The Poets

May 16, 2009

Pre-Raphaelite Poet: Christina Rossetti*

Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)

Christina Rossetti was born in London, one of four children of Italian parents. Her father was the poet Gabriele Rossetti; her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti also became a poet and a painter. Rossetti's first poems were written in 1842 and printed in the private press of her grandfather. In 1850, under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne, she contributed seven poems to the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, which had been founded by her brother William Michael and his friends.

Rossetti is best known for her ballads and her mystic religious lyrics. Her poetry is marked by symbolism and intense feeling. Rossetti's best-known work, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published in 1862. The collection established Rossetti as a significant voice in Victorian poetry. The Prince's Progress and Other Poems, appeared in 1866 followed by Sing-Song, a collection of verse for children, in 1872 (with illustrations by Arthur Hughes).

By the 1880s, recurrent bouts of Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder, made Rossetti an invalid, and ended her attempts to work as a governess. While the illness restricted her social life, she continued to write poems. Among her later works are A Pageant and Other Poems (1881), and The Face of the Deep (1892). Rossetti also wrote religious prose works, such as Seek and Find (1879), Called To Be Saints (1881) and The Face of the Deep (1892). In 1891, Rossetti developed cancer, of which she died in London on December 29, 1894. Rossetti's brother, William Michael, edited her collected works in 1904, but the Complete Poems were not published before 1979.

Christina Rossetti is increasingly being reconsidered a major Victorian poet. She has been compared to Emily Dickinson but the similarity is more in the choice of spiritual topics than in poetic approach, Rossetti's poetry being one of intense feelings, her technique refined within the forms established in her time.

*Biography from


Doug P. Baker said...

Christina Rossetti is brilliant! I re-read her poetry often and it is always fresh each time I do. I would not compare her to Dickinson; perhaps to Elizabeth Barrett Browning but not to Dickinson. Though Dickinson and Rossetti both dealt in a great many poems with the theme of time-vs-eternity, they handled the matter differently and in vastly different poetics.

Have you seen her brother's painting of the Annunciation? Young Christina was his model for Mary. Her expression in the painting is beyond description, but somehow I think it is an expression that she must have worn often for I hear it in her poems.

Obiterspeak said...

I first came to appreciate Christina Rossetti many years ago after reading Goblin Market, which was meaningful to me given the bond I share with my own sisters (as well as its broader implications for the matter of faith, solidarity and sisterhood and even feminist/women-oriented thought). In terms of form and style I very much agree that Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning seem to be on the same footing. However, Rossetti and Dickinson seem to share a profound concern for solitude (i.e. not present to nearly the same degree in Browning) and the spiritual themes in their works are framed by it... or so it seems to me.

Speaking of which, I have just read your April 2009 posts and find them very significant, especially Lethe. Thank you for sharing a measure of your own concern for solitude, my friend :-)

As of April 9th, 2010