Christina Rossetti’s name is often not the first that poetry lovers think of when they consider the great Victorian poets. But her influence, skill, and beautiful poetic works rank as some of the best of that period or of any period before or after. She is best known today as the author of ‘Goblin Market’ and as the inspiration for generations of feminists and female writers looking to get a foothold in a male-dominated literary world.
Rossetti’s prose was influenced heavily by her devout religious beliefs, subscribing to the Christian faith. She is known to this day for her expertly executed lyricism and depth of emotion. Rossetti’s poetry was embedded with a timeless quality, articulating the struggles she had in the search for salvation. This theme runs throughout her verse, making her works relatable for many during the time period, and her unique poetic voice still captures audiences to this day. Rossetti was a prolific poet, producing over 1,000 pages of poetry in her ‘Complete Poems‘ and writing a variety of poem types, such as; ballads, narrative poems, lyrics, sonnets, and even in the form of Christmas carols.
About Christina Rossetti
- Christina Rossetti was born in London, England, in December 1830.
- Rossetti suffered from unstable health all her life
- In 1862 Christina Rossetti’s most famous collection was published, ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems.‘
- Christina Rossetti’s poetry was well-loved by some of the greatest poets of her time.
- In 1892 Rossetti was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in December 1894.
- Rossetti’s first poems were published when she was a teenager.
- Her father, Gabrielle Rossetti, was a poet and exile from the Italian city of Vasto.
- Her brother was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter, and poet.
- Rossetti was known to volunteer in her local community, helping “fallen” women who had become pregnant before marriage.
- She underwent a mastectomy late in life, but cancer returned, and she only lived for another two years.
- ‘In an Artist’s Studio‘ is a wonderful example of a Petrarchan sonnet. It depicts an artist and his obsession with a woman. He paints her over and over again, imagining her as a different person and in different situations. While he stares at her created image, she stares back at him.
- ‘An Apple Gathering‘ is an extended metaphor that describes the difficulties a woman faces when she loses her virginity or picks the flowers of her apple tree before it bears fruit. The main character does just this and falls into a deep depression. Her life is ruined; no one is going to want to marry her or even associate socially with her. This poem has added meaning when one considers the time that Rossetti spent helping women who were in just that situation.
- ‘Goblin Market‘ is undoubtedly Rossetti’s best-known poem. It is longer than most of those on this list and quite haunting. It follows the story of two sisters, who are often described as having an underlying sexual tension, as one is drawn in by the goblins that they aren’t supposed to engage with.
- ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘ is now one of the best-loved English Christmas carols. It describes the birth of the Christ Child and the visitors who came to the manger. Rossetti’s speaker contemplates what kind of gift would be appropriate for the occasion and only comes to a conclusion at the end of the poem that she only needs to give God her heart.
- ‘As froth on the face of the deep‘ is filled with rich imagery that depicts God’s ability to touch every part of the world. Rossetti was a deeply religious person whose spirituality often came through in her poetry. God, the poem concludes, is at the center of all things.
Explore more Christina Rossetti poems.
Christina Rossetti was born on what is now Hallam Street in London, England, in December of 1830. Her parents were intimately connected to the arts community, specifically the realm of literature. Her father, Gabrielle Rossetti, was a poet and exile from the Italian city of Vasto in Abruzzo. Her mother, Frances Polidori, was the sister of a close friend of Lord Byron.
The Rossetti tilt towards the arts clearly influenced the children as they were all inclined towards literature. Alongside Christina Rossetti, who was the youngest of the children, the best-known Rossetti is likely her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He is recognized as a crucial founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and as a prolific writer and painter. Christina Rossetti’s sister, Maria, and another brother, William Michael Rossetti, also became writers.
As a young girl, she was educated at home by her parents and experienced her first love for reading by studying classics, novels, and fairy tales. She was known to find great inspiration from the poems of John Keats, Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, and others. While Rossetti was still young, her family began to experience financial difficulties, which led them to move to Camden Town, from Charlotte Street, in 1851. Her father was mentally and physically unwell and quit his job, forcing Rossetti’s mother to enter the workforce as a teacher. The stressful home situation sent Rossetti into a mental breakdown when she was only fourteen, and she was forced to leave school.
Rosetti’s poem ‘Time Flies: A Reading Diary‘ talks about her childhood and how she was close to nature in her earliest years, but a move to London ended that.
When she was in her late teens, while writing under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne, her first two poems were published in a literary magazine. It was under this name that she would provide seven poems to ‘The Germ’, a Pre-Raphaelite journal. She continued to contribute to it throughout the early 1850s, and in 1862 her most famous collection was published. It was known as ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems,’ and included her most well-known piece, ‘Goblin Market.’ It was widely praised after its release. She received positive reviews from critics in publications like ‘The London Review’ and ‘The British Quarterly Review.’ Her career was firmly established at this point, and she was receiving encouragement from the greatest poets of the day.
Rossetti was known to volunteer in her local community, helping “fallen” women who had become pregnant before marriage. She was passionate about the social injustices experienced by women and the exploration of themes of temptation and love. Although she never actively stated her support of feminism, it is known that she was against slavery, as well as the exploitation of young girls. Her second collection was published in 1866, titled, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, a fairy-tale-like volume that was not quite as well revived as ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems.’ She did not release another volume until six years later when she released a collection for children. ‘Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book,’ published in 1872, was very well received, particularly celebrated for the illustrations from artist Arthur Hughes.
During her career, there was a constant debate as to whether Elizabeth Barrett Browning or herself was the greatest and most talented poet of the time. However, after Browning’s death in 1861, many poetry lovers regarded Christina Rossetti as the rightful heir to the poetic throne.
At one point in 1882, Rosetti actually was considering starting literary biographies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Adelaide Proctor.
Writing Career and Relationships
Her next published volume was ‘Annus Domini: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture,’ a devotional text which explored the religious themes of poetry. She continued to publish, and her collection of three tales, Speaking Likeness, came out in 1874. Two years later, the family moved from their home in Euston’s Square to Bloomsbury. Her sister Maria died of cancer soon after, and Rossetti’s memories of her were recorded in Time Flies.
Throughout the following two decades, Rossetti published several other volumes, including A Pageant and Other Poems, in 1880 and Called to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally StudieCalled to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied in 1881.
Rossetti suffered from unstable health all her life, and in the late 1840s, she became ill once more. At the same time, she was facing an important crisis of consciousness which inspired experimentation with various verse forms. She maintained the span of her writing skills throughout her life and wrote many ballads, sonnets, and hymns.
Rossetti’s health had not improved as she aged, and by the time she reached her fifties, she was in a constant battle with Graves’ disease, a thyroid-focused, autoimmune condition that causes weakness, a fast heartbeat, weight loss, and other symptoms. She was suffering greatly, so much so that her life almost ended in the early 1870s when she fought off a particularly virulent attack during which her hair fell out, her eyes swelled, and she occasionally lost consciousness. This crisis left her weaker than ever, but her writing continued.
In 1892 Rossetti was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy, but cancer returned, and she only lived for another two years before dying in December of 1894. Her grave can be found in Highgate Cemetery in London.
Influence from other Poets
Christina Rossetti’s poetry was notably influenced by writers such as her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and other Pre-Raphalite writers such as John Everett Millais. Others included John Keats, Matthew Lewis, and Ann Radcliffe. She, in turn, influenced writers such as Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, and Virginia Woolf.
Christina Rossetti is considered one of the greatest Victorian-era poets. Throughout her literary career, she and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were closely compared, and the debate about who was the best poet carried on. One of her most famous works was the collection ‘Goblin Market and Poems,’ released in 1862.
Unfortunately, at the age of 14, Christina Rossetti experienced a nervous breakdown. It is said that this was brought on by a number of family issues, including her father’s deteriorating mental and physical health and their increasing financial struggles. Her mental state forced her to leave school.
Christina Rossetti suffered from Graves’ Disease, which is a form of autoimmune hyperthyroidism. This occurred in her forties, which actually endangered her life. Fortunately, she got through the struggle but was left physically frail for the rest of her life.
Despite having a lover in James Collinson, it is said that Rosetti’s true love was her love and devotion to God. Interestingly, Collinson actually proposed to Rossetti, but she rejected him due to him being a Catholic.
Despite creating a number of well-received poems, without a doubt, the most popular work of Christina Rossetti’s literary career is ‘Goblin Market and Poems.’ Released in 1862, the poem in the collection, ‘Goblin Market,‘ explores sexual desire and presents it as a goblin. Other notable works include ‘The Prince’s Progress,’ ‘A Pageant,’ and ‘As froth on the face of the deep.’