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Christina Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems. She is best known for her long poem Goblin Market, her love poem "Remember", and for the words of what became the popular Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter".



Rossetti was born in London and educated at home by her mother. Her siblings were the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Maria Francesca Rossetti. Their father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian poet and a political asylum seeker from Naples; their mother, Frances Polidori, was the sister of Lord Byron's friend and physician, John William Polidori, author of The Vampyre. In the 1840s her family was stricken with severe financial difficulties due to the deterioration of her father's physical and mental health. When she was 14, Rossetti suffered a nervous breakdown and left school.

Her breakdown was followed by bouts of depression and related illness. During this period she, her mother, and her sister became seriously interested in the Anglo-Catholic movement that was part of the Church of England. This religious devotion played a major role in Rossetti's personal life. In her late teens she became engaged to the painter James Collinson, who was, like her brothers Dante and William, one of the founding members of the avant-garde artistic group, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but this engagement was broken because he reverted to Catholicism. Later she became involved with the linguist Charles Cayley, but did not marry him – also for religious reasons. She was a volunteer worker from 1859 to 1870 at the St. Mary Magdalene "house of charity" in Highgate, a refuge for former prostitutes.

Christina modeled for several of her brother Dante's most famous works. In 1848 she was the model for the Virgin Mary in his first completed oil painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, which was also the first to be inscribed with the initials "PRB", later to be revealed as standing for "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood".[1] The following year she repeated that role in his depiction of the Annuciation, Ecce Ancilla Domini.

Illustration for the cover of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rossetti began writing at age 7, but she was 18 when her first published poem appeared in the Athenaeum magazine. Between January and April 1850, the Pre-Raphaelite group published a literary magazine, The Germ, edited by her brother William, to which she contributed. However her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862, when she was 31. The collection garnered much critical praise and, according to Jan Marsh, "Elizabeth Barrett Browning's death" (in 1861) "led to Rossetti being hailed as her natural successor as 'female laureate'." The title poem from this book is one of Rossetti's best known works and, although at first glance it may seem merely to be a nursery rhyme about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, the poem is multi-layered, challenging, and complex. Critics have interpreted the piece in a variety of ways: seeing it as an allegory about temptation and salvation; a commentary on Victorian gender roles and female agency; and a work about erotic desire and social redemption — perhaps influenced by her work with the "fallen women" in Highgate. Some readers have noted its likeness to Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" given both poems' religious themes of temptation, sin and redemption by vicarious suffering.

Her Christmas poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" became widely known after her death when set as a Christmas carol first by Gustav Holst, and then by Harold Darke: in this setting it was judged in 1998 the best carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts.[2] Her poem "Love Came Down at Christmas" (1885) has also been widely arranged as a carol.[3]

Rossetti continued to write and publish for the rest of her life although she focused primarily on devotional writing and children's poetry. She maintained a large circle of friends and for ten years volunteered at a home for prostitutes. She was ambivalent about women's suffrage, but many scholars have identified feminist themes in her poetry. Furthermore, as Marsh notes, "she was opposed to war, slavery (in the American South), cruelty to animals (in the prevalent practice of animal experimentation), the exploitation of girls in under-age prostitution and all forms of military aggression."

Portrait of Christina Rossetti, by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves Disease. In 1893 she developed cancer, and died the following year 29 December 1894; she is buried in Highgate Cemetery. In the early 20th century Rossetti's popularity faded as many respected Victorian writers' reputations suffered from Modernism's backlash. Rossetti remained largely unnoticed and unread until the 1970s when feminist scholars began to recover and comment on her work. In the last few decades, Rossetti's writing has been rediscovered and she has regained admittance into the Victorian literary canon.

In popular culture

  • The poem "Remember" features prominently in the 1955 film noir Kiss Me Deadly.
  • A line from one of her poems, "Beyond the sea of death..." was used as the title of an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Her works were also referred to in the same episode of the TV drama.
  • The poem "Who Has Seen the Wind?" appears during the credits of the time-manipulating puzzle/plat former game Braid. The poem is arranged in a chronologically palindromic nature, with the last four lines of the poem appearing during the beginning of the credits, and the initial four lines of the poem appearing at the end of the credits. The initial four lines are also rearranged in the following order, further implying a chronological palindrome:

"The wind is passing threw'
But when the leaves hang trembling
Neither I nor you:
Who has seen the wind?"

  • The poem above "Who Has Seen the Wind" has also been set to music by the darkwave band Unto Ashes.
  • The following Rossetti poems are narrated by Jonathan Frid on the "Dark Shadows" TV soundtrack, originally released on June 27, 1966. It is featured on the track titled "Epitaph".

"O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes; Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth; Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth With its harsh laughter, nor for sound of sighs. She hath no questions, she hath no replies, Hush's in and curtained with a bless dearth Of all that irked her from the hour of birth; With stillness that is almost Paradise. Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her, Silence more musical than any song; Even her very heart has ceased to stir: Until the morning of Eternity Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be; And when she wakes she will not think it long."

"When I am dead my dearest, sing no sad song for me, Plant thou no roses at my head, nor shady cypress tree. See the green grass above me with showers and dewdrops wet, And if thou wilt, remember, and if thou wilt, forget. I shall not see the shadows, I shall not feel the rain, I shall not hear the nightingale sing on as if in pain. And dreaming throughout the twilight that doth not rise nor set, Hap'ly will remember, and happily will forget".

  • "When i am dead, my dearest" was also used in the second season of TV show Monk [4] in the episode "Mr. Monk and the very, very old man". The poem is narrated by Karen in a documentary about the oldest man in the world, later to be murdered so an old time capsule is not dug up.


  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866)
  • Commonplace (1870)
  • Sing-Song: a Nursery Rhyme Book (1872, 1893)[5]
  • In the Bleak Midwinter (1872)
  • A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
  • Verses (1893)
  • New Poems (1895)
  • Up-Hill (1887)
  • Monna Innominata: Sonnets and Songs (1899)[6]
  • Aloof
  • Symbols[7]
  • Cousin Kate (1879)
  • In an Artist's Studio (1896)
  • A Birthday (1861)
  • Remember
  • All flesh is grass

See also



  • Clifford, David and Roussillon, Laurence. Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now. London: Anthem, 2004.
  • Jones, Kathleen. Learning Not to be First: A Biography of Christina Rossetti. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Marsh, Jan. Introduction. Poems and Prose. By Christina Rossetti. London: Everyman, 1994. xvii – xxxiii.
  • Marsh, Jan. Christina Rossetti: A Writer's Life. New York: Viking, 1994.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Christina Rossetti, English poet

Christina Georgina Rossetti (December 5, 1830December 29, 1894) was an English poet and the sister of artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.



  • Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
    Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.
  • My heart is like a singing bird
    Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
    My heart is like an apple-tree
    Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit.
  • The birthday of my life
    Is come, my love is come to me.
    • A Birthday, st. 2.
  • When I am dead, my dearest,
    Sing no sad songs for me;
    Plant thou no roses at my head,
    Nor shady cypress tree:
    Be the green grass above me
    With showers and dewdrops wet;
    And if thou wilt, remember,
    And if thou wilt, forget.
    • Song, st. 1 (1862).
  • Remember me when I am gone away,
    Gone far away into the silent land.
  • Better by far you should forget and smile
    Than that you should remember and be sad.
    • Remember, l. 13-14.
  • For there is no friend like a sister
    In calm or stormy weather;
    To cheer one on the tedious way,
    To fetch one if one goes astray,
    To lift one if one totters down,
    To strengthen whilst one stands.
  • Oh roses for the flush of youth,
    And laurel for the perfect prime;
    But pluck an ivy branch for me
    Grown old before my time.
    • Song, st. 1 (1862).
  • In the bleak mid-winter
    Frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
    Snow on snow,
    In the bleak mid-winter
    Long ago.
  • Who has seen the wind?
    Neither you nor I:
    But when the trees bow down their heads
    The wind is passing by.
  • Sleeping at last, the trouble and tumult over,
    Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past,
    Cold and white, out of sight of friend and of lover,
    Sleeping at last.


  • Hope is like a harebell, trembling from its birth,
    Love is like a rose, the joy of all the earth,
    Faith is like a lily, lifted high and white,
    Love is like a lovely rose, the world’s delight.
    Harebells and sweet lilies show a thornless growth,
    But the rose with all its thorns excels them both.
    • Hope is like a Harebell.
  • All earth’s full rivers can not fill
    The sea that drinking thirsteth still.
    • By the Sea.
  • One day in the country
    Is worth a month in town.
    • Summer.
  • Silence more musical than any song.
    • Sonnet. Rest.
  • Then I have an ivory chair high to sit upon,
    Almost like my father's chair, which is an ivory throne;
    There I sit uplift and upright, there I sit alone.[1]

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