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Christina Georgina Rossetti
Christina's father was Gabbriele Rossetti (1783-1854), an Italian and a poet, and, who in Italy was the "sometime curator of ancient Bronzes at Naples." Because of the political upheavals which occurred in Italy during the mid 19th century, the senior Rossetti removed himself and his family to London where he became a professor of Italian at the University of London. With this background, it is understandable why the Rossetti children turned to writing poetry. As for Christina: she never married after suffering, early in her life, from an estrangement between herself and a young man. She was a devout Anglican. In much of Christina Rossetti's poetry there is a sense of "melancholy and unhappiness."
Thus I am my own prison
Under the ivy bush
Under the ivy bush
One sits sighing,
And under the willow tree
One sits crying:
Under the ivy bush
Cease from your sighing,
But under the willow tree
Lie down a-dying.
Thus I am my own prison Everything
Around me free and sunny and at ease:
Or if in shadow? in a shade of trees
Which the sun kisses, where the gay birds sing
And where all winds make various murmuring;
Where bees are found? with honey for the bees;
Where sounds are music and where silences
Are music of unlike fashioning.
Then gaze I am the marrymaking crew,
And smile a moment and a moment sigh
Thinking: Why can I not rejoice with you?
But soon I put the foolish fancy by.
I am not what I have nor what I do.
But what I was I am, I am even I.
1 When I am dead, my dearest,
2 Sing no sad songs for me;
3 Plant thou no roses at my head,
4 Nor shady cypress tree:
5 Be the green grass above me
6 With showers and dewdrops wet;
7 And if thou wilt, remember,
8 And if thou wilt, forget.
9 I shall not see the shadows,
10 I shall not feel the rain;
11 I shall not hear the nightingale
12 Sing on, as if in pain:
13 And dreaming through the twilight
14 That doth not rise nor set,
15 Haply I may remember,
16 And haply may forget.
1 Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
2 Yes, to the very end.
3 Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
4 From morn to night, my friend.
5 But is there for the night a resting-place?
6 A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
7 May not the darkness hide it from my face?
8 You cannot miss that inn.
9 Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
10 Those who have gone before.
11 Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
12 They will not keep you standing at that door.
13 Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
14 Of labour you shall find the sum.
15 Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
16 Yea, beds for all who come.
Vanity of vanities, the preacher saith,
All things are vanity. The eye and ear
Cannot be filled with what they see and hear
Like ealy 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 yeaterday,
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 gray.
Go from me, summer friends, and tarry
I am no summer friend, but wintry cold
A silly sheep benighted from the fold,
A sluggard with a thorn-choked garden plot.
Take counsel, sever from my lot your lot,
Dwell in your pleasant places, hoard your gold.
Lest you with me should shiver on the wold,
Athirst and hungering on a buren spot.
For I have hedged me with a thorny hedge,
I live alone, I look to die alone:
Yet sometimes when a wind sigh through the sedge,
Ghosts of my buried years and friends come back
My heart goes sighing after swallows flown
On sometime summer's unreturning track.
Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and yes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O, memory, hope love of finished years.
O, dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimful of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.
1 Remember me when I am gone away,
2 Gone far away into the silent land;
3 When you can no more hold me by the hand,
4 Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
5 Remember me when no more day by day
6 You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
7 Only remember me; you understand
8 It will be late to counsel then or pray.
9 Yet if you should forget me for a while
10 And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
11 For if the darkness and corruption leave
12 A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
13 Better by far you should forget and smile
14 Than that you should remember and be sad.
Who has seen the Wind?
O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes;
Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth,
Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth
With its harsh laughter, nor for sound of sighs,
She hath no questions, she hath no replies.
Hushed in and curtained with a blessed dearth
Of all that irked her from the hour of birth;
With stillness that is almost Paradise.
Darkness more cler than noonday holdeth her.
Silence more musical than any song.
Even her very heart has ceased to stir:
Until the morning of Eternity
Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;
And when she wakes she will not think it long.
The blindest buzzard that I know
Does not wear wings to spread and stir;
Nor does my special mole wear fur,
And grub among the roots below:
He sports a tail indeed, but then
It's to a coat: he's man with men:
His quill is cut to a pen
In other points our friend's a mole,
A buzzard, beyond scope of speech.
He sees not what's within his reach,
Misreads the part, ignores the whole;
Misreads the part, so reads in vain,
Ignores the whole though patent plain, -
Misreads both parts again.
My blindest buzzard that I know,
My special mole, when will you see?
Oh no, you must not look at me,
There's nothing hid for me to show.
I might show facts as plain as day:
But, since your eyes are blind, you'd say,
"Where? What?" and turn away.
The Thread of Life
The irresponsive silence of the land
The irresponsible sounding of the sea,
Speak both one message of one sense to me:-
Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand,
Thou too aloof bound with the flawless band
Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;
But who from thy self-chain shall set thee free?
What heart shall touch thy heart? What hand thy hand?
And I am sometimes proud and sometimes meek
And sometimes I remember days of old
When fellowship seemed not so far to seek
And all the world and I seemed much less cold
And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold
And hope felt strong and life itself not weak.
Sonnet of Sonnets
Lo di che han detto a' dolci amici addio. (Dante)
Amor, con quanto sforzo oggi mi vinci! (Petrarca)
1.1 Come back to me, who wait and watch for you:--
1.2 Or come not yet, for it is over then,
1.3 And long it is before you come again,
1.4 So far between my pleasures are and few.
1.5 While, when you come not, what I do I do
1.6 Thinking "Now when he comes," my sweetest when:"
1.7 For one man is my world of all the men
1.8 This wide world holds; O love, my world is you.
1.9 Howbeit, to meet you grows almost a pang
1.10 Because the pang of parting comes so soon;
1.11 My hope hangs waning, waxing, like a moon
1.12 Between the heavenly days on which we meet:
1.13 Ah me, but where are now the songs I sang
1.14 When life was sweet because you call'd them sweet?
Era gia 1'ora che volge il desio. (Dante)
Ricorro al tempo ch' io vi vidi prima. (Petrarca)
2.1 I wish I could remember that first day,
2.2 First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
2.3 If bright or dim the season, it might be
2.4 Summer or winter for aught I can say;
2.5 So unrecorded did it slip away,
2.6 So blind was I to see and to foresee,
2.7 So dull to mark the budding of my tree
2.8 That would not blossom yet for many a May.
2.9 If only I could recollect it, such
2.10 A day of days! I let it come and go
2.11 As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
2.12 It seem'd to mean so little, meant so much;
2.13 If only now I could recall that touch,
2.14 First touch of hand in hand--Did one but know!
O ombre vane, fuor che ne l'aspetto! (Dante)
Immaginata guida la conduce. (Petrarca)
3.1 I dream of you to wake: would that I might
3.2 Dream of you and not wake but slumber on;
3.3 Nor find with dreams the dear companion gone,
3.4 As summer ended summer birds take flight.
3.5 In happy dreams I hold you full in sight,
3.6 I blush again who waking look so wan;
3.7 Brighter than sunniest day that ever shone,
3.8 In happy dreams your smile makes day of night.
3.9 Thus only in a dream we are at one,
3.10 Thus only in a dream we give and take
3.11 The faith that maketh rich who take or give;
3.12 If thus to sleep is sweeter than to wake,
3.13 To die were surely sweeter than to live,
3.14 Though there be nothing new beneath the sun.
Poca favilla gran fliamma seconda. (Dante)
Ogni altra cosa, ogni pensier va fore,
E sol ivi con voi rimansi amore. (Petrarca)
4.1 I lov'd you first: but afterwards your love
4.2 Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
4.3 As drown'd the friendly cooings of my dove.
4.4 Which owes the other most? my love was long,
4.5 And yours one moment seem'd to wax more strong;
4.6 I lov'd and guess'd at you, you construed me--
4.7 And lov'd me for what might or might not be
4.8 Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
4.9 For verily love knows not "mine" or "thine;"
4.10 With separate "I" and "thou" free love has done,
4.11 For one is both and both are one in love:
4.12 Rich love knows nought of "thine that is not mine;"
4.13 Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
4.14 Both of us, of the love which makes us one.
Amor che a nullo amato amar perdona. (Dante)
Amor m'addusse in si gioiosa spene. (Petrarca)
5.1 O my heart's heart, and you who are to me
5.2 More than myself myself, God be with you,
5.3 Keep you in strong obedience leal and true
5.4 To Him whose noble service setteth free,
5.5 Give you all good we see or can foresee,
5.6 Make your joys many and your sorrows few,
5.7 Bless you in what you bear and what you do,
5.8 Yea, perfect you as He would have you be.
5.9 So much for you; but what for me, dear friend?
5.10 To love you without stint and all I can
5.11 Today, tomorrow, world without an end;
5.12 To love you much and yet to love you more,
5.13 As Jordan at his flood sweeps either shore;
5.14 Since woman is the helpmeet made for man.
Or puoi la quantitate
Comprender de l'amor che a te mi scalda. (Dante)
Non vo' che da tal nodo mi scioglia. (Petrarca)
6.1 Trust me, I have not earn'd your dear rebuke,
6.2 I love, as you would have me, God the most;
6.3 Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost,
6.4 Nor with Lot's wife cast back a faithless look
6.5 Unready to forego what I forsook;
6.6 This say I, having counted up the cost,
6.7 This, though I be the feeblest of God's host,
6.8 The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook.
6.9 Yet while I love my God the most, I deem
6.10 That I can never love you overmuch;
6.11 I love Him more, so let me love you too;
6.12 Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such
6.13 I cannot love you if I love not Him,
6.14 I cannot love Him if I love not you.
Qui primavera sempre ed ogni frutto. (Dante)
Ragionando con meco ed io con lui. (Petrarca)
7.1 "Love me, for I love you"--and answer me,
7.2 "Love me, for I love you"--so shall we stand
7.3 As happy equals in the flowering land
7.4 Of love, that knows not a dividing sea.
7.5 Love builds the house on rock and not on sand,
7.6 Love laughs what while the winds rave desperately;
7.7 And who hath found love's citadel unmann'd?
7.8 And who hath held in bonds love's liberty?
7.9 My heart's a coward though my words are brave
7.10 We meet so seldom, yet we surely part
7.11 So often; there's a problem for your art!
7.12 Still I find comfort in his Book, who saith,
7.13 Though jealousy be cruel as the grave,
7.14 And death be strong, yet love is strong as death.
Come dicesse a Dio: D'altro non calme. (Dante)
Spero trovar pieta non che perdono. (Petrarca)
8.1 "I, if I perish, perish"--Esther spake:
8.2 And bride of life or death she made her fair
8.3 In all the lustre of her perfum'd hair
8.4 And smiles that kindle longing but to slake.
8.5 She put on pomp of loveliness, to take
8.6 Her husband through his eyes at unaware;
8.7 She spread abroad her beauty for a snare,
8.8 Harmless as doves and subtle as a snake.
8.9 She trapp'd him with one mesh of silken hair,
8.10 She vanquish'd him by wisdom of her wit,
8.11 And built her people's house that it should stand:--
8.12 If I might take my life so in my hand,
8.13 And for my love to Love put up my prayer,
8.14 And for love's sake by Love be granted it!
O dignitosa coscienza e netta! (Dante)
Spirto piu acceso di virtuti ardenti. (Petrarca)
9.1 Thinking of you, and all that was, and all
9.2 That might have been and now can never be,
9.3 I feel your honour'd excellence, and see
9.4 Myself unworthy of the happier call:
9.5 For woe is me who walk so apt to fall,
9.6 So apt to shrink afraid, so apt to flee,
9.7 Apt to lie down and die (ah, woe is me!)
9.8 Faithless and hopeless turning to the wall.
9.9 And yet not hopeless quite nor faithless quite,
9.10 Because not loveless; love may toil all night,
9.11 But take at morning; wrestle till the break
9.12 Of day, but then wield power with God and man:--
9.13 So take I heart of grace as best I can,
9.14 Ready to spend and be spent for your sake.
Con miglior corso e con migliore stella. (Dante)
La vita fugge e non s'arresta un' ora. (Petrarca)
10.1 Time flies, hope flags, life plies a wearied wing;
10.2 Death following hard on life gains ground apace;
10.3 Faith runs with each and rears an eager face,
10.4 Outruns the rest, makes light of everything,
10.5 Spurns earth, and still finds breath to pray and sing;
10.6 While love ahead of all uplifts his praise,
10.7 Still asks for grace and still gives thanks for grace,
10.8 Content with all day brings and night will bring.
10.9 Life wanes; and when love folds his wings above
10.10 Tired hope, and less we feel his conscious pulse,
10.11 Let us go fall asleep, dear friend, in peace:
10.12 A little while, and age and sorrow cease;
10.13 A little while, and life reborn annuls
10.14 Loss and decay and death, and all is love.
Vien dietro a me e lascia dir le genti. (Dante)
Contando i casi della vita nostra. (Petrarca)
11.1 Many in aftertimes will say of you
11.2 "He lov'd her"--while of me what will they say?
11.3 Not that I lov'd you more than just in play,
11.4 For fashion's sake as idle women do.
11.5 Even let them prate; who know not what we knew
11.6 Of love and parting in exceeding pain,
11.7 Of parting hopeless here to meet again,
11.8 Hopeless on earth, and heaven is out of view.
11.9 But by my heart of love laid bare to you,
11.10 My love that you can make not void nor vain,
11.11 Love that foregoes you but to claim anew
11.12 Beyond this passage of the gate of death,
11.13 I charge you at the Judgment make it plain
11.14 My love of you was life and not a breath.
Amor, che ne la mente mi ragiona. (Dante)
Amor vien nel bel viso di costei. (Petrarca)
12.1 If there be any one can take my place
12.2 And make you happy whom I grieve to grieve,
12.3 Think not that I can grudge it, but believe
12.4 I do commend you to that nobler grace,
12.5 That readier wit than mine, that sweeter face;
12.6 Yea, since your riches make me rich, conceive
12.7 I too am crown'd, while bridal crowns I weave,
12.8 And thread the bridal dance with jocund pace.
12.9 For if I did not love you, it might be
12.10 That I should grudge you some one dear delight;
12.11 But since the heart is yours that was mine own,
12.12 Your pleasure is my pleasure, right my right,
12.13 Your honourable freedom makes me free,
12.14 And you companion'd I am not alone.
E drizzeremo gli occhi al Primo Amore. (Dante)
Ma trovo peso non da le mie braccia. (Petrarca)
13.1 If I could trust mine own self with your fate,
13.2 Shall I not rather trust it in God's hand?
13.3 Without Whose Will one lily doth not stand,
13.4 Nor sparrow fall at his appointed date;
13.5 Who numbereth the innumerable sand,
13.6 Who weighs the wind and water with a weight,
13.7 To Whom the world is neither small nor great,
13.8 Whose knowledge foreknew every plan we plann'd.
13.9 Searching my heart for all that touches you,
13.10 I find there only love and love's goodwill
13.11 Helpless to help and impotent to do,
13.12 Of understanding dull, of sight most dim;
13.13 And therefore I commend you back to Him
13.14 Whose love your love's capacity can fill.
E la Sua Volontade e nostra pace. (Dante)
Sol con questi pensier, con altre chiome. (Petrarca)
14.1 Youth gone, and beauty gone if ever there
14.2 Dwelt beauty in so poor a face as this;
14.3 Youth gone and beauty, what remains of bliss?
14.4 I will not bind fresh roses in my hair,
14.5 To shame a cheek at best but little fair,--
14.6 Leave youth his roses, who can bear a thorn,--
14.7 I will not seek for blossoms anywhere,
14.8 Except such common flowers as blow with corn.
14.9 Youth gone and beauty gone, what doth remain?
14.10 The longing of a heart pent up forlorn,
14.11 A silent heart whose silence loves and longs;
14.12 The silence of a heart which sang its songs
14.13 While youth and beauty made a summer morn,
14.14 Silence of love that cannot sing again.
Christina Georgina Rossetti
© 2000 Elena and Yacov Feldman