No, Thank You, John by Christina Rossetti

The poem, No, Thank You, John, is one of Christina Rossetti’s romantic poems and is mainly about a conflicting relationship between a woman and a man, named John. The poet depicts her true feelings towards the man, whom she looks upon as a friend. But the man concerned wants to develop a deeper relationship with her although she is trying her utmost to make him understand that she considers him only as a friend and does not have any special feelings for him. And this difference in their feelings caused a conflict between them. So it is just like a one-sided conversation and we are given an impression of John’s demands through the chastisement of the narrator (the poet).

 

No, Thank You, John Analysis

I never said I loved you, John:

Why will you tease me day by day,

And wax a weariness to think upon

With always “do” and “pray”?

Rossetti’s speaker begins her dramatic monologue with a refutation to the unheard listener. The speaker in this poem is both playful and coy, while holding her ground steadfastly. The very first line of the poem is blunt which is contrary to what is often seen as the Victorian feminine ideal, meek and submissive. But Rossetti in her own life, clearly held the view that ‘it is better to be unmarried than being unhappily married.

The man is “teasing”, a word often reserved for women, but in his persistence is also infuriating. Rossetti’s speaker puts emphasis on her irritation with the alliterative “wax weariness” while the words like “do and pray” indicate his persistence in persuading her –those imperatives are commanding her: but she is not commanded.

You Know I never loved you, John;

No fault of mine made me your toast:

Why will you haunt me with a face as wan

As shows an hour-old ghost?

In this second stanza of the poem, the frustration and assertiveness go higher–perhaps it is a response coming from the speaker to the listener, when she says –“you know”, which many mean refusing to give any ground. The most interesting line of this stanza is the second line when she says: “no fault of mine” which suggests disgust with social conventions assuming that women ‘lead on’ or ‘entrap’ men in some way–how little has changed! The suggestion that women are no matter what to blame for men’s feelings is strongly refuted. The speaker is depicted as a very confident woman who not only refuses her suitor, but also forces him to see the truth of his situation instead of blaming her. The poem goes on the language of the speaker becomes harsh and insulting. Moreover the use of words like –“haunting”, “ghost” – are to force him to stay away from her.

I dare say Meg or Moll would take

Pity upon you, if you’d ask:

And pray don’t remain single for my sake

Who can’t perform the task.

When the third stanza of the poem starts, it becomes very clear from the use of words like “I dare say” that the conversation between the speaker and listener is going to be bitter. This may be because of the listener who continues to argue back, and the language becomes harsher still. The husband would be taken for “pity” not for love, emphasized at the beginning of the line. The alliterative choice of “Meg or Moll” brings into light the names yet simultaneously makes them the same; there isn’t any reason to differentiate between these second-choice girls, they are all the same for his purposes –as perhaps is she, in the end, for there is little to suggest she believes he genuinely loves her. Her choice of “can’t perform” also makes the poem interesting as Victorian literature often has suggestion like “Love Can Be Learned,” or will return sooner or later–and is actually the basis of several arranged marriages –but the speaker completely rebuts that suggestion. She believes that marriage is a “task” to be performed, a chore instead of a joyful blessing.

I have no heart?-Perhaps I have not;

But then you’re mad to take offence

That don’t give you what I have not got:

Use your common sense.

The very initial rhetorical question, in the above stanza, denotes that she’s repeating an accusation flung at her by the speaker in his growing anger. Her following wordplay –“you’re mad to take offence /That I don’t give you what I have not got” –suggests that she even now retrains an element of humour about the situation, though it’s now more frustrated and sarcastic with him. She bluntly says – he is “mad” and the single-line imperative “use your common sense” which almost treats him like a child being rebuked instead of an equal. However, she stays firm: she says that she is not having love to give him and so will not be able to marry him.

Let bygones be bygones:

Don’t call me false, who owed not to be true:

I’d rather answer “No” to fifty Johns

Than answer “Yes” to you.

In the above lines, the tone gets a little more conciliatory. The speaker wants the listener to allow her the choice. All through the above lines, she remains insistent and persistent in her decision, and says: she’s never been “false”. Though in the very first line of this stanza, she gets a little friendly, but that friendliness quickly turns sarcastic when she says: “I’d rather answer No to fifty Johns”

Related poetry:   Twice by Christina Rossetti

In fact, she does not want to budge from her decision, no matter how insistent the listener may be. When he accuses her of betraying her, she soundly refutes him. The speaker says that he himself has created this relationship without any input from her, “who owed not to be true.”

Let’s mar our pleasant days no more,

Song-birds of passage, days of youth:

Catch at today, forget the days before:

I’ll wink at your untruth.

In this stanza, the speaker finds herself tired of the argument going between them and she finally agrees to “wink at your untruth” -agree to disagree, yet we both know it is an “untruth”. The presentation of sweeter imagery –“song-birds”, “days of youth”, “pleasant days” are elusively lovely, yet vague, but they do indicate that life is short enough to spend arguing and having a grudge. “Catch at today” encourages him to move on from her, and spend his time in more pleasant pursuits.

Let us strike hands as hearty friends;

No more, no less; and friendship’s good:

Only don’t keep in view ulterior ends, And points not understood

In open treaty. Rise above

Quibbles and shuffling off and on:

Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love,-

No, thank you, John.

While parting, in the above lines, the speaker warns that this is no ploy –“don’t keep in view ulterior ends/and points not understood//in open treaty.” The language of conciliation in undefined loved-war suggests her determination; the “treaty” ought to bring peace, if both parties stick to it. “Hearty friends” is large hearted, and displays her wish to carry on her friendship yet she is not going to brook marriage or love. “No more, no less, and friendship’s good” –there is value in being good friends.

In the last three lines, she also makes an appeal to his pride, when she says:–“rise above/quibbles”. The use of word “quibble” makes it seem childish and petty again. She big-heartedly offers “her friendship for him, but then leaves the decision to him. Even the last line of this poem shows that she is still persistent in her decision, and since the very starting of the poem, she hasn’t budged a bit, and says: Marriage, with John at least, is not for her.

 

About Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti was born to Gabriele Rossetti. She was the youngest of her three siblings. Religious devotion played a major role in Rossetti’s life. She started writing her poems in 1842 when she mostly followed her favourite poets. But some years later she started experimenting with various verse forms like sonnets, hymns and ballads. She is one of the poets whose popularity rose after her death. Rossetti has been a great advocate of human rights and particularly women’s rights.

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