Sunday, September 26, 2010

Life Explained, Part Seven: "Does The Road Wind Up-Hill All The Way?"

There is a tinge of melancholy in much of  the poetry of Christina Rossetti (1830-1894).  However, given the fact that she wrote more than 1,000 poems, it would be unfair to characterize her solely as a poet of melancholy.  She may be best known for "In the Bleak Midwinter," which was set to music by Gustav Holst (and others) after her death.  She also wrote a book of poetry for children (Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book) which contains ditties about burying a dead thrush in the snow, a "fatherless, motherless" baby, linnets mourning over their eggs ("crushed" by "cruel boys"), and "a baby's grave where autumn leaves drop sere." 

All of which leads to the following poem, which does not exactly provide us with a sunny Explanation of Life.  


Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
   Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
   From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting place?
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
   You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
   Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
   Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
   Yea, beds for all who come.

                        John Everett Millais, "A Vale of Rest" (1858)


Anonymous said...

Pure Larkin (minus the Larkin!).

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for visiting and commenting again, pomposa.

Excellent observation! I hadn't thought of Larkin in connection with this poem, but it makes perfect sense -- especially since Larkin was a great admirer of her poetry. On two occasions that I am aware of, Larkin referred to the volumes of poetry that he kept beside his desk for easy access. He mentioned Rossetti both times (along with 11 other poets, including Hardy, Edward Thomas, and Betjeman).