Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Autumn Silences The Turtle Dove; -- In Blank Autumn Who Could Speak Of Love?"

There are two sides to Christina Rossetti.  On the one hand, she can seem to be a fairly "typical" Victorian poet:  sentimental and/or pious.  (As I have noted before, a large number of Rossetti's poems consist of devotional verse.)  I hasten to add that the fact that a poem may be sentimental and/or pious does not mean that it cannot be a good poem.  Rossetti wrote many fine poems of this sort.


Fade tender lily,
     Fade O crimson rose,
Fade every flower
     Sweetest flower that blows.

Go chilly Autumn,
     Come O Winter cold;
Let the green things die away
     Into common mould.

Birth follows hard on death,
     Life on withering:
Hasten, we shall come the sooner
     Back to pleasant Spring.

Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems (Penguin 2001).

         William Ratcliffe (1870-1955), "Regent's Canal at Hammersmith"

On the other hand, Rossetti can be as complex, deep, penetrating, and emotional as any poet you care to name.  When you read one of these poems, you realize that you are in another world altogether.


Care flieth,
     Hope and fear together,
Love dieth
In the Autumn weather.

For a friend
     Even care is pleasant;
When fear doth end
     Hope is no more present:
Autumn silences the turtle dove; --
In blank Autumn who could speak of love?


Well, now, what is that all about?  Is it about lost or unrequited love?  Is it about the ways of God?  Or is it simply a poem about autumn?  It sounds Elizabethan, like something (dare I say?) that Shakespeare or Donne might have written.  It sounds ancient and timeless.

                                  William Ratcliffe, "Bodinnick, Fowey"


Bruce Floyd said...

I came across the poem in the current issue of "The American Scholar. It is by Linda Pastan:


There are so few of them
at first
a mere rustle

on the wind
with just a hint of red
of gilt along their edges,

and the mother woods
are still green,
and the sun still spills

its molten light
on upturned faces;
no one worries

if few are falling--
they are simply
grace notes,

wisps of portent,
though soon they turn

showing their bellies
to the breeze,
soon a few more

shake loose--early soldiers
of the season,

no smoke yet,
no raging flames
of color.

But make no mistake,
something is coming
to an end.

We can read the signs as clearly as Cassandra can: we doubt her not. There are other signals something is endind,and signals that something is coming. Emily Dickinson writes about this going and coming:

Still, is the bustle in the brook-
Sealed are the spicy valves-
Mesmeric fingerss softly touch
The eyes of many elves-

Perhaps a squirrel may remain-
My sentiments to share-
Grant me, oh Lord, a sunny mind--
Thy windy will to bear!

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Floyd: thank you for the two poems. I have been enjoying the Dickinson poems that you have shared recently: she is an exact observer, isn't she?

As always, thanks for stopping by.