The poem, ‘Shut Out’, by Christina Rossetti is one of the deeply emotional poems, which expresses a number of human emotions throughout the poem. The poem has been written in the first person allowing the reader to develop an emotional connection with the narrator. Even the very title of the poem carries a deep meaning, as a result, adding to the narrator’s desperation and frustration by barring him/her out. It is generally a response to the prohibiting of women from progressive social reforms. This poem was written after she had several personal disenchantments and had come in contact with a group of female prisoners. The speaker in this poem is an entrapped or imprisoned woman.
Rossetti’s father was a radical and there used to be several political discussions in the household but Rossetti’s voice had always worked as a supportive commentator. She had never thought of playing an active political role. Political involvement was regarded as the concern of the men in the household, so there was an element of exclusion even within this very progressive household.
Rossetti’s father had a strong belief in individual freedom and national liberation but he believed that men were the agents of political reform and women were just the supporters. Even so, Christina Rossetti was brought to radical thinking, not just in politics but also in art, literature, and religion.
Many of Rossetti’s early speakers within her poetry warn against excluding women from progressive reforms. She highlights the psychological consequences of exclusion; -dimmed social expectations -alienation-marginalization. The poem ‘Shut Out’ does just that.
Shut Out Analysis
The door was shut. I looked between
Its iron bars; and saw it lie,
My garden, mine, beneath the sky,
Pied with all flowers bedewed and green:
From bough to bough the song-birds crossed,
From flower to flower the moths and bees;
With all its nests and stately trees
It had been mine, and it was lost.
The poet, in the poem, ‘Shut Out’, uses contrasting adjectives like ‘iron bars’ and ‘flowers bedewed’. This technique creates beautiful imagery and the poet succeeds in creating a clear picture in the reader’s mind. Then again we see some beautiful imagery and symbolism here, like in the opening line of the poem ‘The door was shut’. This brings a very clear picture of the reader’s mind that the narrator is being banned from entering a place that gives him/her happiness.
Yet again the imagery ‘Its iron bars’ tells us that the door has iron bars through which the poet can only get a glimpse of the garden from which he/she has been excluded. So we see that this poem carries a deep, symbolic meaning for us because of its human nature that we do not value anything that’s in our possession. The poem’s tone puts forward the notion that if you shut women, or indeed people out from the natural world then that alienation and loss of hope will lead to a shunning of society by them.
A shadowless spirit kept the gate,
Blank and unchanging like the grave.
I peering through said: ‘Let me have
Some buds to cheer my outcast state.’
He answered not. ‘Or give me, then,
But one small twig from shrub or tree;
And bid my home remember me
Until I come to it again.’
In these lines of ‘Shut Out’, we see that the poet uses nouns such as ‘spirit’ and ‘grave’ which have a religious significance. Thus, in these lines, we see Rossetti’s devotion to her Catholic faith. And due to these religious connotations when the poet talks about a ‘shadowless’ spirit it makes the character supernatural, being invisible it is more like a ghost creating a sense of fear in us. But at the same time shadow less also tells us that the spirit is not real but exists in the poet’s imagination.
When the poet compares the spirit with the grave she means that the spirit is also gloomy and morbid like the grave. Then there is the use of the word ‘Buds ‘which is used to symbolize new life. The role of the spirit is that of a gatekeeper who stops the poet from getting what he wants. We see that the poet carries out all the dialogue indirect speech but for the spirit, indirect speech is used, e.g. ‘He answered not’ and this further brings out the coldness of the spirit’s decision.
This simple sentence also adds to his superiority as even when not saying anything his word has more significance than the poet’s desperate pleas. The second part of the poem is made up of three stanzas and involves her pleading with “A shadowless spirit” which could quite literally be her jailer or that element of society which denies her the freedom to write. Possibly society and this “shadowless spirit” are all men and not a single voice. The response for a piece of the garden is to barricade the speaker up with bricks and mortar, to marginalize her even more so that all freedom is denied.
The spirit was silent; but he took
Mortar and stone to build a wall;
He left no loophole great or small
Through which my straining eyes might look:
So now I sit here quite alone
Blinded with tears; nor grieve for that,
For nought is left worth looking at
Since my delightful land is gone.
In the above lines, we see that there is no mention of nature at all. The first line ‘The spirit was silent; this line reinforces the idea of complete silence on behalf of the spirit. It also conveys to us that man’s existence is immaterial and inferior in contrast to the forces of nature. The second line of the stanza: Mortar and stone to build a wall’. This sharply contrasts with the rest of ‘Shut Out’ which deals with the theme of nature. This also brings home the inferiority of mankind as compared to nature. The use of the word ‘wall’ symbolizes isolation and seclusion, telling us that now the poet was denied the view of her garden.
Thus, the wall is symbolized as threatening and is a more permanent barrier than the door because now the narrator is completely cut off. This third section of ‘Shut Out’ is made up of two quatrains which highlight the utter hopelessness of her situation, the darkness in which the speaker is left. Even when nature has found its way behind the wall it makes little difference. There is a disconnection that is irredeemable.
Here we also experience a change in the tense which suggests that the previous stanzas were just a story and now the poet has taken on a more mature approach. The poet is completely desolate now and has given up all hope. Her desperation and dejectedness is best shown in the following lines,
‘For nought is left worth looking at
Since my delightful land is gone.
The poet has given up all hope and feels that ever since her land exits there is nothing worth looking at.
A violet bed is budding near,
Wherein a lark has made her nest:
And good they are, but not the best;
And dear they are, but not so dear.
The seventh and last stanza refers to a small, songbird, lark which is used as a symbol for women. The fragility of the small songbird shows us how women were viewed in the Victorian era, where their place was said to be only at home where they had no property rights and were deprived of voting also. The last two lines can be said to be parallel lines as the words and the sentence structure are repeated e.g. ‘And good they are, but not the best
And dear they are, but not so dear.
These lines convey a feeling of acceptance which tells the reader that the poet has finally accepted her fate.