From the Antique, or, as it is sometimes referred to by its opening line, ‘It’s a Weary Life, It Is, She Said’, is one of Christina Rossetti’s works about weariness and gloom that invites the reader to wonder about this author who could write so much and so well about sadness. In many ways, this was what made her such a well-known and influential poet from her time, and one of the reasons that her popularity never quite died down after her death. Her insight into the human feeling of sadness in its many forms stands out and stands tall, even through the many years since her passing.
From the Antique Analysis
It’s a weary life, it is, she said:
Doubly blank in a woman’s lot:
I wish and I wish I were a man:
Or, better then any being, were not:
From the Antique is written in a simple form of four verses with four lines each, rhyming in an ABCB pattern and maintaining roughly similar syllable counts from line to line. The first verse introduces the story of the poem in significant fashion. It utilizes an unusual convention of narration; from the first line, it is clear that the poem is told from the perspective of a third-party speaking (evidenced by “she said” in the first line). From here, however, the poem goes on to quote the words of the aforementioned “she,” effectively bringing her into the position of narrator. The first line detaches the reader from the poem, while the shift in narrators has the opposite effect. Perhaps Rossetti wished to distance the reader from the story about to be told, or perhaps the second speaker is trying to imagine that there may be a third-party speaker at some point to remember her words and relay them to others.
From here, the following three lines invoke the image of this woman, who has already told her opinion of life as being a weary experience. She explains that this is an especially true statement if you are a woman. “Doubly blank” is an unusual expression to convey this idea with — blank is, after all, an absolute term, and there is no such thing as “somewhat blank” or “more blank.” The line seems to say that life being a weary experience is an absolute, but somehow is made worse when the person living it is female. And so, she wishes, and uses repetition to emphasize the strength of the wish, that she had been born male. This is an understandable statement, but what follows is a little stranger, and she expresses that more than being born male, she wishes she had no being; that she didn’t exist at all.
Were nothing at all in all the world,
Not a body and not a soul:
Not so much as a grain of dust
Or a drop of water from pole to pole.
The second verse carries on the idea introduced previously of nonexistence as a preferable means of being — an oxymoron in itself — to life. The words “were nothing” as they are meant here are incompatible with each other; they make no sense. It is impossible to “be” nothing. She does a good job of explaining what she means, however. Natural imagery is strongly emphasized, with water and dust being the two images brought to mind. Notably, these are opposites to one another, in many ways. This is to symbolize that there is no state of being in which the speaker can see herself as being happy in. The inclusion of “not a soul” suggests a religious undertone to this poem, of a soul that predates physical life and survives after the body has died, an essence that is a person more so than the thoughts in their head. And yet, even this state of being is beyond what the speaker wishes for herself. She simply wishes she did not exist in any capacity.
Still the world would wag on the same,
Still the seasons go and come:
Blossoms bloom as in days of old,
Cherries ripen and wild bees hum.
In the third verse, the woman speculates on the nature of the world in the wake of her imagined nonexistence. She imagines that the world would “wag on” (an unusual expression likely used to create alliteration with “the world would”). She imagines the seasons that drive the world, and notes that they do not depend on her to function. The alliterative effects continue with such images as “blossoms bloom,” and there is an notable epiphany in the word choice of “cherries ripen and wild bees hum.” And ultimately, she points out, none of these natural functions would cease had she never existed in any capacity. She is correct, of course — the natural world is, by definition, separate from the existence of humankind, and would continue to function as it had for unimaginable lengths of time before humans appeared as a species.
None would miss me in all the world,
How much less would care or weep:
I should be nothing, while all the rest
Would wake and weary and fall asleep.
The final verse of the poem focuses on the world that is not the natural one, and even here, the speaker believes that she would not be missed in her nonexistence, however this verse feels much more grounded in the present than in the hypothetical. When she says “how much less would care or weep,” she is contradicting herself, because no one would be capable of crying over losing a person who never existed in the first place. What this verse is saying is that the speaker feels as though her sudden disappearance would not cause sadness or discomfort, and so she shouldn’t exist; her place in the universe should be taken by someone who would be saddened by that person’s death or disappearance.
The final line of the poem invokes alliteration one more time — “Would wake and weary” — as it describes the cycle of life in extremely simple fashion: to wake up, to grow tired, and to fall asleep. And it is in this sense of finality that her work is concluded.
Whether or not this poem is a reflection of Rossetti’s personal viewpoint on life is not easy to determine — poems about feelings rarely are. It is worth pointing out, however, that Rossetti’s own existence, her own life, led to the creation of a wide number of very popular poems and literary works that were highly popular in her life, and continued to be highly popular after she “wearied” and found her rest. If this poem is a reflection of her own feelings, it is comforting to know that her contributions to the world and to her society were much more significant than she may have imagined, especially to be remembered even today.