‘The Rose That Blushes Rosy Red by Christina Rossetti is a brief poem that compares a “rose” and a “lily” to indicate that more beyond superficial elements should be present for a solid foundation and well-rounded people. Without those deeper concepts, the situation can come with little choice and less distinction. Though it is a brief examination of the ideas, this poem uses its handful of words to solidify this theme of striving to be something better than superficial.
The Rose That Blushes Rosy Red Analysis
The rose that blushes rosy red,
She must hang her head;
The format of this pair of lines is a description of the noted flower standing as its own line before moving into any information about what happens to it. By structuring the delivery in this manner, Rossetti has let the reader know that the description is the pressing element of the provided information. This makes sense in that Rossetti seems to be saying the behavior in Line Two is dependent on the description from Line One, as in only a “rose that blushes rosy red” “must hang her head.”
The persistence of the “r” sound in Line One is as telling as the aforementioned organizational detail since the effect is that the description almost runs together, like a blur of “r” sounds that lack the punches of more unique sounds. This implies a lack of distinction on the flower’s part, like what it is has been lost. When applied to the concept at work in the midst of that “r” alliteration, this could mean that this “rose[‘s]” essence has been lost in her “blush” so that whatever caused the “blush” has impacted “[t]he rose” so strongly that its poise has evaporated, and “[s]he must hang her head” under the weight of the “blush.”
What this indicates, thus far, is that this “rose,” though “rosy red” and likely beautiful, is weak enough to be drastically altered by another being. This idea could be because a “rose” is so connected to romantic love—something that can make a person vulnerable—but whatever the reason, this “rose” is so impacted by something that she “hang[s] her head” rather than keeping a confident stance of looking forward with “her head” high. This detail is strengthened by noting that “[t]he rose” is given no strong action at all. It “blushes,” which is a reaction to something else, and then “must hang her head.” Not only is the stance timid, but it “must” be done, which hints that “[t]he rose” has no choice in the matter. She can no more resist this reaction to her “blush” than she could prevent the “blush” itself. All of this, in the end, is reaction from the flower.
The lily that blows spotless white,
She may stand upright.
This “lily” is quite different from the previous “rose,” but the structure of these two lines is remarkably similar to what was noted for “[t]he rose.” That structure is to name the flower with the initial introduction—“The rose” and “The lily”—before going into a “that” description of the flower. That description, for both, includes a verb that begins with “b” and ends with “s,” and a color connected to that verb is delivered with an adjective. From there, each flower is given an action in the secondary line. This is a great combination of similarities between the two, and it speaks volumes to the lack of variation between the circumstances. What this could mean is that whatever commentary Rossetti is making in regard to people who are represented by these flowers, it begins with a similar grounding of general humanity. Any variation beyond that point is personal, like the differences that occur between a “lily” and a “rose.”
The differences, though, are arguably more telling than any similarity notable within the lines. This “lily… blows spotless white,” whereas the previous “rose… blushes rosy red.” Since “blows” is a more active verb than the reactive “blushes,” this shows independence and strength from “[t]he lily” that “[t]he rose” lacks. Rather than reacting, this “lily” is doing something that could, in turn, affect something else.
It is also noteworthy that “[t]he lily” is linked to “spotless white,” which not only shows purity and cleanliness, but also stands out from the flower itself. Remember that “[t]he rose” is noted as “rosy red,” which is clearly redundant and unspecific. If a person does not know what a “rose” looks like, after all, calling its coloring “rosy red” would not fully communicate the hue. Should the reader not know what a “lily” looks like, though, the coloring is distinctive enough (not utilizing “lily” to describe it) that understanding can still be gained from the information. In this, it feels like Rossetti is saying that all a “rose” is, essentially, is a “rose” with “rosy” colors and not a lot of substance. It only reacts by “blush[ing]” and “hang[ing] her head.” “The lily,” on the contrary, has individual qualities and strengths that can move the world around it.
Another interesting quality is that this “lily” “may stand upright.” While this might read as though the flower is given permission to do this, it stands to reason that Rossetti is instead saying this “lily” can make the decision to “stand upright” due to the amount of influence that was noted with the less reactive action of “blows” instead of “blushes.” This idea is at odds with the previous “rose” who “must hang her head” with no choice in the matter. Once more then, “[t]he lily” is the superior of the two since it has that choice through being able to decide if it wishes to “stand upright.”
This, in essence, is the theme of the poem. When all there is in a circumstance are the superficial qualities of beauty and romance, little substance is likely present. Rather, the situation is reactive, and the people included in the situation could be helpless to “stand upright” against it. But when there are deeper things at work beyond the “rosy red” of a “rose,” the circumstance—and the people involved—could be stronger. With this logic, “[t]he lily” is the flower to reflect in day to day life.
About Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti was an English poet, born in 1830. Writing was a popular theme in her household as her father was a poet, as was her brother. She reportedly endured thyroid ailment in her life, including Graves’ disease, and she passed away in 1894.