Thus, I recently stumbled upon the following poem by Rossetti. It is one of those poems by her that leaves you wondering: where did that come from?
Stanley Spencer, "Peonies" (c. 1939)
Buds and Babies
A million buds are born that never blow,
That sweet with promise lift a pretty head
To blush and wither on a barren bed
And leave no fruit to show.
Sweet, unfulfilled. Yet have I understood
One joy, by their fragility made plain:
Nothing was ever beautiful in vain,
Or all in vain was good.
Christina Rossetti, A Pageant and Other Poems (1881). Rossetti uses "blow" (line 1) in a sense that has now mostly disappeared, but was commonly used in Romantic and Victorian poetry: "to burst into flower; to blossom, bloom." OED.
I suppose that an argument could be made that "Buds and Babies" is a conventional, sentimental Victorian poem. Perhaps this is true of its subject matter and of its first stanza. Perhaps. But the second stanza is another matter entirely: it is timeless and placeless, both in terms of its art and in terms of its content.
As is always the case with something this good, I hesitate to pick it apart for fear of destroying it. But consider the setting apart of the lovely "Sweet, unfulfilled" at the beginning of the stanza. Or consider the sound and rhythm of "by their fragility made plain."
And what are we to make of the closing lines? Are they a mere truism? A pious homily? Perhaps I am simple-minded, but to me they come out of the depths and/or the heights of I know not where. I am reminded of another line by Rossetti: "Love hath a name of Death." Paraphrase would be both futile and impertinent. I will take the coward's way out and fall back on Wittgenstein: "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."
Stanley Spencer, "Poppies" (1938)