‘A Hope Carol‘ by Christina Rossetti is a twenty-four-line poem that can be separated into three sections of eight lines for a clear analysis. These sections each follow the same scheme of rhyme and repetition. They adhere to the pattern of, ABACDBDC, changing as the poet saw fit from section to section.
This straightforward looping rhyme scheme gives the poem an airy and wistful feeling. This is further emphasized by the speaker’s tone as she describes the images of hope in her life. Additionally, Rossetti utilized a significant amount of repetition in this piece. Each of the eight sections follows the same structure. They begin with the description of a liminal space and end with the speaker professing her longing for something in the future.
Each of the poem’s eight-line sections begins with describing a liminal, or in-between, space in which the speaker exists. In the first, she is between night and day, the second, between the stars and moon, and finally, in the third, between today and tomorrow. Within each one of these spaces, she is confronted by a sound that reminds her of something she “longs” for. Voices are calling and sound reverberating, falling, and rising around her. These noises remind her of her birds and the sounds of minstrels playing music.
‘A Hope Carol‘ concludes with the speaker’s final acceptance of the fact that her future, and all the things she most desires, may come today, or “may be” tomorrow. She knows she can’t control the world and is willing to wait to get what she wants the most.
Analysis of A Hope Carol
A night was near, a day was near,
Between a day and night
I heard sweet voices calling clear,
I heard a whirr of wing on wing,
But could not see the sight;
I long to see my birds that sing,
I long to see.
In the first eight-line section of ‘A Hope Carol‘ the poet introduces the reader to the structured style of this poem. The poet is going to stick to a very well-formatted, and thought-out pattern of repetition, rhyme, and rhythm. These choices all work together to create a particular feeling of wistful happiness and drawn-out longing.
The first lines of the poem place the speaker in a liminal, or in-between space. She is not fully existing in one place or another. In this instance, she is between night and day. The speaker states that “night was near” and “day was near.” Both of these markers of time are on the horizon, and she is in between them. There is no way for her to make a move to reach one or the other.
The poet chose to repeat this line, with a slight variation. This choice was in an effort to emphasize the fact that the speaker is stuck in this space, but not unhappily. The following lines attest to the general mood of her location.
From her location, between night and day, she can hear the sound of “sweet voices calling clear.” These are disembodied voices that are coming from the atmosphere of her world. They are distinctly described as being “sweet.” It is clear that the speaker believes that they mean no harm and represent good things to come.
Whatever message they are relaying, a piece of information the reader never receives, it is not bad. Additionally, they are not speaking for the sheer pleasure of speaking, but with a purpose. Their message is for the narrator alone.
In the second half of the section, the speaker describes something else she can hear in this space. There is a “whirr of wing on wing.” She is unable to see exactly what is making the noise, but it inspires in her a longing to see “my birds that sing.” The liminal space she is existing in has given her a sensorial experience that reminds her of something she loves. She suddenly wants to see and hear her birds. She “long[s]” for them when she didn’t previously.
Below the stars, beyond the moon,
Between the night and day
I heard a rising falling tune
I long to see the pipes and strings
Whereon such minstrels play;
I long to see each face that sings,
I long to see.
The second stanza follows a pattern that is identical to the first. The speaker begins by describing another similar but different liminal space of existence that she is occupying. This time she is “Below the stars” and “beyond the moon.” It is impossible to define this space as being anything other than between. She continues on to say that she is also “Between the night and day.” This is a piece of information the reader received earlier in the poem, and it is repeated here as a reminder that while the context has slightly changed, she is still mentally in the same spot.
Once more, the speaker hears a sound around her. This time it is that of a “rising falling tune.” It adheres to the liminality of the location. It comes and grows, presumably rising and falling in volume and pitch. It is not there just for its own sake, though, it’s their “calling” to the speaker, as the voices were in the first section.
Through its call, the speaker is reminded of the imagery of “pipes and strings / Whereon…minstrels play.” The sound has surfaced another memory in her head, and suddenly that is all she can think of. She is filled with a new longing to see the faces of the musicians and to see them play in person.
Today or may be not today,
Tonight or not tonight,
All voices that command or pray
Shall kindle in my soul such fire
And in my eyes such light
That I shall see that heart’s desire
I long to see.
The final section, and last eight lines, of ‘A Hope Carol‘, follow the pattern set out by the previous two. The liminality of the moment is further emphasized as the speaker states that what is to come might happen “Today or may be not today.” The events or events she is waiting for might come “Tonight or not tonight.” The exact nature of her future is unknown to her, as it should be. She is at peace with this fact and is actually relishes the beauty of her unknowing.
The third line references back to the sounds and voices which have been calling to her throughout the poem. She knows that they are there for her sake. They exist so that she can have a “fire” in her soul and a ‘light” in her eyes. These energy sources represent the hope that she kindles within herself and the parts which are renewed by the phenomenological elements of her existence. Her senses inspire her to hope by reminding her of the things that she values, and longs for, in life.
The final lines describe how at the end of all of this hoping, listening, and waiting, she “shall see” the desires of her heart that she longs “to see.” All her waiting will have been worthwhile.