"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

09 August 2013

Poems by Christina Rossetti

I love Christina Rossetti's work, and I have revisited it a bit lately.  Here are some of my favorites; some of the line formatting I have trouble reproducing (she typically indents middle lines of sonnet quatrains, for example).


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for awhile
And afterwards remember, do not grieve;
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

If Only

If I might only love my God and die!
But now He bids me love Him and live on,
Now when the bloom of all my life is gone,
The pleasant half of life has quite gone by.
My tree of hope is lopped that spread so high;
And I forget how Summer glowed and shone,
While Autumn grips me with its fingers wan,
And frets me with its fitful windy sigh.
When Autumn passes then must Winter numb,
And Winter may not pass a weary while,
But when it passes Spring shall flower again:
And in that Spring who weepeth now shall smile,
Yea, they shall wax who now are on the wane,
Yea, they shall sing for love when Christ shall come.

Weary in Well-Doing

I would have gone; God bade me stay:
I would have worked; God bade me rest.
He broke my will from day to day,
He read my yearnings unexpressed
And said them nay.

Now I would stay; God bids me go:
Now I would rest; God bids me work.
He breaks my heart tossed to and fro,
My soul is wrung with doubts that lurk
And vex it so.

I go, Lord, where Thou sendest me;
Day after day I plod and moil:
But, Christ my God, when will it be
That I may let alone my toil
And rest with Thee?

Does Thou Not Care?

I love and love not: Lord, it breaks my heart
To love and not to love.
Thou veiled within Thy glory, gone apart
Into Thy shrine, which is above,
Dost Thou not love me, Lord, or care
For this mine ill? –
I will love thee here or there,
I will accept thy broken heart, lie still.

Lord, it was well with me in time gone by
That cometh not again,
When I was fresh and cheerful, who but I?
I fresh, I cheerful: worn with pain
Now, out of sight and out of heart;
O, Lord, how long? –
I watch thee as thou art,
I will accept thy fainting heart, be strong.

“Lie still,” “be strong,” today; but, Lord, tomorrow,
What of tomorrow, Lord?
Shall there be rest from toil, be truce from sorrow,
Be living green upon the sward
Now but a barren grave to me,
Be joy for sorrow? –
Did I not die for thee?
Do I not live for thee?  leave Me tomorrow.

Who Shall Deliver Me?

God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out,
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run!  Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease and rest and joys.

Myself, arch-traitor to myself;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me,
Break off the yoke and set me free.

Some of my favorites are too long to reproduce here, but Monna Innominata is a sonnet of sonnets compelling in its beauty and truth; An Old-World Thicket I merely have "wow" written beside in my collection, and Books in the Running Brooks is a beautiful piece that addresses the (limited) value of nature.


Thomas D said...

Thank you, Beth, for posting these poems by a poet who has not (yet!) engaged me. I have encountered "Remember" before, and of the poems here that are new to me, I like "Weary in Well-Doing" best, but will certainly give the other three a chance. I like the firm form of "Who Shall Deliver Me?" -- so, keep working on me and I might come around! I think I'll always prefer Dante Gabriel to Christina, but I'm open to the possibility that there are excellences in the junior Rossetti's work that I have missed.

Thanks again!

Beth Impson said...

Tom, the ones I named but didn't type up are ones you might really enjoy. I expect you can find at least "Monna Innominata" on the web.

As I read deeper into her work preparing for my class and then teaching, I found more and more to love in her honesty about brokenness and yet a simple -- but not simplistic -- faith that didn't waver even in the darkness and doubts. My students fell in love with her.

And she wrote just about everything -- hymns, sonnets, nonsense, narratives, all of it. Amazing!

David C Brown said...

Fine to read some old friends (mainly) again. It is fine to see Christian experience expressed like this.

Beth Impson said...

Thanks for visiting, Mr. Brown. It was a delight to revisit her poetry to select some to post here.

William Luse said...

I missed this post, but want to say at this late date that I too became enamored of this woman when I took a course in Victorian poetry in college. I may still have the textbook.