‘Piteous My Rhyme’ by Christina Rossetti is a two stanza poem that is divided into sets of ten lines. Rossetti gave this piece an interesting rhyme scheme that becomes even more noteworthy when compared between the two stanzas. The first stanza rhymes ABBCCADDDC, using the same letters to represent the same sounds, the second stanza rhymes: EBCBCEDDDC. One will notice during a close reading that there are a number of words repeated at the end of lines between the first and second stanza.
For instance, “pain,” “vain,” “then,” “can,” and “man” all appear as end words in both stanzas. Almost all the words also appear in the same line in both stanzas. The only time this is not true is with the words “pain,” “again” and “vain.” There are also three words, “is,” “ever” and “never” which appear as end words in one stanza and not the other. These are the exception to the rule though. Along these same lines, Rossetti also chose to use repetition. She places questions at the same point in the fifth line.
A reader should also take note of the meter. While it is not unified throughout, there is a consistent pattern. It is related to the indented lines. Each indented line (lines one, five, six, and ten of both stanzas) contains five syllables. The remaining lines, which are even with the margin have eight.
Summary of Piteous My Rhyme
The poem begins with the speaker stating that her musings on love are “piteous.” She has been unable to realize the true joy of the experience because she been consumed by the pain and worry that sometimes comes along with it. The speaker has come to the conclusion that love is immortal, just like the souls of those who experience it.
In the second half of Piteous My Rhyme, she speaks on how love transcends the lives it touches. It lasts far beyond the sight of humankind, reaching out, touching, and influencing everything.
Analysis of Piteous My Rhyme
Piteous my rhyme is
What while I muse of love and pain,
Of love misspent, of love in vain,
Of love that is not loved again:
And is this all then?
As long as time is,
Love loveth. Time is but a span,
The dalliance space of dying man:
And is this all immortals can?
The gain were small then.
In the first stanza of Piteous My Rhyme, Rossetti begins with the line that would later come to be used as the title, “Piteous my rhyme is.” This is a curious statement as one will immediately associate “rhyme” with poetry, and then this poem in particular. For some reason, the speaker, perhaps Rossetti herself, feels as if what she writes, and what she writes about should be pitied. At first, there is no definition between being pitied because one is truly in a bad state, or being looked down upon. It could be either of these.
The next three lines make it seem as if the speaker feels pity for her own works. Her verse does not go deep enough, nor does her mind, when considering the breadth of love. Her writing just reproduces her own limited understanding of its scope. She thinks about “love misspent” and “love” that was born “in vain.” The happiness of love is always met with heartbreak in these first lines. She also thinks of “love that is not loved again.” This perhaps refers to a love that is short-lived and never given more than one chance.
After addressing these complicated emotional experiences the speaker asks if “this” is “all then?” She dismisses the worries of love and compares them to the length of time. The speaker knows that “Love loveth” for “As long as time is.” This seems to suggest that the damage love can cause is a part of the equation but not everything her “rhyme” should focus on. In the second stanza, she will try to make up for the “piteous” rhymes of the past and write on love’s “joy in pain.”
The first stanza concludes with the speaker describing “Time” as something that a dying man can only dabble in. It is beyond comprehension, even to those who are close to being destroyed by it. The next lines refer to humans, and the human soul, as “immortal.” The speaker asks if the troubles she normally writes about are all that immortals could achieve. There have only been “small” gains. The next stanza is one of those gains.
Love loves for ever,
And finds a sort of joy in pain,
And gives with nought to take again,
And loves too well to end in vain:
Is the gain small then?
Love laughs at “never”,
Outlives our life, exceeds the span
Appointed to mere mortal man:
All which love is and does and can
Is all in all then.
In the second stanza of Piteous My Rhyme, the speaker’s tone improves. It is more uplifting as she describes the benefits of love. It is “for ever” and is able to create “joy in pain” and suffering. The emotion might cause trauma, and likely will take more than it gives in some cases, but is always worth it. She states that “Love… / loves too well to end in vain.” This means that no matter the circumstances of the relationship one will always benefit from having been in or around love.
The speaker goes on to question the reader, asking if “the gain [is] small then?” The following five lines attempt to answer this question without stating explicitly that that’s what they’re doing.
The entire philosophy around which this poem is based involves love and its immortality. It “Outlives our life” or the “span” of time given to “mortal man.” Here is a moment where one might consider the speaker’s basis for writing Piteous My Rhyme. She is describing life as having been given or designated a certain way. This could be from any higher power but it is likely the Christian god to whom she is referring. This taken in tandem with the focus on immortality gives ‘Piteous My Rhyme’ a religious undertone. The last lines tell of how love is able to influence everything it comes into contact with. It does all one can imagine and everything one can’t.