Christina Rossetti: Celebrating Her Natal Day

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:

“A Vision of Fiammetta (detail)” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In April 1842, the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, at the age of eleven, penned those opening lines to a poem actually written for her mother’s birthday.

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

 

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel and today is the 188th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830.

She was part of a remarkable family of English-Italian scholars, artists, and poets, her older brother being Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

I thought I’d share a little excerpt from my novel that’s in its very early stages of creation. The following is from the first chapter, describing the intimacy between brother and sister, who, as children, were very similar in temperament and interests. They were called “the two storms”, while their sister Maria and brother William were called ‘the two calms”.

From a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

In adulthood Gabriel’s hand revered and mocked her, in childhood it held hers on their long walks through the park and zoo, and sometimes even farther to the poor folks’ heights of London named prettily and nostalgically Primrose Hill. For children who didn’t mind being blown about, the broad meadowed mound was a welcome contrast to the grime and gridlock of the city. It offered the chase, not for wolves or boars or deer, but, as a Tutor King must have also enjoyed, the benefits of fresh air, exercise, escape, and a sense of being on top of the world.
Copyright © 2018 by DM Denton

 

Sing, that in thy song I may
Dream myself once more a child

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell

 

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Portrait of Thanksgiving

“If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’

that would suffice.” ~ Meister Eckhart

Copyright by JM DiGiacomo 2014

Copyright by JM DiGiacomo 2014

Once again
she touched the emptiness with
a stroke of genius, had
a brush with color, used
her sense of shape and style, portrayed
her imagination with
simplicity and sophistication, and
found her purpose in doing
what she loved
for the sake of being
lost
in everything
she was meant to be.

At 89, my mom, June, doesn’t do any art now. The illustration is a card she made four years ago.

Last year I spent Thanksgiving Day with her at the rehab facility she was recovering in after being in the hospital with a severe infection.

So grateful to have her at home this year.

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we were born.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

Happy Thanksgiving

(Thursday, November 22)

to all in the US

and the world.

Gratitude is a most powerful healer.

 

 donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

“Fluctuations”

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

Fluctuations

What though the Sun had left my sky;
To save me from despair
The blessed Moon arose on high,
And shone serenely there.

I watched her, with a tearful gaze,
Rise slowly o’er the hill,
While through the dim horizon’s haze
Her light gleamed faint and chill.

I thought such wan and lifeless beams
Could ne’er my heart repay
For the bright sun’s most transient gleams
That cheered me through the day:

But, as above that mist’s control
She rose, and brighter shone,
I felt her light upon my soul;
But now–that light is gone!

Thick vapours snatched her from my sight,
And I was darkling left,
All in the cold and gloomy night,
Of light and hope bereft:

Until, methought, a little star
Shone forth with trembling ray,
To cheer me with its light afar–
But that, too, passed away.

Anon, an earthly meteor blazed
The gloomy darkness through;
I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed–
But that soon vanished too!

And darker, drearier fell the night
Upon my spirit then;–
But what is that faint struggling light?
Is it the Moon again?

Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam
And bid these clouds depart,
And let her soft celestial beam
Restore my fainting heart!

~ Anne Brontë

The candle Anne was writing by had almost burnt down. She wanted to finish the letter to Lily and get up early to post it in Thorpe Underwood village before Mary knew she was gone. She had heard Mrs. Robinson mention that she, the girls, and young Edmund were going to Great Ouseburn and the Greenhows for lunch and riding. Anne half expected to be asked along as there had been talk of her teaching their young children. The invitation never came and it seemed tomorrow, a schooling day, might be a full one off for Anne, another hint her employment with the Robinsons was nearing its end.

The nine verses of Fluctuations took up most of the inside of the letter to be folded, sealed, and stamped without an envelope. She scratched the remainder of it vertically across what was already written, like Charlotte, never one to be brief, often did. Anne smiled to think of her oldest living sister and her well-meaning verging on oppression. Lily had reminded Anne how private even casual acquaintances, those who didn’t know anyone she did and were unrelated to her past or future, were akin to that other side of solitude, not censorious but releasing. They were like shooting stars and meteors appearing and disappearing, brightening and lightening moments otherwise rendered bleak and burdened by inescapable bonds and unbearable losses.

On impulse Anne reached for her Book of Common Prayer, opening it to the blank back of its inside cover and wrote “sick of mankind and its disgusting ways”, causing injury to her prayer book and merciful nature.

~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

‘Sick of mankind and their disgusting ways’
written in the back of Anne Brontë’s prayer book.’ It is enlarged here – need a magnifying glass to read it in its original form. Biographer Winifred Gerin wrote: ‘It was meant for no eyes but hers . . .’

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

 

Saturday Short: Simply Raking

Copyright 2014 by DM Denton

The light was low,

shadows soft,

layers of leaves

gathered

with my thoughts;

no wind

to blow

them away.

~ an oldie by DM Denton

Copyright 2011 by DM Denton

1. Out of clutter, find simplicity
2. From discord, find harmony
3. In the middle of a difficulty lies opportunity

~ Albert Einstein, Three Rules of Work

 

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Sunday Short: Thought here, smiles there; perfection lies betwixt

I just had to share this charming little poem by Christina Rossetti, which I came across in my research for my novel about the Victorian poetess. It was written, when Christina was about fourteen, for Elizabeth Read who was one of the girls her older sister Maria was governess to. Christina met “Bessie” when she went to visit her sister while the Reads of Finsbury Pavement, Islington, London were summering in the country. Although Bessie was a couple of years younger, she and Christina became fast friends.

This friendship came at a particularly lonely and gloomy time—the tunneling years—for the adolescent Christina, as she was mostly isolated at home in London with her ailing, nearly sightless, cantankerous father Gabrielle Rossetti (once a vibrant, charming, cheerful man). While her oldest brother Dante Gabriel pursued his art studies, her mother, sister, and brother William were forced to go out to work to make up for the severe drop in income the family experienced when its patriarch became sick.

The poem was written to accompany a package of stamps (one hundred humble servants … their livery of red and black) Christina had saved for Bessie’s collection.

It immediately warmed my heart with its simple, gentle, clever expression of affection and support of one young woman for another, especially when both may well have needed it most. You need to look beyond that dreary house, and Bessie can only benefit from acquaintance with you—I have Maria write to Christina in my novel.

The pure, generous, uncomplicated expression of friendship Christina gave to another girl made me think how the bonds between women come early. They are not always preserved, too often interrupted and put aside, but, hopefully, are eventually valued again.

With the past and present in mind, I say: “They should be. They must be!”

To My Friend Elizabeth
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Sweetest Elizabeth, accept I pray
These lowly stamps I send in homage true;
One hundred humble servants in their way
Are not to be despised, though poor to view.
Their livery of red and black, nor gay,
Nor sober all, is typical of you,
In whom are gravity and gladness mixed.
Thought here, smiles there; perfection lies betwixt.

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – detail of the Bower Meadow

 

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Guest Post: Song of Paper by Cynthia Jobin

Today I am pleased to host Deborah Bennison regarding the latest publication from her independent press. This volume was truly a labor of love, exhibiting the excellence of content and presentation always representative of Bennison Books.

 

Readers of Diane’s blog may already be familiar with the New England poet Cynthia Jobin, whose blog attracted many followers worldwide. Admirers of her work will be delighted to learn that a collection of her poetry, Song of Paper, has just been published by Bennison Books.

 

Amazon.com (https://amzn.to/2A8Pq3d)

Amazon UK (https://amzn.to/2NFTF9M)

 

With a fine intelligence and shining poetic sensibility, Cynthia documents the joys and griefs that mark the common humanity of our everyday lives. She explores the inexplicable exhilaration and longing that love brings and courageously delineates the crushing desolation she felt at losing her lifelong partner.

The magnificent sequence of poems which close the collection trace the journey towards her own impending death and the deeply moving acceptance with which she finally faced it.

 

Excerpt from the introduction

Shortly before her death in late 2016, Cynthia entrusted her poetic legacy to the UK poet John Looker who had long admired her work. The following is an excerpt from John’s introduction to Song of Paper:

Cynthia Jobin’s poetry is skillfully crafted and both erudite and accessible. She wrote about the mysteries of life, her grief following the death of her partner of 43 years, love and friendship, the joy of pets and the landscape of New England. She also translated French poetry. There was a depth of feeling and an unobtrusive intellect at work, but equally a lightness of touch and humour. The poems in this collection show that variety of theme and equally her range of tone; she would write just for fun as well as with serious intent.

When reading a new poem from Cynthia Jobin I have always had that comfortable feeling of being in good hands: we know that the verses are going to be impeccably crafted but we can’t predict what path they will take.

I am sure that new readers and old friends alike will discover this for themselves on reading this collection. The title, Song of Paper, comes from the opening poem and feels so apposite. The closing poem, which was also the last she ever posted in life, and which shows humour even in the midst of wisdom and courage, is an immensely moving reflection from someone who knew herself to be very close to death.

The late Cynthia Jobin

Below are extracts from two poems included in this collection
and the full version of ‘To a Tulip’.

Extract from ‘The Palpable Obscure’:

Once a day, at least, I stop to wonder

where you are.  I do not think of

you as being here.  Except, tonight

 

a heightening of powers in the darkness

wants to break November from October

with a cold slap and a small wail in the wind.

Something more than me, something much

more sure that you abide, this night, brings

you, in ways that I can almost touch.

****

Extract from ‘Riviera Reverie’:

The boy cat, all noblesse oblige,

takes his reserved, tacitly acknowledged place.

 

Drawn to their warm, imaginary blankets

spread upon the floor, these beloved creatures

 

bring to mind the worshipful habitués

of Côte d’Azur, Côte d’Or.  As the sun reaches

 

they respond, grab on, luxuriate

and, for this brief moment, even teach.

 

Should a phone call come for any one of them

I’ll say they are away, gone to the beach.

****

To a Tulip 

You,

yellow flower

standing in a cobalt vase,

unfurling blades,

stemmed sacramental cup –

winter was hard

but now your simple grace

is green announcement:

things are looking up.

There by the window you

to sunlight are the antiphon,

beauty new as beauties past,

spring’s insistence

life should carry on.

Yet you become

most beautiful at last,

when age and death are

what you must fulfill:

come that night

you can no longer

close against the dark,

you open wide until

you are all heart,

and every petal knows

translucence as it falls.

You could be hinting

how to do it, for us all.

Copyright Cynthia Jobin estate; Bennison Books.

 

Song of Paper is available from:

Amazon.com

Amazon UK

Please check out all the excellent publications from Bennison Books!

She will be the most spirited of all

As some of you may know, Christina Rossetti, Victorian poetess, sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet and founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, is the subject of my next novel WIP.

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I relate to much about Christina, being myself of an Italian and English background, experiencing the contradictions of the combination in almost every aspect of my life, sometimes frustrated but mostly grateful for how I am affected by them. Also, because of Christina’s own childhood and adolescence, which have occupied the early days of my research and writing, I have been reminded of something my mother had heard and shared with me: that we are most ourselves at the threshold of puberty. Having lost her own mother at the age of ten, my mom knows how deeply that tragic event affected and shaped her.

If I look back to myself around that time, I do find my essence, my dreams, my goals, my core beliefs—all on the verge of what will happen to nourish or disparage them.

Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell Scott

Christina’s maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, said of her as a child: “Avra piu spiritu di tutti” (she will be the most spirited of all).

Based on her second brother William’s reflections, I wrote this in my budding manuscript: He was looking for the little sister who was vivacious, couldn’t help opening her heart or saying what was on her mind, and was only ever upset for childish reasons. The one who filled the house with sudden impulses and notions, questions and expectations, who never thought about growing up and yet promised to be self-confident and engaging, a bright star in society when she did. 

As William realized: “… what came to pass was, of course, quite the contrary.”

Gabriel and Christina by Max Beerbohm

“Well, Christina, your heart may be like a singing bird,
but why do you dress like a pew-opener?”

Christina Rossetti, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

There is a gap in Christina’s story. Just before she turned 13, “towards the end of 1842”, as one of her biographers, Georgina Battiscombe writes, “darkness falls upon this attractive, open-hearted child. For years she vanishes from view, to emerge again in 1847 changed almost beyond recognition.”

There are supposed reasons for this transformation of Christina: including a change in family circumstances (that affected its optimism and finances) when her father became ill, the normal physical and psychological alterations of an adolescent female, and a religious crisis nor unlike the one Anne Brontë (the focus of my novel Without the Veil Between) had at a similar age.

There is proof that during this time Christina began to seriously develop her poetic voice and to realize writing, especially poetry, as her true calling.  By sixteen she was considered the poet of the family, even her sometimes jealous sister Maria pronouncing her so and diligently and—although she might not outright admit it—proudly copying Christina’s poetry into a journal.

Illustration for the original publication of Goblin Market by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

 

For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.

~ from Goblin Market
by Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

Another thing for certain occurred during the dark tunnel Christina traveled between the ages of 13 and 17 to emerge so altered: melancholic reflection, observation and appreciation of nature, religious devotion, a gift for lyricism and a deceptively simple use of language was seeded, germinated, and burgeoned into an ever-increasingly beautiful field of poetry and other writings very evocative of the indomitable spirit her grandfather had early on recognized in her.

Not, after all …

Gone Forever

O happy rosebud blooming
Upon thy parent tree,
Nay, thou art too presuming
For soon the earth entombing
Thy faded charms shall be,
And the chill damp consuming.

O happy skylark springing
Up to the broad blue sky,
Too fearless in thy winging,
Too gladsome in thy singing,
Thou also soon shalt lie
Where no sweet notes are ringing.

And through life’s shine and shower
We shall have joy and pain;
But in the summer bower,
And at the morning hour,
We still shall look in vain
For the same bird and flower.

~ Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti, age 18, by Dante Gabrielle Rossetti

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.