‘Love Came Down at Christmas’ was first published in Time Flies: A Reading Diary in 1885. At that time it went untitled. It was published eight years later with the title “Christmastide”. Since then, the poem has been set to music by more than four different composers and sung to melodies such as the Irish song “Garton”.
The theme of love is most prominent in this poem, but that love is specifically tied to religion. Religion, as much as love, is an import takeaway from this text. Rossetti was interested in how one ties into the next. The mood is uplifting, optimistic, and joyful. It is created through the poet’s tone which is clear and reverential throughout. The language is simple and accessible, allowing this poem to touch as many readers as possible.
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The poem describes “love,” Jesus Christ, coming down from heaven on Christmas. This “love” is on earth for all of humankind to feel and learn from. All those who subscribe to Christianity, and all those who do not, are part of it. Rossetti depicts “love” as “incarnate,” made flesh in a human body. Jesus is the embodiment of divine love and she sought to celebrate that fact through this short and memorable poem.
‘Love Came Down at Christmas’ by Christina Rossetti is a three-stanza poem that’s separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a specific rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD, changing end sounds as the poets fit. This helps with the musical quality of the text and is part of the reason that the poem has persisted in song form since its first publication. The meter alternates every other line, six syllables and seven syllables, that is until the last stanza where it goes up to eight.
Rossetti makes use of several poetic techniques in this poem. These include but are not limited to anaphora, epistrophe, and alliteration. The first, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “Love,” which begins eight of the twelve lines.
Anaphora’s opposite, epistrophe, is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. This can be seen with the use of “divine” and “sign” at the ends of lines two and four of stanzas one and two. Then, the sign appears again at the end of line four of stanza three.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Love,” “lovely,” and “love” in the second line of the first stanza or, “sacred sign” at the end of stanza two.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
In the first stanza of ‘Love Came Down at Christmas,’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. This line makes a simple statement about the Christmas season– that love appeared there. It “came down” from heaven in the form of Jesus Christ.
He was born to the Virgin Mary, a moment that was marked by the “Star and angels”. The “star” refers to the star of Bethelhem in the sky. It was seen by the three wise men who came to pay homage to the Christ Child. The “love” that came to earth that day was “love divine”.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
In the second stanza of ‘Love Came Down at Christmas’ by Christina Rossetti’ she speaks of the “Godhead”. In the Christian tradition “Godhead” refers to the divinity of the Christian God, the “Father, Son, and “Holy Spirit”. These lines celebrate God, the Christian religion, and the love and peace that came to earth that day. The love is “incarnate,” meaning that it is embodied in flesh, it has made it into human form.
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign
In the final stanza, Rossetti adds that “Love” is going to be the savior of all the human race. It is everything to everyone all the time. It will be “our token,” and belong to every person on the planet. When she speaks to “you” she isn’t talking to a specific person but to the entire human race.
The love will allow them to love not just God, but one another as well. It entered into the world for “all men”. It is both a “gift and sign”. All those who consider themselves a part of the Christian tradition have this love at the root of their religion. To Rossetti, it was at the center of religion itself.