Christina Rosetti

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) has in recent years become my favorite poet. She wrote with a spiritually transcendent perspective born out of her love of the Creator, of her involvement in the Anglican Church, of her fascination with nature and of her acute awareness that life in this world is very brief. Her favorite poets included Dante, Keats and Tennyson.

As a child, she dictated her first story to her mother before she learned to write.

Her life was plagued by bouts of depression, by loneliness as the youngest child and by the breakups of engagements to three different men.

Christina’s deep religious faith sparked her relief work on behalf of prostitutes, unwed mothers, women in prison and the rescue of young girls from sexual exploitation; she also opposed slavery and the use of animals in medical research.

She often modeled for her brother, the poet/artist/leader of the pre-Raphaelite movement, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and, when he took ill, moved back into the family home to take care of him until he died. But her own reverent lifestyle was radically different from his hedonistic one and that of the artists he associated with.
Christina’s most famous book is the long story poem Goblin Market, a parable on good and evil in its depiction of two sisters and their struggles with temptation. It was the basis for an off-Broadway musical 30 years ago.

One poem, A Summer Wish, is a sublime example of her literary artistry:

Live all thy sweet life through,
Sweet Rose, dew-sprent,
Drop down thine evening dew
To gather it anew
When day is bright:
I fancy thou was meant
Chiefly to give delight.

Sing in the silent sky,
Glad soaring bird;
Sing out thy notes on high
To sunbeams straying by
Or passing cloud;
Heedless if thou art heard
Sing thy full song aloud.

Oh that it were with me
As with the flower;
Blooming on its own tree
For butterfly and bee
Its summer morns:
That I might bloom mine hour
A rose in spite of thorns.

Oh that thy work were done
As birds that soar
Rejoicing in the sun:
That when my time is run
And daylight to,
I so might rest once more
Cool with refreshing dew.

Christina was considered by many the heir apparent to Elizabeth Barrett Browning as England’s finest woman poet, upon the latter’s death in 1861. She developed breast cancer in 1893 and died December 29, 1894, at the age of 64.


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