Friday, February 25, 2011

How To Live, Part Five: "Better A Wrecked Life Than A Life So Aimless"

Today, Christina Rossetti offers a word of advice on How to Live.  To wit:  darkness lies before us; thus, we had best not live our life as a "pastime."  (Easier said than done, I know.)  The Oxford English Dictionary defines "pastime" as  "a diversion or recreation which serves to pass the time agreeably. . . . Also: a practice commonly indulged in." 


A boat amid the ripples, drifting, rocking;
Two idle people, without pause or aim;
While in the ominous West there gathers darkness
            Flushed with flame.

A hay-cock in a hay-field backing, lapping,
Two drowsy people pillowed round about;
While in the ominous West across the darkness
            Flame leaps out.

Better a wrecked life than a life so aimless,
Better a wrecked life than a life so soft:
The ominous West glooms thundering, with its fire
            Lit aloft.

The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti (edited by William Michael Rossetti) (1904).  "Better a wrecked life" took me aback when I first read it:  it did not seem "Victorian."  But that only shows that I underestimated Victorian poetry at the time.

                                 John Constable, "Old Sarum" (1834)


Mary F. C. Pratt said...

Thanks for this one. I just read "The Invention of Clouds"--about Luke Howard, who came up with a scientific categorization for clouds. The book mentions his influence on Constable, so I especially like seeing the painting.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary F. C. Pratt: thank you for stopping by again. Yes, Constable's clouds are wonderful, aren't they? His numerous 'cloud studies' (some of which I have posted before) are lovely.

From My Easy Chair said...

To me the attitude expressed in the poem represents the strong Victorian sense of duty. I wonder what the "west" symbolizes.

Stephen Pentz said...

From My Easy Chair: as always, thank you for the comment. As for "the west," here is something to consider: in the First World War, British soldiers referred to someone who was killed in battle as having "gone west." This was after Rossetti's time, of course, but it is my understanding (although I have not researched the point) that the phrase had been in use for quite some time -- i.e., the setting of the sun, etc. Just a thought.