‘As froth on the face of the deep’ by Christina Rossetti is an eight-line poem that is contained within one short block of text. The lines follow a consistent rhyme scheme. It conforms to the pattern of ABACABCD.
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Summary of As froth on the face of the deep
The poem contains a number of similes, all of which speak to the importance of having God in one’s life. The images are generally quite abstract, but in their own way bring the reader from the intangible down to the recognizable. By the time one gets to the end of the poem it is clear that all of these comparisons were meant to bolster one’s view of God in the workings of the world. Nothing can function without his presence.
Meter of As froth on the face of the deep
In regards to the metrical pattern, Rossetti structured the piece in iambic tetrameter, with one line of trochaic trimeter at the conclusion. The first seven lines contain four sets of two beats, making a total of eight syllables. The first of these beats is unstressed and the second stressed. Rossetti chose to diverge from this pattern in the final line, this was in order to place the proper emphasis on God, and make sure that the line stood out from the rest.
This makes sense when one considers how the syntax of the entire poem builds up to that final line. In contrast to the others, it contains three sets of two beats. The first of which is stressed and the second unstressed. A reader should note the emphasis placed on the word “God” and “Thee.”
The final line of the poem also provides the reader with the first example of end punctuation. The period after “Thee” shuts down the possibility of anything coming after. There is no room for exceptions, God is all there is, and the only reason for living.
Repetition and Imagery
A reader will also find consistency in the use of anaphora or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of a line. In the case of ‘As froth on the face…’ Rossetti used the word “As” at the beginning of six of the eight lines. This gives the poem a list-like quality that does not reach its resolution until the final two lines. The “As” statements are a series of similes that work to depict the futility of life if not lived for God.
‘As froth on the face of the deep’ is filled with a number of awe-inspiring images, especially in the first few lines. These are contrasted with the final similes which are much more mundane. Rossetti moves from speaking on “froth” in the sea to a harvest “no man shall reap.” This development, from the more ethereal to the everyday slowly brings the reader closer to their own life. The development also works to emphasize God’s ability to touch every part of the world. He is just as much involved with dreams as harvests.
Analysis of As froth on the face of the deep
As froth on the face of the deep,
As foam on the crest of the sea,
In the first two lines of this piece, the speaker introduces the first of her similes. Due to the revelatory nature of the final lines of the poem, a reader’s first time through ‘As froth on the face of the deep’ is always going to be different from their second. One will likely not be aware when entering into Rossetti’s similes that she is making comparisons to living life without God.
The first of these relates “froth on the face of the deep” to a lack of faith. The presence of froth, or the white foam created from the dissolution of organic matter, should not exist “on the face of the deep.” It would have no place on the bottom of the sea. That is not its proper place. A similar comparison happens in the second line.
As dreams at the waking of sleep,
As gourd of a day and a night,
Rossetti goes on in the third line to speak on the presence of dreams “at the waking of sleep.” Just like the foam/froth from the previous lines, the dreams do not accomplish anything if they occur as one is waking up. They are misplaced, useless, and in this particular case, quickly halted as one comes fully awake.
The fourth line is somewhat more abstract. The speaker refers to a “gourd.” This word usually refers to kind of fruit that has a hard shell. Perhaps Rossetti was considering that shell as a kind of container, as they are often used. In that case, “a day and a night” are supposed to fit into this single space. Without explanation, it is clear this is an impossibility.
As harvest that no man shall reap,
As vintage that never shall be,
Another clear comparison emphasizing the pointlessness of life without God occurs in the fifth line. Here, the speaker imagines a “harvest” that “no man shall reap.” Or more simply, a whole seasons’ crops that are grown, and then not picked. They exist for no purpose.
The next line is slightly more obscure but likely refers to something old, and of great taste. This could be a wine or another item. Either way, if it does not exist, then it can never age and become the thing it could’ve been. Again, this is another example of things being out of place and out of line with God.
Is hope if it cling not aright,
O my God, unto Thee.
The final two lines of ‘As froth on the face of the deep’ conclude the series of similes and make clear what exactly it is that Rossetti’s speaker has been talking about for the previous six lines. She states that everything mentioned above is only “hope” unless it “cling[s]…unto Thee.” The foam, harvests, vintages, and dreams, have no future unless they are devoted to God.
Rossetti chose to take the reader through this complicated string of abstract images in order to bring them closer to understanding her feelings about God. One should be without doubt at this point that faith is an important part of this speaker’s life. She wants to live in a way that allows her existence to be more and mean more. And the closer she gets to God, the more likely that’s going to be.