‘At Home’ by Christina Rossetti is a four stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines, or octaves. Rossetti chose to structure this piece with a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of ABCB DEFE, alternating end sounds from stanza to stanza as she saw fit.
In customary fashion, the meter is also well structured. It is written almost entirely in iambic tetrameter. This means that the majority of the lines contain four sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. A reader will notice that a few lines, specifically the final line of each stanza, is in iambic trimeter. The stresses are in the same with this pattern but now there are only three sets of two beats.
A reader should also look for instances of alliteration in this piece. One good example is in line six of the first stanza. Here, the ‘p’ sound is repeated, a suitable choice for a scene features the speaker’s friends eating fruit. It mimics the sound of a mouth sucking and chewing food.
Summary of At Home
The poem begins with the speaker describing what it was like when she was first dead. She returned to her home, which is referenced in the title, and observed her close friends. They were under a tree, eating fruit drinking wine, and discussing their plans for tomorrow. All three of these things are impossible for the speaker to do but it is the planning that depresses her the most.
Now that she is dead she is stuck in the past, and states specifically that no one wants to go there. Her friends take turns shouting our desire to go on to “tomorrow.” The poem concludes with the speaker describing how she is trapped within her home, unable to stay in one room, and spend time with other people. Her surroundings are all the same as they were when she was alive, now she has changed irreparably.
Analysis of At Home
When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house:
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange boughs;
From hand to hand they pushed the wine,
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach;
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
For each was loved of each.
In the first stanza of ‘At Home’, the speaker begins by making a striking statement. She describes how when she was “dead” her spirit immediately when to a specific “house.” It is described as being “much-frequented” and turns out to be the “Home” referenced in the title.
When she makes it to the house she sees her “friends” there. They are sitting “beneath green orange boughs,” or orange trees which are covered in green leaves. These past companions of hers are enjoying themselves,. They are drinking wine and eating “plum and peach.” This image is one depicting the physical pleasures of life. It is important to remember that the speaker is dead. There is nothing more she can do than watch.
I listened to thier honest chat:
Said one: “To-morrow we shall be
Plod plod along the featureless sands,
And coasting miles and miles of sea.”
Said one: “Before the turn of tide
We will achieve the eyrie-seat.”
Said one: “To-morrow shall be like
To-day, but much more sweet.”
As previously mentioned, since the speaker is unable to make herself heard, she must content herself to listen in to their conversation. She hears how one of her friends says that they will “Plod plod,” or walk slowly, “along the featureless sand” tomorrow. The friends are going to see “miles and miles of sea.” They have a freedom that the speaker clearly wants for herself. She is unable to use her body, make an effort, and be rewarded by something “more sweet” every day.
The word “eyrie” is also used in this section. It appears while her friend is telling of how once they have walked for a period of time they will reach the penultimate viewpoint back on their lives. It will be like climbing to a bird’s nest, or eyrie, that looks out upon the days they’ve lived.
“To-morrow,” said they, strong with hope,
And dwelt upon the pleasant way:
“To-morrow,” cried they, one and all,
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon;
I, only I, had passed away:
“To-morrow and to-day,” they cried;
I was of yesterday.
In this stanza all of her friends begin to join in, one at a time, in the cries for “tomorrow.” Each one seems to be reaching forward for something more, something new in the future. They are more than prepared to start their long journey upon the sand.
By this point in ‘At Home’, it becomes clear that the speaker is looking on with envy for the lives the friends still have left to lead. They have many miles ahead of them and no need to return to “yesterday.” This particular fact hurts the speaker who knows that she is “of yesterday.” Now that she is dead, she has no claim on the future or even the present. No one wants to stay in one place, as she has to. She knows the whole world is going to move on without her and there’s nothing she can do about it.
I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the table-cloth;
I, all-forgotten, shivered, sad
To stay, and yet to part how loth:
I passed from the familiar room,
I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day.
In the final stanza, the speaker presents a striking contrast between herself and the friends she saw at the house. While they sit pleasantly under the tree, she is “comfortless.” Her body is cold, causing her to shiver, but not so much so that her suffering enters back into the real world.
The final lines of this piece are depressing and express the sentiments one might expect to feel if they were the first of their friends to die. After the speaker saw her friends leading their normal lives she was reminded of how lonely she is herself.
It also becomes clear that the “house” the speaker went to visit is her own home. She knows the rooms well and is doomed to spend the rest of time passing through them. She will no longer have any opportunity to “love.” The speaker states that she is to life as a guest to a house who only stayed for a day. It does not remember her, nor did it leave with her any of the pleasures she experienced previously.