‘Who Has Seen the Wind?‘ by Christina Rossetti is a two-stanza poem that utilizes similar wording between the stanzas to embrace a universality of concept. This universality regards the core theme of the poem, that things that we cannot “see” may still impact us at varying levels. Through barely altered wording and perfect verb choice, Rossetti states this idea in only eight lines and invites the reader to journey with her through her thought process in a way that is fitting. We all, in the end, can relate to being impacted by something that is unperceivable.
Who Has Seen the Wind? Christina RossettiWho has seen the wind?Neither I nor you:But when the leaves hang trembling,The wind is passing through.Who has seen the wind?Neither you nor I:But when the trees bow down their heads,The wind is passing by.
Who Has Seen the Wind? Analysis
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
The strategy of asking a question, then rushing into an answer, instantly grounds the reader into a quick pace that is befitting a poem so small with a theme that is so large. The notion that the ideas are presented in such a figurative way helps to elevate the poem into a more sophisticated realm—something that matches the philosophical level at work. Essentially, if Rossetti is explaining that there are elements of life that make an impact but cannot be “seen,” the concept is too advanced for a simplistic delivery to be fitting.
Using something as poetic as “the wind” boosts the depth of Who Has Seen the Wind? by bringing in a figurative concept to express an idea that could be offered in an easier manner. If she wanted to, after all, Rossetti could have said something like, “You can’t see everything that impacts something else,” but the blunt words would not have embodied the intricate idea that certain elements of life cannot be “seen.” If the meaning were clearly put forth to be easily “seen” in direct terms, this hidden impact of invisible things would not have been highlighted in the word choice. The phrasing is elusive like you have to chase it, which reflects how you must search for an element that does not exist on a visual level, like “the wind.”
By representing these invisible elements as “the wind,” furthermore, Rossetti is grounding this poem in a natural concept. This adds a particular flair to the meaning by hinting to the reader that being in this state of not “see[ing]” is natural, as is being impacted by certain things we cannot “see.” This concept could be broadened as well to hint that to even question this concept, as Rossetti has by asking “Who has seen the wind,” is a natural thing to do. We all are moved, essentially, by something unperceivable, so the idea is as common and universally understood as “the wind.”
When answering her own question of “Who has seen the wind,” Rossetti immediately declares that “[n]either I nor you” can “see” it. This informal method of answering this question—addressing herself and the reader—expresses a casual nature that speaks of commonality, like she and the reader are in the same figurative boat on this one. This, again, could be a concept that is extended outward to represent everyone since no matter who is reading the poem, they could be the “you” Rossetti knows cannot “see the wind.” This speaks of a concrete, universal fact that unites so strongly that differentiation of readers does not need to be mentioned. Just as one reader would not be able to “see the wind,” Rossetti trusts that another will suffer from the same inability. Regardless of not being able to “see the wind,” the natural element does impact the world around it. This is noted in that “when the leaves hang trembling, [t]he wind is passing through.”
Stopping to consider what details of life would fall under this “[un]see[n]” element could result in a number of options like love, kindness, evil, creativity, compassion, hunger, and a host of other ideas. These are all things that would impact various people, potentially in physical ways that are quite varied. The choice to use “trembling” as the verb expresses this idea well since there are a number of reasons to “trembl[e].” If a person is scared, nervous, excited, hungry, cold—they can shake or “trembl[e].”
By utilizing this open verb, Rossetti has represented a hefty portion of these invisible elements that so impact us, but she has also noted that they are not permanent details. Rather, they are just “passing through.” This could represent that the more intense moments of these invisible ideas come and go, or it could mean that the notions themselves “pass” from moment to moment. Romantic love could end, anger could lessen, and hunger could be resolved. Though these concepts do not all necessarily sway our every moment then, they can impact us greatly.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
By repeating the question from stanza one once more, Rossetti has grounded the reader yet again in the universality of not being able to “see” all invisible elements of life. By reversing the order of the answer to this question, though—“Neither I nor you” becoming “Neither you nor I”—she is again expressing a universality of the concept. No matter how she words it or what angle the situation is examined from, the fact remains that we cannot visibly perceive “the wind,” and by extension, other invisible elements of life.
Once this answer has concluded, she returns to the format of addressing that “when” something happens, it is evidence that “[t]he wind is” near. Specifically for this stanza, “when the trees bow down their heads, [t]he wind is passing by.” This is another statement of how “the wind” impacts, this time so strongly that a person must “bow down their head” against the strain of it. By this detail, we know that the impact of “the wind” can be much stronger than a “trembl[e],” which again highlights a universal quality within the work. No matter how large or small, “the wind” can have an impact on a person while remaining invisible.
Again, the reader can extend this idea into thoughts of romantic love, anger, hunger, and nervousness that were previously addressed as things that cannot be “see[n].” These notions might only cause a slight shake or “trembl[e],” or they might come with such strong force that countermeasures like “bow[ing] down” could be needed to keep one’s general stance. Even in these stronger moments, though, “[t]he wind is [just] passing by,” which is a final universality in the work—that a number of these elements impact strongly only at times before “passing by” to leave us in a more neutral state of being.
Worth noting as well, though, is the difference in this “passing by” element as opposed to the “passing through” detail of the first stanza. This “wind” or invisible life element might “pass by,” hinting less confrontation, or “through,” which sounds more consuming. Regardless of how consuming it is, the impact is still present.
Overall, the work is about this universality and the impact of some invisible elements of life. Regardless of not being able to “see” them, they still impact us at varying levels at varying times. This is natural, as is represented in the natural element of “wind” to express the point, and it is something every reader would experience as well.
About Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti was born in 1830 to an Italian poet father and his wife. She would become one of the most known Victorian poets, and she passed away in 1894 after a battle with cancer.