A Bird Song by Christina Rossetti is a short three-stanza poem that is made up of sets of three lines or tercets. Each of these tercets has a unique rhyme scheme that allows them to connect to one another, as well as thrive in their separate patterns. The first stanza loosely follows the pattern, AAA, while the second turns to, BBC, and the third, BBD.
A Bird Song begins with the speaker stating that a certain amount of time, a “year almost,” has passed since he has seen the woman that he loves. There was a time when the two of them were together for an entire summer. The emotions they shared, and the joy that ran between them, lit up the world. Everything appeared in it’s most vibrant form. The sky was “bluer” and the grass was “greener.” Additionally, the “brambles” were “fewer.” The speaker did not fear getting cut by thorns or emotionally cut by the one he loved.
Unfortunately, this time as passed, and the present summer is only an echo of what once was. The speaker then seemingly jumps to an unrelated topic that the reader will come to understand as the basis of this piece. He begins to describe the mating habits of swallows and how he knows, by their presence, that summer has truly begun. There is no way for him to trick himself into thinking that it is not yet summer, the swallows are there as incontrovertible evidence.
As he elaborates on what he sees when he sees the swallows, the reader comes to understand the kind of relationship he is longing for. When the speaker spots one swallow, he knows it’s mate is not far behind. The two are never more than a moment apart. This is the type of life he wishes he was still apart of. He wants a love that never ends or takes a break.
Analysis of A Bird Song
It’s a year almost that I have not seen her:
Oh, last summer green things were greener,
Brambles fewer, the blue sky bluer.
The first stanza of A Bird Song begins with the speaker reminiscing on the past, and his feelings for, and about, someone he has not seen for “a year almost.” While it is not revealed to the reader who this person is, it is clear that she is incredibly important to the speaker.
It is traditional to assume that female writers write with a female speaker, but upon further reading, and analysis of the poet’s life, Rossetti has broken with tradition for this poem. She intended this piece to be read as though a male is speaking about a woman he has not seen for a long time, and deeply cares for.
Whomever the speaker may be, it does not matter as much as the emotions that are explained and expressed in the work. The one to whom this speaker refers is closely related, at least in his mind, to the days of summer.
He remembers the year before when they were together, and everything appeared much more vibrant and real than it does at this point in time. The grass, leaves, and trees “were greener.” Additionally, the inherent dangers in nature, such as brambles or thorns, were “fewer.” Finally, he states that the “blue” of the sky was “bluer.” Whether these facts are true or not, the speaker remembers loving the world to a greater extent when he was with this unnamed person.
The poet is using these representative elements of nature, brambles, plants, and the blue sky, to show the quality of life. There were fewer brambles because there was less worry, less chance of feeling hurt, or getting hurt.
It’s surely summer, for there’s a swallow:
Come one swallow, his mate will follow,
The bird race quicken and wheel and thicken.
In the second stanza, the speaker continues his remembrance by relating the mating patterns of swallows, to the relationship he had the previous summer. While it is not known what happened to his lover over the intervening months, something has kept her from returning to him. This will be expanded upon in the final stanza, but it is important to keep in mind as the speaker seems to completely switch tracks in this stanza.
The stanza begins with the speaker reaffirming to himself that it is “surely summer” now. Although it does not contain the vibrant colors of the previous year, he knows that it must be because of the swallows. The swallows are an obvious sign that the season has truly changed. While previously they might have been welcome, at this point they only serve to highlight the fact that he is alone.
He describes how during the summer when one sees, “one swallow,” the mate will be close behind. One never sees a lone bird without quickly spotting its companion. It is clear how this metaphor relates to the speaker’s own situation and why it would be important for him to describe.
The final line expresses the activity of the two swallows when they are together. The speaker is remembering when he and his partner engaged in similar joyous acts. The birds, “race quicken” and “wheel” about in the sky. The two come together, and separate, only to come together once more.
Oh happy swallow whose mate will follow
O’er height, o’er hollow! I’d be a swallow,
To build this weather one nest together.
In the final three lines of A Bird Song, the speaker makes the final connection between the acts of the swallow, and those that he wishes to engage in which his lost love. He returns to the sight of the birds and mourns for his own loss while celebrating the “happy” birds who always have a “mate” following close behind. The swallows are never alone, even when they momentarily seem to be.
In the last lines, it becomes clear to the reader how desperate the speaker is to be returned to his love, or at least to the same state of mind he was in last summer. He declares his wish that he could “be a swallow,” just so that he would not have to be alone. He would always have someone to build “one nest together,” in which they could last out any storm.
About Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti was born in London in 1830. As a young girl, she enjoyed studying classics, as well as novels and fairy tales. Her writing career began when she was twelve years old, and she published her first poems in 1848l when she was 18. Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published in 1862 and was widely praised.
She became known as the greatest female poet of her time, with much of her critical acclaim coming from the title piece of the book, Goblin Market and Other Poems. As well as being known for her writing, her political and social beliefs made her even more notorious. She was openly opposed to slavery, which was still being widely practiced in the American South, as well as cruelty to and experimentation on animals. Rossetti developed breast cancer in 1893 and died in 1894. Her grave can be found in Highgate Cemetery in London.