Christina Rossetti

C hristina 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.

Christina Rossetti

 


Life Facts

  • Christina Rossetti was born in London, England in December of 183o.
  • Rossetti suffered from unstable health all her life
  • In 1862 Christina Rossetti’s most famous collection was published, ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems.’
  • Her 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.

Interesting Facts

  • 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.


Famous Poems by Christina Rossetti

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 different people 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 who loses her virginity, or picks the flowers off 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 the 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.

 


Early Life

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, and her mother, Frances Polidori, was the sister of a close friend to Lord Byron. 

 

The Rossetti lilt 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, also became writers. 

 

As a young girl, she was educated at home by her parents and experienced her first love for reading through the study of classics, novels, and fairy tales. She was known to find great inspiration from the words of John Keats, Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, and others. While Rossetti was still young, her family began to experience financial difficulties. 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. 


Literary Career

 When she was in her late teens, while writing under a pseudonym, her first two poems were published in a literary magazine. 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 which was not quite as well revived as ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems.’ She did not release another volume until six years later when she published Sing-Song, an illustrated collection of poems for children. 


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 would move 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 a number of other volumes including, A Pageant and Other Poems, in 1880, and Called to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied, in 1881.


Death

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 conscious 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, an autoimmune condition which causes weakness, a fast heartbeat, weight loss, and other symptoms. She was suffering greatly, so much so that her life almost came to an end 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 she’s ever been, 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 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.


Poems by Christina Rossetti

Explore poetry by Christina Rossetti below, analyzed by the team at Poem Analysis.

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