‘A Helpmeet For Him’ by Christina Rossetti is a three-stanza poem that is divided into two sets of four lines, or quatrains, and one set of three lines, or tercet. Each of these stanzas follows a consistent rhyme scheme. They conform to a pattern of ABAC BAB ACAC. This strange ordering of rhyme is made more interesting by the repetition of the word “made” at the end of line four in the first stanza and third stanza.
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There is also an interesting amount of repetition at the beginning of the lines. This is a combination of anaphora and alliteration. The word “Woman” begins three of the eleven lines. This choice is a clear example of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. Alliteration is seen through the use of the letter “H” at the beginning of four lines.
There is also repetition within the lines themselves. For example, the word “woman” appears three times in the first stanza, in the second stanza the word “stay” is used twice in the third line.
There is not one single metrical pattern that unifies the text. Instead, the lines mostly vary between seven and nine syllables. The exception is the final line of stanzas one and three. This line is a refrain, meaning that it is repeated word for word. It is significantly shorter than the others, containing only four syllables.
Consonance, the repetition of consonant sounds, and assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds, also add to the rhythm. Assonance is quite pronounced in the first stanza in which both the long and short “a” sounds are used a number of times.
The Title of the Poem – ‘A Helpmeet For Him’
Understanding the phrase, “A helpmeet for him,” is important before reading and attempting to analyze the text. The line comes from the book of Genesis, giving the poem a religious overtone. Specifically, it refers to someone who is compassionate and helpful, in this case, the wife.
The fact that Rossetti chose to place the poem within a religious context explains where the beliefs expressed came from. She speaks on the traditional view that a woman is there for a man’s pleasure, whatever that might mean.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that women were made for men. It is their job to charm and “Be not afraid” of their partners. It doesn’t matter what the man does, the woman must maintain her womanliness.
The speaker does not deny that women are strong, but that strength needs to be hidden behind layers of meekness. This, she thinks, is the proper way to act. The poem concludes with the speaker comparing women to Christ. They are just as hopeful and representative of good as he is.
Analysis of A Helpmeet For Him
Woman was made for man’s delight,–
Charm, O woman! Be not afraid!
His shadow by day, his moon by night,
Woman was made.
In the first lines of ‘A Helpmeet For Him’ the speaker begins by stating that women were made for the “delight” of men. This line, and the rest of the poem itself, are controversial today, but in Rossetti’s time, these beliefs were much more widespread.
She speaks to the general image of a woman and tells her to “Charm” man and to not be “afraid!” There is nothing to fear as “Woman was made” from men, as the book of Genesis states.
This first stanza as a whole is also a great example of alliteration. This is a technique that occurs when words are used in succession or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. In this case, the letter “m” is used throughout the stanza. It is contained within (consonance), or starts, eight of the words.
Her strength with weakness is overlaid;
Meek compliances veil her might;
Him she stays, by whom she is stayed.
The second stanza of ‘A Helpmeet For Him’ is a tercet and describes the different levels of a woman and how she is supposed to balance herself. By doing so, she makes herself more amenable to the man. Her actions will be more pleasing. For example, Rossetti states that any strength a woman has should be set inside her, behind her “weakness.” It is these weaknesses and the way she meekly complies with everything men tell her to do, which make her a more successful partner.
It is interesting to note in these lines that Rossetti is not contesting a woman’s strength and might. These things exist within women and men, but it is a woman’s job to keep them hidden. The stanza concludes with a line describing how the woman stays with the man, just like he “stays” or balances her. He is the are the equalizing force in her life, an anchor.
World-wide champion of truth and right,
Hope in gloom, and in danger aid,
Tender and faithful, ruddy and white,
Woman was made.
In the last four lines of ‘A Helpmeet For Him’ she adds that the woman is the “World-wide champion of truth and right.” There are no exceptions to this statement, a woman must always be these things, as well as those listed out in the next three lines.
She is always to be the hopeful light in the darkness and “Tender and faithful” to her husband. Last, she should be “ruddy and white,” or healthy, and at the same time white and pure. This is a phrase straight from the Bible, reminding the reader that they should be looking for religious connections. In fact, when these lines are considered together, it is easy to imagine Christ as the subject.
Women have many of the features of Christ and should strive, or so the speaker implies, to be more like him. This is what would make a man happy, and that’s really the goal.