‘Passing And Glassing‘ by Christina Rossetti is a three-stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines or octaves. Each of these octaves follows a specific rhyme scheme. They conform to the pattern of AABBBCCA. In regards to meter, Rossetti did not stick to a particular pattern. The lack of a regular rhythm is meant to put a reader off-balance, just like the women whose lives are passing before their eyes.
The most important images in ‘Passing and Glassing’ are flowers and the idea of the looking glass. From the second line, it is clear that the speaker is going to be analyzing the way women judge themselves. Both the idea of the looking glass and the flower symbolize the passage of time. A woman is able to track the fading of “her bloom” through the image in the metaphorical glass. “She” knows, as she ages, that her value to the rest of the world lessens. Eventually, she is going to be “laid / With withered roses in the shade” and “the fallen peach.” That which was once beautiful has become externally transformed, and to the world, that is all that matters.
The second stanza in particular is filled with comparisons to different types of flowers. There are the innocent violets and the mature lavender plants. All emotion, no matter which flower it is embodied in, ends up “dried-up.” Contrary to society’s long-held beliefs about women, the speaker makes clear that age does not equal death. She also uses the dried up flowers to represent beauty and comfort. By the end of the piece, the sights seen by women in their looking glass of flowers are leveled out with the larger history of the world. Some additional comfort should be taken from the fact that there’s nothing to be done about growing older. There is nothing new in the world, all emotion and change have been seen before.
Summary of Passing and Glassing
The poem begins with the speaker stating that the world is used by women as a looking glass. They look out at its innumerable changes and transformations and see their own path through time. When their worlds change, they know that they are changing too. Death is coming closer and soon they will be among the withered flowers on the ground.
In the second stanza, the speaker pushes the idea that just because a beautiful thing has been transformed doesn’t mean that it has lost any of its worth. She gives examples of dried lavender and violets.
The final stanza explains how womankind need not subscribe to the societal standards of value and beauty. There is much to be gained through age, such as wisdom on “good and ill.” She also expressed the simple fact that nothing happening now is new. Life on earth is born, ages, and then dies. That is how it’s always been and how it always will be.
Analysis of Passing And Glassing
All things that pass
Are woman’s looking-glass;
They show her how her bloom must fade,
And she herself be laid
With withered roses in the shade;
With withered roses and the fallen peach,
Unlovely, out of reach
Of summer joy that was.
In the first stanza of ‘Passing And Glassing‘ the speaker begins by stating that a woman looks out at the world as a “looking-glass.” She keeps track of “All things that pass” and uses them to judge her own age. When she sees the passage of time in her world, whether that be in plants, animals, people, or the city itself, then she knows how “her bloom must fade.”
This is the first reference to flowers in this piece, but definitely not the last. The changing world is a reminder to women that sooner rather than later she is going to be “laid / With withered roses in the shade.” She is going to die, and all the beauty that was once her most important feature will be lost. This piece speaks to a woman’s fear of aging as well as to the control society exerts over a woman’s self-image. Without determined, subjective standards of beauty, the change would not be such a fearful thing in a woman’s life.
That is not the case though, and at this point, the speaker is interested in analyzing the feelings of a general “woman” confronted with the loss of “summer joy.” She will know when the flowers around her (perhaps a reference to other women) begin to change, that she is changing too. The woman becomes “Unlovely” and far from the pleasures of a younger age.
All things that pass
Are woman’s tiring-glass;
The faded lavender is sweet,
Sweet the dead violet
Culled and laid by and cared for yet;
The dried-up violets and dried lavender
Still sweet, may comfort her,
Nor need she cry Alas!
In this stanza of ‘Passing And Glassing‘, Rossetti begins with the refrain, “All things that pass…” This time though she follows with the phrase, “Are woman’s tiring-glass.” As mentioned previously, the “things” that “pass” impact the woman mentally and emotionally. She is now looking in a “tiring-glass,” word that has fallen out of popularity, and is used to refer to a dressing mirror.
In the following line, the speaker shows a woman attempting to recover the beauty she once had. The first plant that is introduced in this stanza is lavender. It traditionally represents maturity or grace. Now though it is transformed (at least physically) by fading. This does not mean that it’s lost all of its worth. There is still something “sweet” about it.
The same pattern of description is repeated for the “dead violet.” Violets generally symbolize innocence and purity, now though they have passed far beyond their initial beauty. Just as previously stated about the lavender they are still “sweet.” They have been “Culled” or cut and then “dried and cared for yet.” Some are still able to find the value in their existence. This is ultimately a positive, even if it comes from an initially dark place. Rossetti is interested in portraying an aging woman as different from a young woman but worth no less.
The final lines of this stanza announce, with passion, that there is “comfort” to be gained in the “dried-up violets” and “dried lavender.” There is no reason for an aging woman to cry over the inevitable. She should not say “Alas!.”
All things that pass
Are wisdom’s looking-glass;
Being full of hope and fear, and still
Brimful of good or ill,
According to our work and will;
For there is nothing new beneath the sun;
Our doings have been done,
And that which shall be was.
The last stanza of ‘Passing And Glassing‘ explains the second part of Rossetti’s argument about the sustained value of a woman’s life. It also gives women another reason not to worry about the fact which can’t be changed. The years that pass in one’s life bring “wisdom’s looking-glass.” One gains knowledge about “hope and fear” as well as “good or ill.” The mind expands continually due to “our work and will.” This expresses Rossetti’s hope that womankind will commit to seeing their own lives differently.
The world moves in inevitable ways and the pattern of life and death is an integral part of that inevitability. She ends by stating that “there is nothing new beneath the sun” and everything is going to be as it is. No human being can stop “that which shall be” from happening.