Selected Poems: Christina Rossetti

Selected Poems: Christina Rossetti

by Christina Rossetti
     
 

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Christina Rossetti was in a sense the first poet of the Pre-Raphelites, her Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862) having been - as if by accident - the writing from that group which first caught public attention. It contains many of her best poems. Later work - devotional poems, love lyrics and descriptive pieces - extended the themes and forms of her first

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Christina Rossetti was in a sense the first poet of the Pre-Raphelites, her Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862) having been - as if by accident - the writing from that group which first caught public attention. It contains many of her best poems. Later work - devotional poems, love lyrics and descriptive pieces - extended the themes and forms of her first remarkable collection. It is remarkable, but in a quiet and intense way, not in the manner of those who seem to have learned from her among her contemporaries. Ford Madox Ford, who had a subtle ear for the unemphatic excellence of the nineteenth-century writers, called her 'the most valuable poet that the Victorian age produced'. Her modern admirers are many, especially among the poets. Philip Larkin speaks of her poetry as 'unequalled for its objective expression of happiness denied and a certain unfamiliar steely stoicism'. In this selection C.H. Sisson presents a wide range of her work and in his biographical and critical introduction suggests fresh perspectives on it. Sisson also includes here Rossetti's long-unavailable 'Maude, A Story for Girls', which was written when she was very young and gives some indication of her cast of mind and her skills as a writer of prose fiction. The character of Maude is a severe self-portrait, wry at her own expense. As Sisson says, 'with any poet the starting-point, social as well as literary, is worth finding out about'.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sisson is the quintessential English litterateur: career civil servant, poet with over 20 collections published since 1959, essayist, editor, novelist, critic and translator (Latin and other languages). The first poems here date from WW II; the last, a sequence, was written in 1995 when Sisson was 81. Throughout, his concerns are similiar: identity; mind and body; age; culture; landscape. His judgments of himself, and of humanity generally, are often harsh. "I have no person fit for resurrection," he says in an early poem; in one of the latest he writes, "So fumbling bodies try to make/ Friendship and love as best they can:/ None ever was without mistake/ and lies by woman and by man." Sisson is consistently plain, if not always clear; in these poems, he is rarely adventurous in meter or language. Individual poems"On My 51st Birthday" and "The Mappemonde"are outstanding, but the collection overall has a one-note tone and seems somewhat dated and weighty. (June)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781847779731
Publisher:
Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date:
09/01/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
166
File size:
453 KB

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Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems


By C.H. Sisson

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2002 C.H. Sisson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-973-1



CHAPTER 1

    COUPLET


    'Come cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer'–
    As the soldier remarked whose post lay in the rear.


    MARY MAGDALENE


    She came in deep repentance,
        And knelt down at His feet
    Who can change the sorrow into joy,
        The bitter into sweet.

    She had cast away her jewels
        And her rich attire,
    And her breast was filled with a holy shame,
        And her heart with a holy fire.

    Her tears were more precious
        Than her precious pearls–
    Her tears that fell upon His feet
        As she wiped them with her curls.

    Her youth and her beauty
        Were budding to their prime;
    But she wept for the great transgression,
        The sin of other time.

    Trembling betwixt hope and fear,
        She sought the King of Heaven,
    Forsook the evil of her ways,
        Loved much, and was forgiven.


    SPRING QUIET


    Gone were but the Winter,
        Come were but the Spring,
    I would go to a covert
        Where the birds sing;

    Where in the whitethorn
        Singeth the thrush,
    And a robin sings
        In the holly-bush.

    Full of fresh scents
        Are the budding boughs
    Arching high over
        A cool green house;

    Full of sweet scents,
        And whispering air
    Which sayeth softly:
        'We spread no snare;

    'Here dwell in safety,
        Here dwell alone,
    With a clear stream
        And a mossy stone.

    'Here the sun shineth
        Most shadily;
    Here is heard an echo
        Of the far sea,
        Though far off it be.'


    SONG


    When I am dead, my dearest,
        Sing no sad songs for me;
    Plant thou no roses at my head,
        Nor shady cypress tree:
    Be the green grass above me
        With showers and dewdrops wet:
    And if thou wilt, remember,
        And if thou wilt, forget.

    I shall not see the shadows,
        I shall not fear the rain;
    I shall not hear the nightingale
        Sing on as if in pain:
    And dreaming through the twilight
        That doth not rise nor set,
    Haply I may remember,
        And haply may forget.


    BITTER FOR SWEET


    Summer is gone with all its roses,
        Its sun and perfumes and sweet flowers,
        Its warm air and refreshing showers:
            And even Autumn closes.

    Yea, Autumn's chilly self is going,
        And Winter comes which is yet colder;
        Each day the hoar-frost waxes bolder,
            And the last buds cease blowing.


    THREE STAGES


    1.–A Pause of Thought

    I looked for that which is not, nor can be,
        And hope deferred made my heart sick in truth:
        But years must pass before a hope of youth
            Is resigned utterly.

    I watched and waited with a steadfast will:
        And though the object seemed to flee away
        That I so longed for, ever day by day
            I watched and waited still.

    Sometimes I said: 'This thing shall be no more;
        My expectation wearies and shall cease;
        I will resign it now and be at peace':
            Yet never gave it o'er.

    Sometimes I said: 'It is an empty name
        I long for; to a name why should I give
        The peace of all the days I have to live?'–
            Yet gave it all the same.

    Alas thou foolish one! alike unfit
        For healthy joy and salutary pain:
    Thou knowest the chase useless, and again
            Turnest to follow it.

    2.–The End of the First Part

    My happy happy dream is finished with,
        My dream in which alone I lived so long.
    My heart slept–woe is me, it wakeneth;
            Was weak–I thought it strong.

    Oh weary wakening from a life-true dream!
        Oh pleasant dream from which I wake in pain!
    I rested all my trust on things that seem,
        And all my trust is vain.

    I must pull down my palace that I built,
        Dig up the pleasure-gardens of my soul;
    Must change my laughter to sad tears for guilt,
        My freedom to control.

    Now all the cherished secrets of my heart,
        Now all my hidden hopes, are turned to sin.
    Part of my life is dead, part sick, and part
            Is all on fire within.

    The fruitless thought of what I might have been,
        Haunting me ever, will not let me rest.
    A cold North wind has withered all my green,
            My sun is in the West.

    But, where my palace stood, with the same stone
        I will uprear a shady hermitage:
    And there my spirit shall keep house alone,
        Accomplishing its age.

    There other garden-beds shall lie around,
        Full of sweet-briar and incense-bearing thyme:
    There will I sit, and listen for the sound
        Of the last lingering chime.

    3.

    I thought to deal the death-stroke at a blow:
    To give all, once for all, but never more: –
    Then sit to hear the low waves fret the shore,
        Or watch the silent snow.

    'Oh rest,' I thought, 'in silence and the dark:
    Oh rest, if nothing else, from head to feet:
    Though I may see no more the poppied wheat,
        Or sunny soaring lark.

    'These chimes are slow, but surely strike at last:
    This sand is slow, but surely droppeth through:
    And much there is to suffer, much to do,
        Before the time be past.

    'So will I labour, but will not rejoice:
    Will do and bear, but will not hope again:
    Gone dead alike to pulses of quick pain
        And pleasure's counterpoise.'

    I said so in my heart: and so I thought
    My life would lapse, a tedious monotone:
    I thought to shut myself and dwell alone
        Unseeking and unsought.

    But first I tired, and then my care grew slack,
    Till my heart dreamed, and maybe wandered too:
    I felt the sunshine glow again, and knew
        The swallow on its track:

    All birds awoke to building in the leaves,
    All buds awoke to fullness and sweet scent:
    Ah too my heart woke unawares, intent
        On fruitful harvest-sheaves.

    Full pulse of life, that I had deemed was dead;
    Full throb of youth, that I had deemed at rest.
    Alas I cannot build myself a nest,
        I cannot crown my head

    With royal purple blossoms for the feast,
    Nor flush with laughter, nor exult in song:–
    These joys may drift, as time now drifts along;
        And cease, as once they ceased.

    I may pursue, and yet may not attain,
    Athirst and panting all the days I live:
    Or seem to hold, yet nerve myself to give
        What once I gave, again.


    ONE CERTAINTY


    Vanity of vanities, the Preacher saith,
        All things are vanity. The eye and ear
        Cannot be filled with what they see and hear.
    Like early dew, or like the sudden breath
    Of wind, or like the grass that withereth,
        Is man, tossed to and fro by hope and fear:
        So little joy hath he, so little cheer,
    Till all things end in the long dust of death.
    To-day is still the same as yesterday,
        To-morrow also even as one of them;
            And there is nothing new under the sun:
            Until the ancient race of Time be run,
        The old thorns shall grow out of the old stem,
    And morning shall be cold and twilight grey.


    TWO PURSUITS

    A voice said, 'Follow, follow': and I rose
        And followed far into the dreamy night,
        Turning my back upon the pleasant light.
    It led me where the bluest water flows,
    And would not let me drink: where the corn grows
        I dared not pause, but went uncheered by sight
        Or touch: until at length in evil plight
    It left me, wearied out with many woes.
    Some time I sat as one bereft of sense:
        But soon another voice from very far
            Called, 'Follow, follow': and I rose again.
    Now on my night has dawned a blessed star:
            Kind steady hands my sinking steps sustain,
    And will not leave me till I shall go hence.


    A TESTIMONY


    I said of laughter: it is vain.
        Of mirth I said: what profits it?
        Therefore I found a book, and writ
    Therein how ease and also pain,
    How health and sickness, every one
    Is vanity beneath the sun.

    Man walks in a vain shadow; he
        Disquieteth himself in vain.
        The things that were shall be again;
    The rivers do not fill the sea,
    But turn back to their secret source;
    The winds too turn upon their course.

    Our treasures moth and rust corrupt,
        Or thieves break through and steal, or they
        Make themselves wings and fly away.
    One man made merry as he supped,
    Nor guessed how when that night grew dim
    His soul would be required of him.

    We build our houses on the sand
        Comely withoutside and within;
        But when the winds and rains begin
    To beat on them, they cannot stand:
    They perish, quickly overthrown,
    Loose from the very basement stone.

    All things are vanity, I said:
        Yea vanity of vanities.
        The rich man dies; the poor man dies:
    The worm feeds sweetly on the dead.
    Whate'er thou lackest, keep this trust:
    All in the end shall have but dust:

    The one inheritance, which best
        And worst alike shall find and share:
        The wicked cease from troubling there,
    And there the weary be at rest;
    There all the wisdom of the wise
    Is vanity of vanities.

    Man flourishes as a green leaf,
        And as a leaf doth pass away;
        Or as a shade that cannot stay
    And leaves no track, his course is brief:
    Yet man doth hope and fear and plan
    Till he is dead:–oh foolish man!

    Our eyes cannot be satisfied
        With seeing, nor our ears be filled
        With hearing: yet we plant and build
    And buy and make our borders wide;
    We gather wealth, we gather care,
    But know not who shall be our heir.

    How should we hasten to arise
        So early, and so late take rest?
        Our labour is not good; our best
    Hopes fade; our heart is stayed on lies.
    Verily, we sow wind; and we
    Shall reap the whirlwind, verily.

    He who hath little shall not lack;
        He who hath plenty shall decay:
        Our fathers went; we pass away;
    Our children follow on our track:
    So generations fail, and so
    They are renewed and come and go.

    The earth is fattened with our dead;
        She swallows more and doth not cease:
        Therefore her wine and oil increase
    And her sheaves are not numberèd;
    Therefore her plants are green, and all
    Her pleasant trees lusty and tall.

    Therefore the maidens cease to sing,
        And the young men are very sad;
        Therefore the sowing is not glad,
    And mournful is the harvesting.
    Of high and low, of great and small,
    Vanity is the lot of all.

    A King dwelt in Jerusalem;
        He was the wisest man on earth;
        He had all riches from his birth,
    And pleasures till he tired of them;
    Then, having tested all things, he
    Witnessed that all are vanity.


    SONG


    Oh roses for the flush of youth,
        And laurel for the perfect prime;
    But pluck an ivy branch for me
        Grown old before my time.

    Oh violets for the grave of youth,
        And bay for those dead in their prime;
    Give me the withered leaves I chose
        Before in the old time.


    AFTER DEATH


    The curtains were half drawn, the floor was swept
        And strewn with rushes, rosemary and may
        Lay thick upon the bed on which I lay,
    Where through the lattice ivy-shadows crept.
    He leaned above me, thinking that I slept
        And could not hear him, but I heard him say,
        'Poor child, poor child': and as he turned away
    Came a deep silence, and I knew he wept.
    He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold
        That hid my face, or take my hand in his,
            Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head:
            He did not love me living; but once dead
        He pitied me; and very sweet it is
    To know that he is warm though I am cold.


    LOOKING FORWARD


    Sleep, let me sleep, for I am sick of care;
        Sleep, let me sleep, for my pain wearies me.
    Shut out the light; thicken the heavy air
    With drowsy incense; let a distant stream
    Of music lull me, languid as a dream,
        Soft as the whisper of a summer sea.

    Pluck me no rose that groweth on a thorn,
        Nor myrtle white and cold as snow in June,
    Fit for a virgin on her marriage morn:
    But bring me poppies brimmed with sleepy death,
    And ivy choking what it garlandeth,
        And primroses that open to the moon.

    Listen, the music swells into a song,
        A simple song I loved in days of yore;
    The echoes take it up and up along
    The hills, and the wind blows it back again.–
    Peace, peace, there is a memory in that strain
        Of happy days that shall return no more.

    Oh peace! your music wakeneth old thought,
        But not old hope that made my life so sweet,
    Only the longing that must end in nought.
    Have patience with me, friends, a little while:
    For soon, where you shall dance and sing and smile,
        My quickened dust may blossom at your feet.

    Sweet thought that I may yet live and grow green,
        That leaves may yet spring from the withered root,
    And buds and flowers and berries half unseen.
    Then, if you haply muse upon the past,
    Say this: Poor child, she has her wish at last;
        Barren through life, but in death bearing fruit.


    REMEMBER


    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 plann'd:
    Only remember me; you understand
    It will be late to counsel then or pray.
    Yet if you should forget me for a while
        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.


    SEEKING REST


    My mother said: 'The child is changed
        That used to be so still;
    All the long day she sings and sings,
        And seems to think no ill;
    She laughs as if some inward joy
        Her heart would overfill.'

    My Sisters said: 'Now prythee tell
        Thy secret unto us:
    Let us rejoice with thee; for all
        Is surely prosperous.
    Thou art so merry: tell us, Sweet:
        We had not used thee thus.'

    My Mother says: 'What ails the child
        Lately so blythe of cheer?
    Art sick or sorry? Nay, it is
        The winter of the year;
    Wait till the Springtime comes again,
        And the sweet flowers appear.'

    My Sisters say: 'Come, sit with us,
        That we may weep with thee:
    Show us thy grief that we may grieve:
        Yea haply, if we see
    Thy sorrow, we may ease it; but
        Shall share it certainly.'

    How should I share my pain, who kept
        My pleasure all my own?
    My Spring will never come again;
        My pretty flowers have blown
    For the last time; I can but sit
        And think and weep alone.


    A PORTRAIT


    1

    She gave up beauty in her tender youth,
        Gave all her hope and joy and pleasant ways;
        She covered up her eyes lest they should gaze
    On vanity, and chose the bitter truth.
    Harsh towards herself, towards others full of ruth,
        Servant of servants, little known to praise,
        Long prayers and fasts trenched on her nights and days:
    She schooled herself to sights and sounds uncouth
    That with the poor and stricken she might make
        A home, until the least of all sufficed
    Her wants; her own self learned she to forsake,
    Counting all earthly gain but hurt and loss.
    So with calm will she chose and bore the cross
        And hated all for love of Jesus Christ.

    2

    They knelt in silent anguish by her bed,
        And could not weep; but calmly there she lay.
        All pain had left her; and the last sun's ray
    Shone through upon her, warming into red
    The shady curtains. In her heart she said:
        'Heaven opens; I leave these and go away;
        The Bridegroom calls,–shall the Bride seek to stay?'
    Then low upon her breast she bowed her head.
    O lily flower, O gem of priceless worth,
        O dove with patient voice and patient eyes,
    O fruitful vine amid the land of dearth,
        O maid replete with loving purities,
    Thou bowedst down thy head with friends on earth
        To raise it with the saints in Paradise.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems by C.H. Sisson. Copyright © 2002 C.H. Sisson. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Christina Rossetti was born in 1830 in London and educated at home. She was associated with the Pre-Raphaelites through her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Her first collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862) was extremely successful and this was followed by The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866) and A Pageant and Other Poems (1881). She also wrote a collection of verse for children and several essays about religion. After her death in 1894, her eldest brother, William, brought out a complete collection of her poetry. C. H. SISSON was made a Companion of Honour for services to literature in 1993. Carcanet published his poems, translations and prose writings. Born in Bristol in 1914, C. H. Sisson was one of our finest poets and 'one of the great translators of our time' (Times Literary Supplement). He was also a novelist, essayist and polemicist. Carcanet publish his Collected Poems, his novels, essays, and his autobiography On the Lookout, as well as his versions of Dante, Virgil, La Fontaine, Du Bellay, Lucretius and others. C. H. SISSON was made a Companion of Honour for services to literature in 1993. Carcanet published his poems, translations and prose writings. Born in Bristol in 1914, C. H. Sisson was one of our finest poets and 'one of the great translators of our time' (Times Literary Supplement). He was also a novelist, essayist and polemicist. Carcanet publish his Collected Poems, his novels, essays, and his autobiography On the Lookout, as well as his versions of Dante, Virgil, La Fontaine, Du Bellay, Lucretius and others.

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