Twice by Christina Rossetti

The poem, Twice, by Christina Rossessti, can be compared with “Maude Clare”. Where the latter poem centres around the love story of two women, named Maude Clare and Nell, the former revolves around the notion of betrayed expectations of love or betrayed lovers and their inability to obtain fulfilment.

The poem, Twice, written in 1864 and published in Rossetti’s second collection, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems in 1866, has the fallen woman, whose heart broken by a man, as its theme. As we often find Rossetti laying stress on ideal love’s distance from reality and providing description of the experience of love with images of mutability.

In this poem, images of harvesting and planting, seasonal images, images of over-ripeness and ripeness, all come like natural analogues to naturally impelled passions, whether these are clearly erotic or more ethereal and vague. Rossetti’s characters’ predictable failures enduringly to fulfil passion often bring about the renunciation not merely of particular disappointed love relationships but also of any belief at all in achievable earthly ideals of love.

In most of Rossetti’s love poems, we find her speakers avoiding nature and towards an internal space that could be filled with achievable spiritual ideals of love (God). And this complete movement is what you find as the subject of her lyric, Twice. This poem talks about the transition, which can commonly be found in many of Rossetti’s poems, from the pursuit of Eros to its renunciation in favour of agape (love of God).

The poet makes the poem, Twice, speak through a courageous woman who, with some unwillingness, has made overtures to the man she is in love with. However, when the woman hears the response of her lover, her faith in the value of erotic love is shattered. And when it happens she remembers the time when:

 

Twice by Christina Rossetti

I took my heart in my hand

(O my love, O my love),

I said: Let me fall or stand,

Let me live or die,

But this once hear me speak-

(O my love, O my love)-

Yet a woman’s words are weak;

You should speak, not I.

In this first stanza of the poem, the poet shows the speaker as a fallen woman, a jilted lover, who has been rejected by her lover. In the further lines, the speaker, on being rejected by her lover, says let her fall or stand, let her live or die, but O my love, please listen to me only once. She says as a woman she may not make him understand, but still he should listen and talk to her. But her lover doesn’t pay heed to what she says, and there is no hope of love from him, because he might have forgotten the days they both spent and lived together. He might have forgotten the time when they both had made love with each other.

You took my heart in your hand

With a friendly smile,

With a critical eye you scanned,

Then set it down,

And said: It is still unripe,

Better wait a while;

Wait while the skylarks pipe,

Till the corn grows brown

When the second stanza starts, the speaker (woman lover) is depicted as informing us about how her love took her heart in his hand, which may mean that she is going to embark upon a daring emotional act. Here, she may also mean that when her lover wanted to sleep with her, he took her with sweet smile, and scanned her entire body through his critical eye. But after some time he told her, or rejected her by saying that she is not ready for love-making, and also commanded her to wait until skylarks sing and the corn ripens. The rejection of her lover shows that the speaker either may not be at such a stage from where she can start love-making, or the lover is waiting for some other time to accept her love proposal. He commands her to wait until the corn grows brown, and as long as the skylarks are piping.

As you set it down it broke-

Broke, but I did not wince;

I smiled at the speech you spoke,

At your judgment that I heard:

But I have not often smiled

Since then, nor questioned since,

Nor cared for corn-flowers wild,

Nor sung with the singing bird.

In this third stanza of the poem, the poet says that his rejection of her love has broken her heart, and due to this she has almost lost interest in everything. She says almost all sorts of joy and pleasures have got vanished from her life. She says since her love has been rejected by her love, the cornflowers have grown and gone, but she did not care, singing birds came, but she did not care. All have come and gone, but her lover hasn’t returned. She now thinks herself as a fallen woman who has been used, and then thrown out by her male lover. Her appreciation of her lover’s every movement has gone vain.

I take my heart in my hand,

O my God, O my God,

My broken heart in my hand:

Thou hast seen, judge Thou

My hope was written on sand,

O my God, O my God:

Now let Thy judgment stand-

Yea, judge me now

The speaker, in this stanza, after having been deprived of her lover’s love and support, now begs to God to judge her. She pleads that it is only God that has seen her. She says my hope of loving my lover was written on sand, now it is only you (God) who can get me judgement, and forgive her so that she can become a changed woman and start a new life without her lover. Salvation and redemption, not death and condemnation, are going to be her fate. She pleads, O my God, come down and judge me now.

This contemned of a man,

This marred one heedless day,

This heart take Thou to scan

Both within and without:

Refine with fire its gold,

Purge Thou its dross away-

Yea, hold it in Thy hold,

Whence none can pluck it out.

In this fifth stanza of the poem, the poet acknowledges the uncertainty of Eros, but is, at the same time, aware of the fact that her quest for earthly love was not properly guided. She even recognises her need to be purged and refined so that she could be worthy of God’s superior love. Separated from the insensitive and arbitrary values of her patriarchal society, the speaker here finds herself completely cut-off from the natural world, as well.

Read more:   Passing And Glassing by Christina Rossetti

She, at last, views her heart as an artefact which could be “refined with fire” and idealized until it once comes out of nature, projected entirely either into the demesne of the ideal or the world of art. In the final lines of this stanza, she asks God to hold her heart in his hold, so that no one can pluck (break) it out. The poet pleads God to carry her ‘marred’ and broken heart with him and purge it of its ‘dross’ with fire and bring back the goodness and ‘gold’ in it.

I take my heart in my hand-

I shall not die, but live-

Before Thy face I stand;

I, for Thou callest such:

All that I have I bring,

All that I am I give,

Smile Thou and I shall sing,

But shall not question much.

Through this final stanza of the poem, the speaker says that the God has finally accepted her heart and repaired it, as she wanted it to be, for  she states, ‘I shall not die, but live’. She swears by everything lying with her, and she has totally surrendered herself to God, and gives a promise of not making any further question. That is; once she surrenders herself to God, she will be with him without any complaint. This may also mean that with the renouncement of all earthly passions she will be able to find a higher love.

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