I came to know Christina Rossetti when my mother brought home to me a book of her poetry called Goblin Market and Other Poems at a time when I myself was beginning to write in this form.
Rossetti is perhaps best known for “Goblin Market,” which established her as an important Victorian female poet, even as successor to Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, who had died the year before publication of the piece. The poem is about two sisters, though it has been interpreted within a variety of viable theories, including temptation and salvation as well as social redemption.
But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answer’d all together:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
The youngest child of an exiled Italian revolutionary, Rossetti is the sister of William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (Pre-Raphaelites). She dictated her first story to her mother before she could write, her first book was printed when she was twelve, and by sixteen she had a collection of over fifty poems. Writing in many styles for over half a century, her works “possess an intellectual depth which shows Rossetti to be an astute questioner and analyst of her contemporary world,” which included developing science such as Darwin’s theory of evolution. Her poetry is heavily influenced by her religious beliefs, though in her writing she often questions these ideals. With her two brothers she often played bouts rimes, which she excelled at.
Rossetti turned down two suitors while working for over ten years with an agency concerned with the rehabilitation and re-training of former prostitutes. She continued to write poetry for the rest of her life, and it was praised by such figures as Hopkins, Tennyson and Swinburne, the last of whom dedicated his own collection of poetry to her. Included in her writing was children’s poetry and some of her work was set as Christmas carols. The poet died just after Christmas 1894.
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 feel 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.
Goblin Market and Other Poems audiobook may be downloaded here.
A fantastic summary of Rossetti’s poetry
A longish but worthy article about Christina Rossetti