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 189th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830. It is an immense undertaking, satisfying, if very challenging, writing about her. Especially as I am very much occupied and often exhausted by the care of my elderly mom these days. (Hence my infrequency posting lately)

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. You can read a brief bio I did of her for The Literary Ladies Guide.

I’m going to share a different excerpt than I did last year when I originally created this post. This one depicts Christina and her mother posing for Dante Gabriel’s first completed oil painting: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin 1849 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On the second visit, a few days later, Christina didn’t notice the shadiness and shabbiness of the location and look of Gabriel’s lodging and studio, her mother’s hand holding hers rather than the other way around. Her ascent into a holy scene, where she would inspire the painting of purity, felt like the best thing she had ever done. The light from the east—why Gabriel wanted them there early in the morning—miraculously broke through the rain and fog intent on spoiling that October. This time everything was ready for Christina to pose at the needlework frame Gabriel had convinced Aunt Eliza to part with for a few days, which he counted over a few weeks. No sooner Christina had, as she thought, perfected her leaning, her brother decided he wanted his Mary to sit upright, “in duty circumspect”, to the attention of her actual and acting mother, who was stiffly seated adjacent to her.

Gabriel came over and delicately adjusted their hand positions to be close but not touching. “There must be no doubt you are pious, humble, devoted to, and, yet, distinct from each other.”

“There won’t be, son, if you portray us as we are.”

He had requested his sister wear a modest dress, no bright colors, not black or grey, and with very little lace or other adornment. Christina had one she thought would do: beige, like the beach where she had last worn it, the summer sun had faded it, and splashing algae had stained its hem, its removable collar no longer crisp or undoubtedly white. He loosened her hair and, after putting the pins in his pocket, pushed it behind her shoulders “so it might seem longer than it was”. Fiddling with the folds of her skirt, he ordered her not to move from “how he sculpted” her, asking the same of their mother whose favorite shawl functioned as a wimple, while a large, musty blanket, definitely not favored by her, served as a mantle.

“Don’t close your eyes, Mama,” Gabriel gave yet another command.

“I thought it might be appropriate to pray.”

“Not in the Art Catholic’s church.”

“May we blink?” Christina hoped she might ease the seriousness that overcame Gabriel once he was behind his easel. His refusal to humor her made her say rather harshly, “May we even breathe?”

He grunted and, when he dropped his brush, swore.

“At least, until he makes you immortal,” quipped Mr. Hunt from his own creative corner of the League of Sincerity.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti from a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

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.

Summer Days and Nights

Summer Days and Nights

Summer by Christina Rossetti

Copyright DM Denton

Winter is cold-hearted,
Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
Blown every way:
Summer days for me
When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin’s not a beggar,
And Jenny Wren’s a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,

Copyright DM Denton

Over the wheat-fields wide,
And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
That no time be lost,

Copyright DM Denton

And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
Is worth a month in town;
Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
That days drone elsewhere.

Copyright DM Denton

 

 

 

 

Christina Rossetti, Victorian poetess, sister of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabrielle Rossetti, and the subject of my current work-in-progress novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch, grew up and resided most of her life in London. Her visits into the country were as angels’ visits, ‘few and far between’, but when there, how much she noted of flower and tree, bird and beast*. It wasn’t the wide vistas that drew her attention, but, as the poem above sublimely illustrates, she had a distinct awareness and appreciation of the ‘little things’ in the natural world.

Copyright DM Denton

As a child, up until the age of nine, her grandfather Polidori’s home in Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire, was her escape from urban life.

Later in her life, Christina wrote:
If one thing schooled me in the direction of poetry it was perhaps the delightful liberty to prowl all alone about my grandfather’s cottage grounds some thirty miles from London, entailing in my childhood a long stage-coach journey. The grounds were quite small, and on the simplest scale, but to me they were vast, varied, and well worth exploring.

*Quote in my research notes, but I couldn’t find the source in time for making this post.

 

From the 1st draft of The Dove Upon Her Branch:

Holmer Green was where Christina first studied a rosebud slowly swelling with dew. In sunshine and rain, she waited with patience no one thought she had, to see it become a perfect flower and then to wither. Even as young as six or seven, whether by being willful and wily, the negligence of Maria, Gabriel, or William distracted by their own inclinations, or her grandfather falling asleep in the rocking chair he was so proud of making, she took advantage of a chance—so rare in London crowded with siblings and strangers and confined by walls and human wilderness—to be on her own. As far as she was concerned, such liberty only put her in danger of discovering what might be missed if she followed rather than explored, especially the smallest things that were more precious for often being overlooked. Beetles, caterpillars, snails, and worms were often in her hands, gently examined and eventually returned to the grass, branch, or leaf she had lifted each from. William told her spiders were fragile and could perish with the gentlest touch, so she merely watched them dangle, move up and down by a thread, or weave their magic that sparkled, swayed, and survived beyond belief. When an impulsive poke caused a frog to cover his head with his feet, she tried a soft stroke, which persuaded it to show her its eyes.
Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Copyright DM Denton

The summer nights are short 
Where northern days are long: 
For hours and hours lark after lark 
Trills out his song. 
The summer days are short 
Where southern nights are long: 
Yet short the night when nightingales 
Trill out their song. 

Christina Georgina Rossetti

Wishing everyone a safe, serene,
and very special summer!

 

donatellawquillunshaded©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.

Maiden May by Christina Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Sweet of scent;
Sat and dreamed away an hour,
Half content, half uncontent.

‘Why should rose blossoms be born,
Tender blossoms, on a thorn
Though so sweet?
Never a thorn besets the corn
Scentless in its strength complete.
‘Why are roses all so frail,
At the mercy of a gale,
Of a breath?
Yet so sweet and perfect pale,
Still so sweet in life and death.

“Mona Rosa” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower,
In her blush rose bower in flower,
Where a linnet
Made one bristling branch the tower
For her nest and young ones in it.

‘Gay and clear the linnet trills;
Yet the skylark only, thrills
Heaven and earth
When he breasts the height, and fills
Height and depth with song and mirth.

‘Nightingales which yield to night
Solitary strange delight,
Reign alone:
But the lark for all his height
Fills no solitary throne;

‘While he sings, a hundred sing;
Wing their flight below his wing
Yet in flight;
Each a lovely joyful thing
To the measure of its delight.

‘Why then should a lark be reckoned
One alone, without a second
Near his throne?
He in skyward flight unslackened,
In his music, not alone.’

“Veronica Veronese” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Maiden May sat in her bower;
Her own face was like a flower
Of the prime,
Half in sunshine, half in shower,
In the year’s most tender time.

Her own thoughts in silent song
Musically flowed along,
Wise, unwise,
Wistful, wondering, weak or strong:
As brook shallows sink or rise.

“The Shepherdess” by William Holman Hunt

Other thoughts another day,
Maiden May, will surge and sway
Round your heart;
Wake, and plead, and turn at bay,
Wisdom part, and folly part.

Time not far remote will borrow
Other joys, another sorrow,
All for you;
Not to-day, and yet to-morrow
Reasoning false and reasoning true.

Wherefore greatest? Wherefore least?
Hearts that starve and hearts that feast?
You and I?
Stammering Oracles have ceased,
And the whole earth stands at ‘why?’

“Women Reading in Garden” by Marie Spartali Stillman

Underneath all things that be
Lies an unsolved mystery;
Over all
Spreads a veil impenetrably,
Spreads a dense unlifted pall.

Mystery of mysteries:
This creation hears and sees
High and low –
Vanity of vanities:
This we test and this we know.

Maiden May, the days of flowering
Nurse you now in sweet embowering,
Sunny days;
Bright with rainbows all the showering,
Bright with blossoms all the ways.

“The Blind Girl” by John Everett Mallais

Close the inlet of your bower,
Close it close with thorn and flower,
Maiden May;
Lengthen out the shortening hour, –
Morrows are not as to-day.

Stay to-day which wanes too soon,
Stay the sun and stay the moon,
Stay your youth;
Bask you in the actual noon,
Rest you in the present truth.

Let to-day suffice to-day:
For itself to-morrow may
Fetch its loss,
Aim and stumble, say its say,
Watch and pray and bear its cross.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti

“Fair Rosamund” by Arthur Hughes

Click here to read and view a previous year’s post celebrating May Day.

 

For those of you who don’t know, Christina Rossetti is the subject of my work-in-progress novel The Dove Upon Her Branch.

 

©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.

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.

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

 

©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.

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.