In ‘On a Handful of French Money,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti contemplates a handful of French coins, each bearing distinct images and dates representing the nation’s history. The coins symbolize the complexity of French identity, ranging from monarchy to republic and embodying daring ambition.
Rossetti’s exploration showcases the interconnectedness of human lives and historical eras, with each contributing to the nation’s present state. Through vivid imagery and figurative language, the poem highlights the significance of historical artifacts in shaping a country’s consciousness and collective identity.
On a Handful of French Money Dante Gabriel RossettiThese coins that jostle on my hand do own No single image; each name here & date Denoting in man's consciousness & state New change. In some, the face is clearly known, In others marred. The badge of that old throne Of kings is on the obverse; or the sign Which says, “Behold, I, France am only mine;” Or else the Eagle that dared ever soar.Even as these coins, so are these lives and years Mixed and bewildered; yet has each of them No less its part in what has come to be For France. Republic, Empire, Monarchy,—Each clamours or keeps silence in her name, And lives within the pulse that now is hers.
Explore On a Handful of French Money
Each coin represents a distinct moment in France’s consciousness and political state, marked by different images, names, and dates. Some coins bear a clear image, while others are marred, symbolizing the passage of time and change in the country’s history.
The obverse of some coins bears the emblem of the old throne of kings, reminding us of France’s monarchical past. Others feature the declaration, “Behold, I, France am only mine,” highlighting the country’s claim to independence and sovereignty. Additionally, there are coins with the image of an Eagle, representing France’s audacious spirit and its pursuit of soaring to greater heights.
Just as these coins represent different epochs in French history, the poet suggests that the lives and years of the French people are similarly intertwined and entangled. Despite this complexity, each life and moment in time has played a crucial role in shaping the France of today. The poem alludes to the shifts between Republic, Empire, and Monarchy, with each era leaving its own mark on the nation. Whether through loud clamoring or silent contemplation, each period has left its impression on the country’s current pulse.
This poem speaks of the continuous transformation of France through its history, represented by diverse coins. The poem suggests that each period in the country’s past has contributed to its present state, and the essence of France is a harmonious amalgamation of all these different chapters.
Structure and Form
The poem ‘On a Handful of French Money’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is composed of two stanzas, adhering to a distinct structure and form. The first stanza comprises eight lines, while the second stanza consists of six lines, making a total of 14 lines in the poem. The first stanza is longer and provides a detailed description of the various coins held by the poet, reflecting the diverse aspects of French history. In contrast, the second stanza is shorter, presenting a concise reflection on the intertwining of lives and years in France’s development.
Regarding the rhyming scheme, the poem does not follow a consistent pattern throughout its entirety. However, some rhyming can be observed. In stanza one, the first four lines follow an ABBA rhyme scheme, while the last four lines in the stanza exhibit an ACCD rhyme scheme.
In stanza two, the rhyming pattern becomes more varied. The first two lines (EF) do not rhyme with the final four lines (GHFE), resulting in a less structured rhyme scheme. This fluctuation in rhyming reflects the poem’s theme of constant change and evolution.
The poem’s lack of a consistent rhyming scheme showcases the complexity and diversity of French history and its multifaceted evolution over time.
In the poem ‘On a Handful of French Money,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti addresses several themes through vivid imagery and symbolic representations of French coins. Below are the various themes that the poet addresses:
Historical Change and Transformation: Rossetti explores this theme through the different images and dates on the French coins. Each coin represents a distinct era in France’s history, reflecting how the country has evolved over time. For example, the coins bear the badge of the old throne of kings, the declaration of France’s independence, and the image of an Eagle, symbolizing various periods in the nation’s past.
Identity and Sovereignty: The theme emerges from the coins’ inscriptions, which depict France asserting its uniqueness and independence. One coin proudly declares, “Behold, I, France am only mine,” emphasizing the nation’s self-awareness and individuality.
The complexity of History: Through the mingling of different images and dates on the coins, the poet highlights the complexity of history. Each coin bears a mix of various elements, just as France’s history is a blend of different ideologies and political systems. The poet uses this complexity to suggest that the nation’s identity is shaped by its diverse past.
The Interconnectedness of Lives and Eras: Rossetti addresses the interconnectedness of lives and eras in France’s history. The poet likens the coins to lives and years, mixed and bewildered, yet all contributing to the nation’s current state. This theme underscores the idea that every moment in history, every individual life, has played a part in shaping the collective identity of the nation.
The Symbolism of Currency: The theme of the symbolism of currency is prevalent throughout the poem. The coins serve as tangible representations of historical events and political ideologies, functioning as small windows into the past. They carry deeper meanings beyond their mere monetary value, becoming emblems of the nation’s journey through time.
In ‘On a Handful of French Money’ all these themes are interwoven together through the poet’s contemplation of the French coins held in hand.
In ‘On a Handful of French Money,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti employs various literary devices to convey her message about the complexity of French history and the interconnectedness of lives and eras.
- Imagery: Rossetti utilizes vivid imagery to describe the French coins and their symbolic representations. For instance, he describes the coins as “jostle on my hand,” creating a tactile and visual image of the coins clinking together. The image of the “badge of that old throne / Of kings” evokes a powerful symbol of past monarchy, while the “Eagle that dared ever soar” embodies the nation’s audacity and ambition.
- Symbolism: The coins themselves act as symbols in the poem, representing different historical periods and political ideologies. They symbolize the transformation of France through the ages. For example, the coin inscribed with the declaration of France’s independence represents the nation’s identity and sovereignty.
- Metaphor: Rossetti uses the metaphor of the coins being akin to lives and years, “mixed and bewildered,” to emphasize the entanglement of various historical periods. This metaphor suggests that each moment in time has left its mark on the nation, contributing to its present state.
- Alliteration: The poet employs alliteration to add rhythm and musicality to the poem. For instance, in the line “Each clamours or keeps silence in her name,” the repetition of the “C” sound emphasizes the contrasting voices of different historical periods.
- Enjambment: Rossetti uses enjambment, the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, to create a flowing and continuous narrative. This technique keeps the reader engaged and reflects the interconnectedness of the different themes in the poem.
- Personification: The poet personifies the coins, ascribing them with the ability to “own” and “denote” change in man’s consciousness and state. This personification adds depth to the poem and enhances the coins’ significance as historical artifacts.
- Contrast: The poet contrasts coins with “face clearly known” to those “marred,” depicting the varying states of preservation and representing the diverse facets of French history.
- Ellipsis: The phrase “Which says, ‘Behold, I, France am only mine;'” utilizes ellipsis to create a sense of brevity, leaving the reader to infer additional context.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti effectively employs these literary devices to craft a multi-layered exploration of French history, identity, and the influence of different eras on the nation’s present state.
These coins that jostle on my hand do own
No single image; each name here & date
Denoting in man’s consciousness & state
New change. In some, the face is clearly known,
In others marred. The badge of that old throne
Of kings is on the obverse; or the sign
Which says, “Behold, I, France am only mine;”
Or else the Eagle that dared ever soar.
In the first stanza of ‘On a Handful of French Money,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti presents a detailed literary analysis that conveys the multifaceted nature of French history through the metaphor of coins held in the poet’s hand.
The initial line, “These coins that jostle on my hand do own,” sets the stage for the exploration of the coins’ significance. The word “jostle” implies movement and collision, suggesting that these coins symbolize dynamic and ever-changing aspects of history.
Rossetti highlights the diversity of the coins by stating that they “do own no single image.” This statement emphasizes that each coin represents a distinct moment in history, carrying its own unique imagery, name, and date. The coins become powerful symbols of different epochs, acting as windows into various historical periods.
The poet describes the coins as “Denoting in man’s consciousness & state New change,” suggesting that they serve as markers of shifts and transformations in both individual awareness and the collective state of the nation. This indicates that the coins are not merely physical artifacts but hold deeper significance in shaping the consciousness and identity of the people.
The lines “In some, the face is clearly known, In others marred” underscore the varying conditions of the coins. Some coins bear a clear image, preserving history with clarity, while others are “marred,” hinting at the wear and tear of time and the imperfections that may blur historical details. This representation mirrors the challenges in accurately comprehending the distant past.
Rossetti further describes the coins’ imagery, including “the badge of that old throne / Of kings,” signifying France’s monarchical history. Additionally, the line “Or else the Eagle that dared ever soar” evokes the image of the bold and ambitious spirit of the nation.
Through this vivid imagery, Rossetti conveys that the coins encapsulate the richness and complexity of French history. Each coin represents a unique facet of the nation’s past, from monarchical rule to declarations of independence, to the spirit of daring exploration.
The first stanza of ‘On a Handful of French Money’ serves as a literary exploration of the coins’ symbolism, revealing how these simple objects hold power to embody the multifaceted nature of French history and culture. The poem highlights the importance of understanding and cherishing historical artifacts as valuable windows into the past, shaping the nation’s present identity and consciousness.
Even as these coins, so are these lives and years
Mixed and bewildered; yet has each of them
No less its part in what has come to be
For France. Republic, Empire, Monarchy,—
Each clamours or keeps silence in her name,
And lives within the pulse that now is hers.
In stanza two, Dante Gabriel Rossetti delves into a profound literary analysis that conveys a timeless message about the interconnectedness of lives and the impact of history on a nation, particularly France.
The poet draws a parallel between the coins and human lives, stating that just as the coins are “mixed and bewildered,” so too are the lives and years of the people intertwined and entangled. This observation speaks to the shared experiences of individuals over time and reflects the complex web of human history.
Rossetti emphasizes the significance of each life and year, asserting that they all play a crucial role in shaping what France has become. This notion carries a sense of individual agency and importance, suggesting that every person’s contribution, no matter how small, contributes to the collective identity and development of the nation.
The poet proceeds to mention three distinct forms of government that have existed in France’s history: Republic, Empire, and Monarchy. By listing these different systems, Rossetti acknowledges the fluctuations in political ideologies and structures that have shaped the nation over time.
The lines “Each clamours or keeps silence in her name” evoke the contrasting voices of these different eras. Some periods in history were marked by upheaval, rebellion, and clamor for change, while others remained silent and stable. This contrast reflects the ebb and flow of historical events and the diverse responses of the people to various political environments.
Lastly, the poet concludes by stating that each period “lives within the pulse that now is hers,” signifying that the echoes of the past continue to resonate in the present. The heartbeat of the nation is influenced by the historical events that have preceded it, and the past remains an integral part of France’s identity.
Through stanza two, Rossetti offers a profound meditation on the historical interconnectedness of lives, the impact of individual actions on the nation’s identity, and the ongoing influence of history on the present. The poem’s message transcends time and applies to all nations, underscoring the importance of recognizing the collective journey of humanity and the enduring legacy of the past in the present.
The poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is interested in the subject matter because it allows him to explore the rich symbolism of the French coins, reflecting the complex and diverse history of France, which aligns with his penchant for intricate and contemplative themes in his poetry.
The tone is contemplative and reflective. Rossetti’s exploration of the coins and their significance evokes a sense of introspection as he delves into the interconnectedness of history and the nation’s evolving identity.
The meaning of ‘On a Handful of French Money‘ lies in its portrayal of the French coins as tangible symbols of history, reflecting the diverse epochs and political ideologies that have shaped the nation over time.
The poem triggers a mix of emotions in its readers, including a sense of curiosity about French history, appreciation for the nation’s complex identity, and a feeling of contemplation regarding the impact of the past on the present.
The overall mood of ‘On a Handful of French Money’ is thoughtful and introspective. Rossetti’s contemplation of the coins and their representation of French history creates an atmosphere of deep reflection and insight into the nation’s past and its influence on the present.
Readers who quenched their literary thirst through this poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti may also wish to explore these other poems:
- ‘All You Have is A Country’ by Ha Jin – explores patriotism and how it can be negatively ingrained into someone’s personality.
- ‘A Different History’ by Sujata Bhatt – is not a raging piece of protest, rather, it teaches how to revisit one’s cultural past in a curious, sensible way.
- ‘A Far Cry from Africa’ by Derek Walcott – encapsulates the turbulent struggle between ancestral African roots and colonial influence, invoking introspection and cultural complexities within a powerful poetic narrative.