with birthday dew.
The rest if I should tell, I fear my friend,
My closest friend would deem the facts untrue;
And therefore it were wisely left untold;
Yet if you will, why, hear it to the end.Each crocodile was girt with massive gold
And polished stones that with their wearers grew:
But one there was who waxed beyond the rest,
Wore kinglier girdle and a kingly crown,
Whilst crowns and orbs and sceptres starred his breast.
All gleamed compact and green with scale on scale,
But special burnishment adorned his mail
And special terror weighed upon his frown;
His punier brethren quaked before his tail,
Broad as a rafter, potent as a flail.
So he grew lord and master of his kin:
But who shall tell the tale of all their woes?
An execrable appetite arose,
He battened on them, crunched, and sucked them in.
He knew no law, he feared no binding law,
But ground them with inexorable jaw:
The luscious fat distilled upon his chin,
Exuded from his nostrils and his eyes,
While still like hungry death he fed his maw;
Till every minor crocodile being dead
And buried too, himself gorged to the full,
He slept with breath oppressed and unstrung claw.
Oh marvel passing strange which next I saw:
In sleep he dwindled to the common size,
And all the empire faded from his coat.
Then from far off a winged vessel came,
Swift as a swallow, subtle as a flame:
I know not what it bore of freight or host,
But white it was an avenging ghost.
It levelled strong Euphrates in its course;
Supreme yet weightless as an idle mote
It seemed to tame the waters without force
Till not a murmur swelled or billow beat:
Lo, as the purple shadow swept the sands,
The prudent crocodile rose on his feet
And shed appropriate tears and wrung his hands.What can it mean? you ask. I answer not
For meaning, but myself must echo, What?
And tell it as I saw it on the spot.
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She is not only my favorite female poet, but ine of my favorite poets in general. And I have read hundreds, if not thousands!
She impresses me as a sort of female counterpart or spiritual peer of the great George Herbert, who lived a couple centuries before her. Both poets were almost exclusively Christian devotional poets, but each had such a gift for their craft that the meters, messages, and structures of their poems seem perfect. More importantly, their poems to and about God and other spiritual matters are not dry, bland, or tepid like most devotional poetry and hymns are, but each contribute certain sublime perspectives and honesty which are refreshing. I may possibly like Rossetti's poetry far more than even Herbert's. Herbert was more of an innovator (often writing "concrete poetry"--poetry with lines structured into visible shapes), and Rossetti's poetry may seem deceptively simple, but Rossetti's poetry gives me the impression that she was an intelligent, cultured lady from a good family, but whose fiery trials in life humbled and purified her to such an extent that vanity and trifling are purged from her poetry, even when she confesses (often) to such weaknesses.
Another rare, curious gift of her poetry which I have noticed is how almost none of her poems are boring, and how she never seems to repeat herself, despite the not broad range of her topics nor of her style.
She is one of the few people I can say I look forward to meeting in Heaven. Not that everyone won't be enjoyable and lovely to be around, there, but that my earthly experiences have been so different from "the herd's" that I simply cannot relate well to many people, including poets and writers. But in Christina Rossetti I have always sensed a kindred spirit, ever since singing a Christmas choir solo using the passage beginning "What can I give Him, poor as I am?" from her poem "A Christmas Carol".
Reading her poetry is also one of the best therapies for melancholy that I know of, and particularly Christian melancholy. Some of her major, repeating themes is Holy Resignation to the will of God, and pleeing for God's mercy in the midst of trials and sorrow.
The root of her poetry's lasting power is twofold, I think.
Firstly, there's the undeniable craft & artistry of it. Rossetti possesses the gift of writing melodic, evocative poetry seemingly without effort -- whatever hard work went on behind the scenes, the result on the page is always natural, compelling, and transporting. Even the poems of grief & sorrow have a somber beauty to them, a melancholy loveliness that adorns death without masking it.
Secondly, there's the interplay between Rossetti's Victorian worldview -- a mixture of sentiment, complex piety, and a stark awareness of death -- and the personal psychological forces running below the surface, often sensual & erotic. All too easy for the clashing of these things to produce confusion; but in Rossetti's case, they blend to create a remarkable & very deep wellspring of poetry.
So we have such dreamlike poems as "The Dead City," as well as the many devotional poems -- and all draw upon that same vivid, intense power. Even for the agnostic or atheist, the religious poems often possess a rich & disturbing beauty. And there are many more poems in the same opulent vein as "Goblin Market."
This volume provides brief, informative textual notes that illuminate Rossetti's sources & references. But the poetry itself is not only quite accessible to the reader, it's also as irresistable as the sweet, addictive fruit offered by the sinister goblins. Most highly recommended!
She was so far ahead of her time. Well, her whole family were total geniuses. All I can say is that I am passionately in love with her work. I wish I could have known her.
Most recent customer reviews
I first read Christina Rossetti's work over 50 years ago when I was in my teens.Read more
My favourites are the childrens verses such av "Who has seen the wind?"