I don’t know much about the life of Christina Rosetti. I know a little more about her brother, the artist Dante Gabriel Rosetti. The introduction to this book of her poems says that something happened to her when she was 15 that changed her from a mercurial child into a controlled, careful young woman. Certainly, her poetry shows a preoccupation with religion and death. It is also brimming with life, full of nature and love.
In “The Goblin Market,” for example, her descriptions of the goblin’s fruit are luscious. But though I understand the introductory comments about the poems being too sexually explicit for Victorian tastes, I see this poem as more about the pleasures and temptations of life versus spiritual values.
Some of the poetry in this collection dwells on themes I am not that fond of, but there is no doubt that the language is vivid and gorgeous. I don’t know if the poems are arranged sequentially, but some of the earlier ones remind me somewhat of traditional folk songs. Her sonnets employ an unusual rhyme scheme, close to Petrarchian, but with the last six lines using a different scheme.
One of my favorite poems was “In an Artist’s Studio,” about how the artist paints and repaints his model:
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
Fair as the moon and joyfull as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
I know that Dante Gabriel occasionally painted Christina when she was young, but this poem made me think of how he obsessively painted his mistress, Lizzie Siddal.