2300-2200 BCE800-9001000-11001100-12001200-13001300-14001500-16001600-17001700-18001800-19001900-2000Mezzo Cammin
Victorian Enigma: The Poetry of Christina Rossetti

backlash to the canon wars is to encounter a repeating question: is a particular woman "major" and thus worthy of the time and investment such designation demands, or is she "minor" because of perceived deficiencies and idiosyncrasies that must be addressed by the critic seeking to rehabilitate her legacy? The case of Christina Rossetti demonstrates the syndrome. In 1971, for example, Stuart Curran characterized Rossetti as a poet of "serious limitations" (291) with "too small a range" (292), an "implacably shallow" intellect (288) with "so little to say" (298). He concludes, "She is a good poet, an able poet, but not a great one" (299). Many critics before Curran have asserted that the lyrical purity of Rossetti's verses comes at the expense of intellectual and artistic complexity. Perhaps the comfortable default of relegating Rossetti to the position of "gifted minor poet" originated with her older brother, William Michael Rossetti, who writes in his "Memoir" in his collected edition of her Poetical Works that Christina's

habits of composition were entirely of the casual and spontaneous kind, from her earliest to her latest years. If something came into her head which she found suggestive of verse, she put it into verse. It came to her (I take it) very easily, without her meditating a possible subject, and without her making any great difference in the first from the latest form of the verses which embodied it. . . . (lxviii-lxix)


Challenges to the critical reception of Rossetti's poetry have not focused solely on artistic technique. Rossetti's compelling biography—her own and that of her famous siblings—has further clouded the critical assessment of her work. Rossetti was born on December 5, 1830, in London, England to Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian political refugee and eventual professor of Italian at Kings College, London, who immigrated to England in 1824, and Frances Polidori Rossetti, a half-English and half-Italian woman who was trained as a governess. Christina and her older sister, Maria Francesca, were educated at home by their mother. Maria, the oldest sibling, would eventually join the Anglican Sisterhood of All Saints in 1873 and would also publish a biography of Dante and a book on religious instruction. Christina's older brothers were Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti (later painting and publishing under the name Dante Gabriel Rossetti) and William Michael Rossetti, first a civil servant, a position he took at his father's premature death, and later an editor of many literary works, including his sister Christina's poetry. Both brothers were founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.1 Christina Rossetti was involved in the movement in the early days, contributing seven of her poems to the short-lived Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ, as well as modeling for Dante Gabriel's paintings The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini!, but she never became a formal member of the Brotherhood.2 Some scholars posit that she was, by nature, reticent to put herself forward in such a male-centric group. Sharon Smulders argues, however, that "because the PRB was jealous of its masculine privilege, the group accorded her only a marginal status" (23).

Beyond the Brotherhood, the Rossettis were a learned, close-knit, and creative family. Christina Rossetti remained within this primary family unit her entire life, never marrying, and she cared for and eventually buried her father, mother, two aunts, a brother, and a sister before her own death in 1894 of recurrent breast cancer. The Christina Rossetti myth that has had an enormous effect on the critical reception of her poetry revolves around two elements of her biography: her two broken engagements and her precarious health.

Rossetti suffered serious health problems her entire life: adolescent undefined illnesses misdiagnosed as tuberculosis and angina pectoris; a serious attack of Grave's Disease from 1870 to 1872 that almost took her life, affected her heart, and seriously affected her physical appearance; and breast cancer that resulted first in a mastectomy in 1892 and then her death in 1894. The earlier illnesses remain a subject of great conjecture. They were first, and most egregiously, diagnosed as depression brought on by "a kind of religious mania," a diagnosis told to Rossetti's first biographer, Mackenzie Bell, by Rossetti's attending physician, Charles Hare (qtd. in Harrison, "Illness," 422), and later called psychosomatic, the product of Rossetti's internal conflict with "the religious values dominant in her cultural milieu" (Harrison 422). These dominant religious values to which Rossetti unquestionably adhered (but which may or may not have contributed to her pubescent illnesses) may also have played a role in her decision to remain unmarried.

Rossetti's first engagement was to the painter James Collinson, another original member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Collinson first proposed in 1848 but was refused by Rossetti, supposedly on the grounds of his recent conversion to Catholicism.3 Collinson returned to the Church of England and proposed a second time, a proposal that Rossetti accepted, but she broke off the engagement for good in 1850 when Collinson re-joined the Catholic Church. Her second proposal, in 1866, came from the scholar and linguist Charles Bagot Cayley, who had earlier been a student of Christina's father. Her motivation for refusing Cayley's proposal, a man she clearly favored and who remained a close friend for the rest of her life, is unclear, although her brother, William Michael, in his memoir claims that this rejection, too, was on religious grounds, that his sister inquired into his religious creed and found it "either strictly wrong or woefully defective" [liii]. Scholars also suggest other factors: ill health, financial obstacles, or Rossetti's unwillingness to give up her personal freedom. Whatever her most compelling reason, Rossetti's choice to live unmarried for the remainder of her life fueled the Rossetti myth that her health and marital status were tied to her psychosomatic illnesses and restrictive religious beliefs, preventing her from enjoying the fulfillment of love "from a Victorian sense that she would be yielding to her baser nature" and giving to a man "what was reserved for Christ" ("Christina Rossetti" 599).

The Rossetti myth gained power from Rossetti's choice in 1860 to engage in a decade of social work at the St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary (House of Charity) in Highgate. Women's charitable institutions, which were organized sisterhoods providing nursing care and religious support for prostitutes, unmarried mothers, and homeless women, began in the 1840s through the Oxford Movement's leaders, John Henry Newman and E. B. Pusey, and were popularized by the work of Florence Nightingale. Diane D'Amico notes that Anglican religious sisterhoods did not meet with easy acceptance, not so much because the Tractarian Movement was an Anglo-Catholic movement but because the sisterhoods emphasized the vow of celibacy: "As social historians have made clear, most Victorians considered marriage a woman's highest goal and noblest vocation, and thus a vow of celibacy was seen as a direct attack on the Victorian celebration of marriage, motherhood, and family" (47). Unlike her older sister, Maria, who actually joined a sisterhood, Christina Rossetti simply worked for one until her health disqualified her. Yet her fragile health (always suspected by the Victorian patriarchy to be psychosomatic in some way) and her choice of celibacy rather than a vow of celibacy have resulted in a lingering belief that Rossetti was "an intensely personal and utterly spontaneous writer whose work demonstrates her character as a woman disappointed in love, an invalid preoccupied with her own frail mortality, and a pious, rather unworldly recluse," that Sharon Smulders laments has resulted in "a sentimental parody of [Rossetti's] life" (1-2).

Contemporary scholarship has set about attempting to correct the sentimental parody, but in the process has provided a new conundrum: correcting the parody has produced another. Feminist, Psychoanalytic, and New Historicist criticism that attempts to portray Rossetti only as a radical reformer who rejects the patriarchy inherent in the Christian church and the phallocentric language of her Victorian Age does perhaps as much damage as those critics who wish to see Rossetti as a reclusive, lonely virgin longing for the final release of death. The truth is much more complex, much more human, as can be illustrated in a reading of three of her poems: "In the bleak mid-winter," "Echo," and Goblin Market." These poems demonstrate that Rossetti, in life and in art, both reinforces and brings into question the prevailing ideologies of her day.


"In the bleak mid-winter," appearing in the Collected Poems as "A Christmas Carol," first appeared in Scribner's Monthly in 1872 and was later added to a new addition of Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1875. It remains in contemporary times a beloved Christmas carol set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906.4 This poem represents Rossetti's allegiance to her devout religious convictions, which were based in the Anglo-Catholic expression of the Oxford (Tractarian) Movement in England beginning in 1833. While much of England in Victorian times struggled with doubt and alienation as the result of the "disappearance of God," in many of Rossetti's poems she professes the devout High Anglican beliefs she shared with her mother and her sister, Maria. This poem represents the greater half of Rossetti's poetic corpus, which is devotional in nature. "In the bleak mid-winter" is composed in trochaic trimeter with substitute feet, one compelling substitution being line 16 and the three-heavy-stress emphasis on the poem's subject: Jesus Christ. The poem reconstructs the scene of Christ's birth from the gospel of Luke through the imagination of the inside speaker: "Angels and archangels / May have gathered there (ll. 25-6; emphasis mine). Rossetti's somewhat fanciful reconstruction sets Christ's birth in the meteorological climate of the West, where she uses imagery, repetition, simile, and internal rhyme in the first stanza to represent the frozen, fallen, "bleak" world as unreceptive to Christ's redemptive grace ("Earth stood hard as iron, / Water like a stone;" (ll. 3, 4). Rossetti's purpose is two-fold in this poem. She compares Christ's lowly birth with his coming reign ("Heaven and earth shall flee away / When He comes to reign:" (ll. 11, 12)) while simultaneously providing the inside speaker's personal response to faith in the final stanza: "Yet what I can I give Him, / Give my heart" (ll. 39-40). "In the bleak mid-winter" is a meditation on the mystery of faith: the human vs. divine nature of Christ and the speaker's humble acceptance of and gratitude for that eternal truth.

Rossetti's brother, William Michael, himself an agnostic, defined his sister's religious faith unappealingly:

The dominating element in her daily life—and perhaps the one which makes it hardest for us in the twentieth century to feel close to her—was religion; religion of an old-fashioned rigidity that turned life into a bitter and constant struggle for spiritual perfection, that elevated Duty and renunciation above all, that circumscribed and directed her daily ways. (qtd. in Palazzo 1)

Mary Arseneau counters, however, that "[q]uite simply, here was an intellectual tradition in which William Michael had neither the interest nor the expertise to judge his sister's knowledge" (xiv-xv). What her brother failed to grasp was that Christina Rossetti's theology, at its most personal, was a call to action, to "give her heart," but to give that and more, evidenced by her work for the St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary. As Mary Arseneau concludes: "Many essays also demonstrate how Rossetti's religion authorized and compelled her cultural critique. Rossetti rejected the values of her society; but the result of this abjuration is, paradoxically, not an escape from the world but an engagement of a most extreme kind" (xvi).

This engagement on Rossetti's part brings into question the common assumption of her yearning for death, what one scholar calls her "characteristic morbidity" (Campbell 404). Rather than accepting that the subject of death is "one of the reasons that her poetry is not more popular today" (Campbell 404), we can analyze death and the longing for death as not only the Victorian replacement of Eros with Thanatos but also a trope Rossetti uses to represent mystical, unfulfilled yearning, at times a yearning for spiritual fulfillment but also, at times, an erotic yearning for the Beloved that is also left unfulfilled.

"Echo," composed in 1854 and published in 1862 in Goblin Market and Other Poems, is one such poem of unfulfilled desire for the Beloved and stands, therefore, as an example of the secular world in Rossetti's poetry. Yet all is not as simple as it first appears. "Echo" is a poem that Christina Rossetti altered significantly in revision, removing four stanzas.5 Susan Conley asserts that "[a]ll clues to a coherent theological framework for the poem have been covered over or excised in the published poem" (279). Since Rossetti, contrary to her brother's claims in his memoir, was a careful, diligent craftsperson in the revision of her poetry, the elimination of the theological context is significant, focusing the reader on the passion and sadness of the inside speaker who, also, happens to be dead: "Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live / My very life again tho' cold in death:" (ll. 13, 14). Contrary to Conley's assertion that the poem resolves in a "macabre conjoining of sex and death" (280), the poem can instead be understood as a testament to the power of love that extends beyond the grave, an echo of the verse from Song of Solomon averring that "love is strong as death" (New Oxford Annotated Bible, Song of Sol. 8.6). The speaker's love is bittersweet, however, because while we can not assert exactly the speaker's location, we know that she is not in Paradise with those souls "brimfull [sic]of love," and the bittersweet, powerful image of the slow door of Heaven that once has let in the lovers, "lets out no more" (ll. 9, 12). The speaker's insistent imperative, "Come to me in the silence of the night; / Come in the speaking silence of a dream;" (ll. 1, 2) reminds the reader that the relationship is ended, if for no other reason than the speaker is dead and left only with "memory, hope, love of finished years" (l. 6). The echo of the title is repeated throughout the stanzas in the use of alliteration and repetition ("how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet" (l. 7)), assonance, and internal rhymes to emphasize that while the love is no longer "real," it is still intense. Should the Beloved return in dreams, the speaker can give "Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:" (l. 16), a yearning for a physical union (or reunion?) that was once possible in life: "Speak low, lean low, / As long ago, my love, how long ago" (ll. 17, 18). Since Rossetti believed in Paradise, "this glorious world of satisfaction and joy, a place where even the beloved who had died would be seen again" (D'Amico 67), perhaps the love the speaker still feels for her Beloved is, ultimately, salvific.

These two poems reveal the two sides of Rossetti's poetic consciousness, the sacred and the profane, that give her poetry its characteristic tension between human and divine love. As Brad Sullivan writes, " [t]he surface calm of Rossetti's lyrics, the control and grace of her style, is imposed on an underlying vision of worldly existence which is full of alienation, complexity and uncertainty. A powerful tension between control and chaos, between self-assertion and self-destruction, creates much of the intensity of her poetry" (228). Nowhere is this tension more hotly debated than in Rossetti's most well-known and studied poem, "Goblin Market," written in 1859 and published in Rossetti's first commercially published volume of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems, in 1862. Multiple readings of this poem exist: theological interpretations; capitalist "market" economy readings; feminist readings; psychoanalytic readings; and cultural readings, expressly in terms of sexuality and the Victorian Age. Some scholars call the poem a fairy tale; others insist that the poem was not intended as a children's poem. Rossetti, herself, remained coy, insisting to her brother William Michael that "she did not mean anything profound" by the "fairy tale" (Rossetti, WM 459), certainly an ironic statement when balanced against the plethora of scholarly discourse about the poem. "Goblin Market," however, is an exemplar of the assertion that Rossetti is both a supporter and a subverter of the social and religious hegemonies in which she lived, a poem that demonstrates that "Rossetti's complete commitment to her Christian faith, her experience as a Victorian woman, and her poetic vocation are inextricably interwoven" (D'Amico 17).

"Goblin Market" employs Rossetti's hallmark irregular meter, inventive, precise diction, and what Suzy Waldman calls "spontaneous" imagery (544), most notably displayed in Rossetti's fantastic poems, to invoke the world where innocent maidens are lured to destruction by goblin treachery. In one important way, this world never abandons Rossetti's traditional belief in a patriarchal theology: the goblin fruit, in all its orgiastic ripeness, represents all the temptations that possibly could threaten Victorian womanhood, most notably erotic abandonment. Laura, soon to fall under the spell of the goblin men, understands their threat in her pious warning to her sister, Lizzie: "'Lie close,' Laura said, / Pricking up her golden head: / 'We must not look at goblin men, / We must not buy their fruits:'" (ll. 40-44). The two sisters know what happens to young maidens who trespass the cultural and religious lessons of Victorian England's patriarchy in the character of Jeanie, the first maiden to succumb to the goblin threat, lying in her grave, "[w]ho should have been a bride; / But who for joys brides hope to have / Fell sick and died / In her gay prime" (ll. 313-16). Jeanie is clearly the figure of the fallen woman in Victorian culture, the maiden who, since she tastes the goblin fruit, surrenders her virginity and becomes the other: the prostitute.6 Finally, the coda of the poem can be read to represent a return to the traditional patriarchal hegemony that represents Victorian England in the poem, as both Laura and Lizzie become wives "[w]ith children of their own" (l. 545). Yet Rossetti, within the seemingly conventional world of fundamental Anglican morality, subverts the poem's traditional moral in two major ways: her depiction of both feminine sexuality and feminine spirituality.

"Goblin Market" is decidedly a woman's world: the only males who inhabit the poem are the goblins themselves. They sound their own imperative (an echo of the opening two lines of "Echo"), "'Come buy our orchard fruits, / Come buy, come buy:'" (ll. 3, 4), to which first Jeanie and then Laura will succumb. Laura is the curious, sensuous sister who is intrigued by the enchantment the goblins and their fruit promise; Lizzie, on the other hand "has completely assimilated the female social code and sees the woman's confined place and her domestic duty as sacred" (Campbell 403). Lizzie warns her sister: "'No, no, no; / Their offers should not charm us, / Their evil gifts would harm us'" (ll. 64-66). Laura, unable to resist the lure of the forbidden, exchanges a lock of her golden hair to partake the fruit, and Rossetti's use of overtly sexual language underscores what Laura has, thereby, given up: "She sucked and sucked and sucked the more / Fruits which that unknown orchard bore; / She sucked until her lips were sore;" (ll. 134-36). These images of female sexuality occur notably in two more places in the poem, one covert and one overt. After Laura has eaten of the goblin fruit, she and Lizzie go to sleep, "Golden head by golden head, / Like two pigeons in one nest / Folded in each other's wings, / They lay down in their curtained bed . . . Cheek to cheek and breast to breast / Locked together in one nest" (ll. 184-87; 197-98). Once Lizzie undergoes the metaphoric rape by the goblins to bring back to Laura the juices of the fruits that will restore her to health, she offers her body to her sister in an act of salvation:

"Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men." (ll. 468-74)

This passage is remarkable for multiple reasons, but most clearly for its unselfconscious depiction of female sexuality (Suzy Waldman points out that contemporary critics are likely to "over determine their readings with gender anxieties [Rossetti] did not share" (541)) and a radical re-telling of the story of Christ as the male redeemer, subverted by Lizzie who becomes the Christ figure herself, and in a parody of the Christian language of the Eucharist, saves Laura by the redeeming power of sisterly love. Indeed, as Laura lives to tell her own children, "'For there is no friend like a sister . . . To fetch one if one goes astray . . . To strengthen whilst one stands'" (ll. 562; 565; 567). In this way, Rossetti, while never abandoning the fundamental truths of her Anglican, patriarchal faith, "allow[s] women to participate equally in the positive roles of Christian mythology" (Casey 75).

While various scholars decry the coda of "Goblin Market" as reductive and repressive—Laura and Lizzie re-enter Victorian patriarchy to take up roles as wives and mothers—there can be no arguing that Rossetti's poem privileges positive female sexuality, spirituality, and empowerment. Laura's ability to re-enter society and regain her purity (and, thus, her suitability for marriage) through sororal love, something no woman of St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary could have done, is, indeed, a radical subversion of Rossetti's life and times, and if the poem is "just" fantasy, and if "[a] world of female potency and exclusively female happiness appears in [her] works only covertly, as fantasy" (Mermin 116), "Goblin Market" nevertheless affirms the possibilities inherent in the duality within which Rossetti lived.

Christina Rossetti lived the full breadth of human experience in her imaginative life while outwardly conforming to the faith that represented Victorian sense and sensibility. Rossetti, the Victorian enigma, with a characteristic tension caused by an inherent duality in her work, is both a supporter and a subverter of the cultural, social, and religious hegemonies in which she lived, an artist who through the aesthetic process transforms biography and the historical moment into carefully crafted, transcendent art.


1In 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti joined William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, whose intent was to turn away from pre-existing schools of art. Specifically, the Brotherhood expressed hostility toward the artistic tradition that descended from Raphael (1483-1520) as the Master who set down, as they saw it, "mechanical" requirements for art. They were equally hostile towards the authority of 19th Century academic painting represented by the Royal Academy of Art. They looked backwards for their inspiration to Quattrocentro art and the Flemish school that preceded the High Renaissance. The founding members of the group of 19th Century English writers and painters were John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, William Michael Rossetti (who was secretary of their meetings and later edited the Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ ), Thomas Woolner, Frederick George Stephens, and James Collinson. Later affiliated members included Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris. Since the group avoided a careful definition of their creed, agreeing only that it should be non-dogmatic, the movement becomes difficult to define, although their highest calling was fidelity to nature and the idea that the painter should paint whatever he sees and not be restricted by the rules of formal art. Their artistic works, initially all signed "P R B," are characterized by supernatural elements, mystical iconography, and medieval subject matter.

2On the one hand, Dante Gabriel Rossetti can be viewed as a great influence on his sister and her art, critiquing her poems, offering advice on which poems to include in her publications, and providing illustrations for her books. Indeed, Gabriel proposed the title for one of Christina's most famous poems, "Goblin Market," originally titled "A Peep at the Goblins." On the other hand, it is clear from their correspondence that Christina never relinquished artistic control, including refusing her brother's advice—sometimes heatedly—when she felt her judgment to be more correct than his.

3 Christina Rossetti, her mother, and her sister, Maria, were devout members of the Church of England (Anglican), a faith tradition not shared by her brothers or her father. The three women were participants in the Oxford Movement of the 1840s, known also as Tractarianism, a movement that wished to revive the High Church traditions of the Anglican Church. The central idea of the movement was the insistence on the Anglican Church as a branch of the historic Roman Catholic Church. The Oxford Movement moved the mother and two daughters from an Evangelical Protestant to an Anglo-Catholic orientation based upon a series of writings called Tracts for the Times (1833), ranging from short leaflets to complex treatises covering a wide range of theological issues. Prominent Tractarians were: John Henry Newman, W.J.E. Bennett, Henry W. Burrows, and E.B. Pusey. Beginning in 1843, Christina Rossetti worshipped at Christ Church, Albany Street, a church heavily influenced by the Oxford Movement under the oversight of Reverend William Dodsworth, the priest there until his conversion to Catholicism in 1850. The leaders of the Oxford Movement advocated the organized sisterhoods—women's charitable institutions—for which both Christina and Maria worked as ways to give purpose to the lives of single women and to relieve the suffering of the poor and sick.

4Virginia Woolf is one of many readers who has responded to the musicality of Rossetti's poetry. In The Second Common Reade she writes: "Your [Rossetti's] instinct was so sure, so direct, so intense that it produced poems that sing like music in one's ears—like a melody by Mozart or an air by Gluck" (242). Besides the popular setting of "Mid-Winter" by Holst, the poem has been treated by Harold Edwin Darke, Benjamin Britten, and at least five more 20th Century composers. "Echo" was set to music in Rossetti's lifetime by Mary Ann Virginia Gabriel, most recently treated by composer David Dickau as the third movement of his "Of Life and Love" song suite in 2006. Even "Goblin Market" was made into a cantata in Rossetti's lifetime by Edward Aguilar, whom Dante Gabriel, in a letter to his mother, calls "some venturous mortal" whose composition "would hardly do for a five or ten minutes' brilliant trifling at the evening piano" (Rossetti, DG 215).

5The stanzas that Rossetti removed can be found in the textual notes to the Variorum Edition of The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, edited by R.W. Crump, p. 247.

6Sharon Smulders points out that "[t]he concerns addressed by the Anglican sisterhoods are also those Rossetti raises in much of the verse composed in the 1850s and 1860s" (12), the time during which "Goblin Market" was written. It is noteworthy that Rossetti dedicates "Goblin Market" to her sister, Maria, who would eventually join the Anglican Sisterhood of All Saints in 1873. Maria and Christina's charitable work at St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary would have exposed them to women who met the same fate as the fallen Jeanie in "Goblin Market," and Rossetti would have been certain of her symbolic meaning within the poem: "Because the Victorians rested their sense of decency, morality, and familial cohesion on the very human shoulders of an etherealized womanhood, if a woman fell, she fell utterly" (Escobar 133).

Works Cited

Arseneau, Mary. "Introduction." The Culture of Christina Rossetti: Female Poetics and Victorian Contexts. Ed. Mary Arseneau, Antony H. Harrison, and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Athens: Ohio UP, 1999: xiii-xxii. Print.

Campbell, Elizabeth. "Of Mothers and Merchants: Female Economics in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market." Victorian Studies 33.3 (1990): 393-410. Print.

Casey, Janet Galligani. "The Potential of Sisterhood: Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market" Victorian Poetry 29.1 (1991): 63-78. Print.

"Christina Rossetti." Ed. Walter E. Houghton and C. Robert Stange. Victorian Poetry and Poetics. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968: 599-600. Print.

Conley, Susan. "Rossetti's Cold Women: Irony and Liminal Fantasy in the Death Lyrics." The Culture of Christina Rossetti: Female Poetics and Victorian Contexts. Ed. Mary Arseneau, Antony H. Harrison, and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Athens: Ohio UP, 1999: 260-84. Print.

Curran, Stuart. "The Lyric Voice of Christina Rossetti." Victorian Poetry 9 (1971): 287-299. Print.

D'Amico, Diane. Christina Rossetti: Faith, Gender, and Time. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1999. Print.

Escobar, Kirsten E. "Female Saint, Female Prodigal: Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market.' Religion and the Arts. 5.1-2(2001): 129-54. Print.

VHarrison, Antony H. "Christina Rossetti: Illness and Ideology." Victorian Poetry 45:4 (2007): 415-28. Print.

Mermin, Dorothy. "Heroic Sisterhood in Goblin Market." Victorian Poetry 21.1 (1983): 107-118. Print.

New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical Books. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy. New York: Oxford UP, 1991. Print. New Revised Standard Vers.

Palazzo, Lynda. Christina Rossetti's Feminist Theology. Basingstroke, England: Palgrave, 2002. Print. Cross-Currents in Religion and Culture.

Rossetti, Christina. The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti. Ed. R.W. Crump. Vol. 1. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1979. Print. 3 vols.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. "To Frances Rossetti." 29 November 1879. Letter 2143 of The Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Ed. Oswald Doughty & John Robert Wahk. 4 vols. Oxford: Claredon P, 1965-67. Print.

Rossetti, William Michael, ed. The Poetical Works of Christina Georgiana Rossetti. London: Macmillan, 1904. Print.

Sullivan, Brad. "'Grown sick with hope deferred': Christina Rossetti's Darker Musings." Papers on Language and Literature. 32.3 (1996): 227-43. Print.

Smulders, Sharon. Christina Rossetti Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1996. Print. Twayne's English Authors Series.

Waldman, Suzy. "'O Wanton Eyes Run Over': Repetition and Fantasy in Christina Rossetti." Victorian Poetry. 38.4 (2000): 533-53. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. "I am Christina Rossetti." The Second Common Reader. 1932. New York: Harvest-Harcourt, 1986. 237-44. Print.

Two Poems by Christina Rossetti


Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

Oh dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again tho' cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.


"In the bleak mid-winter" [A Christmas Carol]

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.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Throng'd the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,--
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


Works by Christina Rossetti


Verses (London: privately printed at G. Polidori's, 1847).
Goblin Market and Other Poems, (Cambridge & London: Macmillan, 1862).
The Prince's Progress and Other Poems, illustrated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Macmillan, 1866).
Poems (Boston: Roberts, 1866).
Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (London: Routledge, 1872; Boston: Roberts, 1872; revised and enlarged edition, London: Macmillan, 1893).
A Pageant and Other Poems (London: Macmillan, 1880; Boston: Roberts, 1881).
Poems (Boston: Roberts, 1882; enlarged edition, London & New York: Macmillan, 1890).
New Poems, Hitherto Unpublished or Uncollected, edited by William Michael Rossetti (London & New York: Macmillan, 1896).
Monna Innominata: Sonnets and Songs, T. B. Mosher, 1899.


• "Dante, an English Classic," Churchman's Shilling Magazine and Family Treasury, 2 (1867): 200-205.
Commonplace and Other Short Stories (London: Ellis, 1870; Boston: Roberts, 1870).
Annus Domini: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year (Oxford & London: Parker, 1874).
Speaking Likenesses, with Pictures thereof by Arthur Hughes (London: Macmillan, 1874; Boston: Roberts, 1875).
Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies on the Benedicite. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London & Brighton, 1879; New York: Young, 1879).
Called to be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studies. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London & Brighton, 1881; Young, 1881).
Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandment. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London & Brighton 1883; New York: Young, 1883).
• "Dante: The Poet Illustrated out of the Poem," Century, 27 (1884): 566-573.
Time Flies: A Reading Diary. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London & Brighton, 1885; Boston: Roberts, 1886).
The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London & Brighton, 1892; New York: Young, 1892.
Maude: A Story for Girls (London: Bowden, 1897; enlarged edition, Chicago: Stone, 1897).
• "A Harmony on First Corinthians XIII," New and Old, 7 (January 1879): 34-39.
Redeeming the Time: Daily Musings for Lent (Young, 1903).

Christina Rossetti
Years: 1830-1894
Birthplace: England
Language(s): English, Italian
Forms: fantasy poems; children’s verses; conventional verse forms including sonnets, ballads, and rondeau; devotional poetry and prose
Subjects: nature; sacred and secular love; faith; renounced desire; death
Entry By: Kathryn Voorhees
32 Poems
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