2.2.4 Love

The Pre-Raphaelites desired to instill in the art of their period a new sense of realism and symbolism, an appreciation for spiritual love, and a fascination with medievalism and British history and mythology along with their concept of the beloved. There is often love but never an expression of pure joy. Beauty is prized but it never overrides the difficulty of life. Christina’s poetry likewise depicts love without happiness; love which is often painful, unfulfilled, challenging and always wronged at the hand of men.

The theme of the woman destroyed by love — betrayed by unrequited love, seduced by false ideals or false lovers or victimized by tragic love — dominated Pre-Raphaelite, as well as Victorian, paintings and poems of the nineteenth century. Bound with the Victorian idea of feminine weakness, the Pre-Raphaelite concept of the woman as a victim stems from themes of medieval romance. However, there always remains an element of unfulfilled desire or denial of the true sweetness of romantic love. The Pre-Raphaelites re-interpret this idea and focus on the sensuality and sexual frustration or punishment of the female — ideas that were met with both fear and fascination by most Victorians. Their works also re-fashioned this theme to include an awareness of social injustices. Most Victorian works depicted the woman alone, left to bear the brunt of shared sexual transgressions and cast out into the uncaring world. However, many Pre-Raphaelite paintings and poems include the male’s presence or allude to his role in her destruction.

The Pre-Raphaelites depicted the woman destroyed by various forms of love, whether unrequited, tragic or adulterous, by highlighting not only her mental destruction but also focusing on her sexual frustration or punishment. The Victorians believed passion to be deviant; thoughts of sexuality would cause insanity and thus repression was necessary. With the strong societal enforcement of these beliefs, many Victorians lived with great shame, guilt, and fear of damnation. Pre-Raphaelite works with themes of sexual morality often emphasized the woman’s sexual frustration or her punishment, which stemmed from her sexually deviant behavior; for it was often considered unthinkable that a woman would have sexual thoughts or desires.

In “Light Love” (1856), fellow poet Christina Rossetti draws significant attention to the man’s role in the seduction and betrayal of the female protagonist. As in many of her other poems, the woman’s unhappiness is caused by the action of men who are often predatory, lazy, or lost in their own sensuality — while the women often bear the consequences . The speaker’s initial words reveal the love she still has for him, despite his betrayal. He callously suggests that the she find some other love, “left from the days of old,” to provide for her. Only then does she recognize the emptiness of his love, contrasting it with the more enduring qualities of the maternal love she has for their illegitimate child. He compares the speaker with his blooming bride, the “peach” who “trembles within his reach” and “Éreddens, my delight; / She ripens, reddens in my sight.” When the speaker predicts that a similar betrayal might await his bride, he replies, “Like thee? nay not like thee: / She leans, but from a guarded tree.” He implies that his bride-to-be woos him without giving away her chastity, thus contrasting the two women . However, he undermines his own comparison by using sensuous language to describe his bride: comparing her to a ripening peach whose inaccessibility ironically increases her worth and sexual appeal in his eyes . Rossetti also utilizes natural images of planting and harvesting and images of ripeness and unripeness to emphasize the ethereal nature of his seduction. Effectively abandoning his child’s mother in search of a “ripe-blooming” carnal ideal, the man easily forgets his role in her destruction . “Thou leavest, love, true love behind” cries Rossetti’s victimized woman, in a poetic dialogue not only with her false lover, but with the entire corrupt society he represents. His example exposes the hypocrisy of Victorian society and by the end of poem we see that the title applies to the man rather than the female — it is for him that the nature of their love is “light” or of small importance .

Christina Rossetti’s fallen women poems, including “Light Love,” often present religious redemption as the key to the woman’s release. In “Light Love” the woman’s lover abandons her, oblivious to her pleas, and in the end: “She raised her eyes, not wet / But hard, to Heaven / And asked / ‘Does God forget?'”. This stanza reassures us that while the guilty man may go unpunished on earth, he will eventually be judged in Heaven. Both Hunt and Rossetti draw upon the Christian concept of a merciful and compassionate Christ, stemming from his acceptance of Mary Magdalene, who forgives all and warns none of us to cast the first stone. By allowing for the fallen woman to be raised up again, they appeal for the audience’s sympathy over condemnation and encourage us to look upon those whom we might encounter in real life with the same compassion.


‘Oh, sad thy lot before I came,
But sadder when I go;
My presence but a flash of flame,
A transitory glow
Between two barren wastes like snow.
What wilt thou do when I am gone,
Where wilt thou rest, my dear?
For cold thy bed to rest upon,
And cold the falling year
Whose withered leaves are lost and sere.’

She hushed the baby at her breast,
She rocked it on her knee:
‘And I will rest my lonely rest,
Warmed with the thought of thee,
Rest lulled to rest by memory.’
She hushed the baby with her kiss,
She hushed it with her breast:
‘Is death so sadder much than this—
Sure death that builds a nest
For those who elsewhere cannot rest?’

‘Oh, sad thy note, my mateless dove,
With tender nestling cold;
But hast thou ne’er another love
Left from the days of old,
To build thy nest of silk and gold,
To warm thy paleness to a blush
When I am far away—
To warm thy coldness to a flush,
And turn thee back to May,
And turn thy twilight back to day?’

She did not answer him again,
But leaned her face aside,
Weary with the pang of shame and pain,
And sore with wounded pride:
He knew his very soul had lied.
She strained his baby in her arms,
His baby to her heart:
‘Even let it go, the love that harms:
We twain will never part;
Mine own, his own, how dear thou art.’

‘Now never teaze me, tender-eyed,
Sigh-voiced,’ he said in scorn:
‘For nigh at hand there blooms a bride,
My bride before the morn;
Ripe-blooming she, as thou forlorn.
Ripe-blooming she, my rose, my peach;
She woos me day and night:
I watch her tremble in my reach;
She reddens, my delight,
She ripens, reddens in my sight.’

‘And is she like a sunlit rose?
Am I like withered leaves?
Haste where thy spiced garden blows:
But in bare Autumn eves
Wilt thou have store of harvest sheaves?
Thou leavest love, true love behind,
To seek a love as true;
Go, seek in haste: but wilt thou find?
Change new again for new;
Pluck up, enjoy—yea, trample too.

‘Alas for her, poor faded rose,
Alas for her her, like me,
Cast down and trampled in the snows.’
‘Like thee? nay, not like thee:
She leans, but from a guarded tree.
Farewell, and dream as long ago,
Before we ever met:
Farewell; my swift-paced horse seems slow.’
She raised her eyes, not wet
But hard, to Heaven: ‘Does God forget?’

Throughout much Pre-Raphaelite love poetry, a dialectic of desire and renunciation is at work thematically. Whether a depicted passion is visceral or idealized, its object and therefore any fulfillment of desire are almost always unattainable. As a result, the finest poetry of Christina and Dante Rossetti, of Morris and Swinburne, is essentially elegiac: melancholy poetry of intense unsatisfied longing, of unrealized potential, and of loss. The emotional malaise characteristic of Pre-Raphaelite poetic personae prompts most of them eventually to renounce the quest for fulfillment in this world in favor of attaining it in a concretely envisioned afterlife, or in some surrogate form (usually a dream), or in art itself. As I have already observed, the Pre-Raphaelite love poem often becomes a self-conscious emblem of accomplished perfection — of the ideal itself — and of the sense of fulfillment that its contents may, nevertheless, describe as impossible to attain. Art in this way achieves transcendence “outside” the mutable world.

Pre-Raphaelite poetry often thus focuses on the impossibility or transience of promised fulfillment in this world, but also, and as an unexpected corollary, on a speaker’s or central character’s ultimate sense of inadequacy or unworthiness to achieve a desired fulfillment. It cultivates a tone of languorous melancholy, fully exploiting the elegiac potential of its materials, and is frequently described by contemporary reviewers as “morbid.”

In those same reviews, however, we often discover descriptions of Pre-Raphaelite poetry as “aesthetic,” because the static meditation of a speaker on desires that cannot be satisfied, on the quest for the unattainable, commonly perpetuates inaction and reinforces the cultivation of melancholy states of mind. Not only in the Monna Innominata written by Christina Rossetti, but also in many of Dante Rossetti’s “elegiac” sonnets and other lyrics — as well as in Morris’s Arthurian and Froissartian poems from the Defence of Guenevere volume, and pervasively in Swinburne’s poetry — we find the poetry of “aesthetic withdrawal.”



Lo dì che han detto a’ dolci amici addio. – Dante
Amor, con quanto sforzo oggi mi vinci! – Petrarca

Come back to me, who wait and watch for you:–
Or come not yet, for it is over then,
And long it is before you come again,
So far between my pleasures are and few.
While, when you come not, what I do I do
Thinking “Now when he comes,” my sweetest when:”
For one man is my world of all the men
This wide world holds; O love, my world is you.
Howbeit, to meet you grows almost a pang
Because the pang of parting comes so soon;
My hope hangs waning, waxing, like a moon
Between the heavenly days on which we meet:
Ah me, but where are now the songs I sang
When life was sweet because you call’d them sweet?


Era già 1’ora che volge il desio. – Dante
Ricorro al tempo ch’ io vi vidi prima. – Petrarca

I wish I could remember that first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and to foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seem’d to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand–Did one but know!


O ombre vane, fuor che ne l’aspetto! – Dante
Immaginata guida la conduce. – Petrarca

I dream of you to wake: would that I might
Dream of you and not wake but slumber on;
Nor find with dreams the dear companion gone,
As summer ended summer birds take flight.
In happy dreams I hold you full in sight,
I blush again who waking look so wan;
Brighter than sunniest day that ever shone,
In happy dreams your smile makes day of night.
Thus only in a dream we are at one,
Thus only in a dream we give and take
The faith that maketh rich who take or give;
If thus to sleep is sweeter than to wake,
To die were surely sweeter than to live,
Though there be nothing new beneath the sun.


Poca favilla gran fliamma seconda. – Dante
Ogni altra cosa, ogni pensier va fore,
E sol ivi con voi rimansi amore.
– Petrarca

I lov’d you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drown’d the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seem’d to wax more strong;
I lov’d and guess’d at you, you construed me–
And lov’d me for what might or might not be
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not “mine” or “thine;”
With separate “I” and “thou” free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of “thine that is not mine;”
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.


Amor che a nullo amato amar perdona. – Dante
Amor m’addusse in sì gioiosa spene. – Petrarca

O my heart’s heart, and you who are to me
More than myself myself, God be with you,
Keep you in strong obedience leal and true
To Him whose noble service setteth free,
Give you all good we see or can foresee,
Make your joys many and your sorrows few,
Bless you in what you bear and what you do,
Yea, perfect you as He would have you be.
So much for you; but what for me, dear friend?
To love you without stint and all I can
Today, tomorrow, world without an end;
To love you much and yet to love you more,
As Jordan at his flood sweeps either shore;
Since woman is the helpmeet made for man.


Or puoi la quantitate
Comprender de l’amor che a te mi scalda.
– Dante
Non vo’ che da tal nodo mi scioglia. – Petrarca

Trust me, I have not earn’d your dear rebuke,
I love, as you would have me, God the most;
Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost,
Nor with Lot’s wife cast back a faithless look
Unready to forego what I forsook;
This say I, having counted up the cost,
This, though I be the feeblest of God’s host,
The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook.
Yet while I love my God the most, I deem
That I can never love you overmuch;
I love Him more, so let me love you too;
Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such
I cannot love you if I love not Him,
I cannot love Him if I love not you.


Qui primavera sempre ed ogni frutto. – Dante
Ragionando con meco ed io con lui. – Petrarca

“Love me, for I love you”–and answer me,
“Love me, for I love you”–so shall we stand
As happy equals in the flowering land
Of love, that knows not a dividing sea.
Love builds the house on rock and not on sand,
Love laughs what while the winds rave desperately;
And who hath found love’s citadel unmann’d?
And who hath held in bonds love’s liberty?
My heart’s a coward though my words are brave
We meet so seldom, yet we surely part
So often; there’s a problem for your art!
Still I find comfort in his Book, who saith,
Though jealousy be cruel as the grave,
And death be strong, yet love is strong as death.


Come dicesse a Dio: D’altro non calme. – Dante
Spero trovar pietà non che perdono. – Petrarca

“I, if I perish, perish”–Esther spake:
And bride of life or death she made her fair
In all the lustre of her perfum’d hair
And smiles that kindle longing but to slake.
She put on pomp of loveliness, to take
Her husband through his eyes at unaware;
She spread abroad her beauty for a snare,
Harmless as doves and subtle as a snake.
She trapp’d him with one mesh of silken hair,
She vanquish’d him by wisdom of her wit,
And built her people’s house that it should stand:–
If I might take my life so in my hand,
And for my love to Love put up my prayer,
And for love’s sake by Love be granted it!


O dignitosa coscienza e netta! – Dante
Spirto più acceso di virtuti ardenti. – Petrarca

Thinking of you, and all that was, and all
That might have been and now can never be,
I feel your honour’d excellence, and see
Myself unworthy of the happier call:
For woe is me who walk so apt to fall,
So apt to shrink afraid, so apt to flee,
Apt to lie down and die (ah, woe is me!)
Faithless and hopeless turning to the wall.
And yet not hopeless quite nor faithless quite,
Because not loveless; love may toil all night,
But take at morning; wrestle till the break
Of day, but then wield power with God and man:–
So take I heart of grace as best I can,
Ready to spend and be spent for your sake.


Con miglior corso e con migliore stella. – Dante
La vita fugge e non s’arresta un’ ora. – Petrarca

Time flies, hope flags, life plies a wearied wing;
Death following hard on life gains ground apace;
Faith runs with each and rears an eager face,
Outruns the rest, makes light of everything,
Spurns earth, and still finds breath to pray and sing;
While love ahead of all uplifts his praise,
Still asks for grace and still gives thanks for grace,
Content with all day brings and night will bring.
Life wanes; and when love folds his wings above
Tired hope, and less we feel his conscious pulse,
Let us go fall asleep, dear friend, in peace:
A little while, and age and sorrow cease;
A little while, and life reborn annuls
Loss and decay and death, and all is love.


Vien dietro a me e lascia dir le genti. – Dante
Contando i casi della vita nostra. – Petrarca

Many in aftertimes will say of you
“He lov’d her”–while of me what will they say?
Not that I lov’d you more than just in play,
For fashion’s sake as idle women do.
Even let them prate; who know not what we knew
Of love and parting in exceeding pain,
Of parting hopeless here to meet again,
Hopeless on earth, and heaven is out of view.
But by my heart of love laid bare to you,
My love that you can make not void nor vain,
Love that foregoes you but to claim anew
Beyond this passage of the gate of death,
I charge you at the Judgment make it plain
My love of you was life and not a breath.


Amor, che ne la mente mi ragiona. – Dante
Amor vien nel bel viso di costei. – Petrarca

If there be any one can take my place
And make you happy whom I grieve to grieve,
Think not that I can grudge it, but believe
I do commend you to that nobler grace,
That readier wit than mine, that sweeter face;
Yea, since your riches make me rich, conceive
I too am crown’d, while bridal crowns I weave,
And thread the bridal dance with jocund pace.
For if I did not love you, it might be
That I should grudge you some one dear delight;
But since the heart is yours that was mine own,
Your pleasure is my pleasure, right my right,
Your honourable freedom makes me free,
And you companion’d I am not alone.


E drizzeremo gli occhi al Primo Amore. – Dante
Ma trovo peso non da le mie braccia. – Petrarca

If I could trust mine own self with your fate,
Shall I not rather trust it in God’s hand?
Without Whose Will one lily doth not stand,
Nor sparrow fall at his appointed date;
Who numbereth the innumerable sand,
Who weighs the wind and water with a weight,
To Whom the world is neither small nor great,
Whose knowledge foreknew every plan we plann’d.
Searching my heart for all that touches you,
I find there only love and love’s goodwill
Helpless to help and impotent to do,
Of understanding dull, of sight most dim;
And therefore I commend you back to Him
Whose love your love’s capacity can fill.


E la Sua Volontade è nostra pace. – Dante
Sol con questi pensier, con altre chiome. – Petrarca

Youth gone, and beauty gone if ever there
Dwelt beauty in so poor a face as this;
Youth gone and beauty, what remains of bliss?
I will not bind fresh roses in my hair,
To shame a cheek at best but little fair,–
Leave youth his roses, who can bear a thorn,–
I will not seek for blossoms anywhere,
Except such common flowers as blow with corn.
Youth gone and beauty gone, what doth remain?
The longing of a heart pent up forlorn,
A silent heart whose silence loves and longs;
The silence of a heart which sang its songs
While youth and beauty made a summer morn,
Silence of love that cannot sing again.

Analysis of Monna Innominata:

Christina Rossetti introduces her sonnet sequence “Monna Innominata” by inviting the reader to consider the voices that might have been of those “heroines of world wide fame,” Beatrice and Laura, immortalized by Dante and Petrarch, respectively. The poems then progress in a series of meditations on and reminiscences of the love that existed between the living man and now deceased lady, each introduced by two epigraphs taken from the works of Dante and Petrarch themselves. At first, the woman’s voice in the sonnets appears to conform to a rather passive notion of the female lover:

To love you as much and yet to love you more,
As Jordan at his flood sweeps either shore;
Since woman is the helpmeet made for man. [5.12-14]

This is her lot in life, she explains, to love him as wholly and helplessly as a gushing flood and buoy him up in being his “helpmeet” while he is as “perfect you as He [God] would have you be.” In addition, the use of the epigraphs and of the “rigid form of male verse” (Robet) show that Rossetti relied heavily on the male poetic tradition. However, as the sonnet cycle continues and especially if one rereads the cycle in its entirety, one realizes that this woman is not as passive as she might seem. God is mentioned and invoked for the first time in sonnet five, and the continuing religious imagery coupled with the speaker’s secular love implies her “struggle with choosing earthly pleasure or spiritual salvation”(Robinet). This struggle is most explicitly stated in sonnet six: “I cannot love you if I love not Him,/ I cannot love Him if I love not you”. An air of melancholy pervades the entire cycle, but in the fourteenth sonnet it intensifies strongly:

Youth and beauty gone, what doth remain?
The longing of a heart pent up forlorn,
A silent heart whose silence loves and longs;
The silence of a heart which sang its songs
While youth and beauty made a summer morn,
Silence of love that cannot sing again. [14.9-14]

In these few lines, love appears all but inconsequential, and this is certainly in contrast to the ideas of Dante and Petrarch. What’s more, as Anthony Harrison observes, the whole macrosonnet is in many ways a parody of the works of those two poets. All of these elements combine to create a real female voice in Rossetti’s work, “liberating the muse” (Robet).

This poetry is fully solipsistic, its speakers or other central figures distant from any possible action to resolve their impassioned mental states. Rather, their inwardness is only enhanced during the psychological events portrayed in the poems. Compelled to dwell on lost possibilities, on memories, on painful and poignant states of feeling, the major characters, like Christina Rossetti’s speaker in the Monna Innominata, commonly possess “fine” emotional palates.

In Pre-Raphaelite poetry the “real” world, its events and sensations, are dwelt upon but ultimately abstracted. In reading this verse we are ever aware of the mediating mind of a speaker and, sometimes, behind that mind — as in the Monna Innominata sonnets — a visionary artist not imitating the external world but distilling emotional and spiritual essences in artifact. The Pre-Raphaelite concern with the quest for beauty has been copiously discussed as it is articulated in the poetry and the prose works of Dante Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne. No commentator, however, has observed the full extent to which the ideal and “aesthetic” effects of Christina Rossetti’s poetry resemble those of other Pre-Raphaelite poems. Nor have critics discussed the degree to which such effects depend upon the varied efforts of renunciation displayed by the poetic personae the Pre-Raphaelites portray. In the love poetry, and even in the more visceral “passion” poems of all four major Pre-Raphaelites, gestures of renunciation appear to be inevitable, sometimes compulsive.

The exigencies of renunciation that shape Dante Rossetti’s verbal and pictorial art, as well as the poetry of Morris and Swinburne, inhere even more pervasively in Christina Rossetti’s poetry as Arthur Symons observed shortly after her death, “Alike in the love poems and in the religious poems, there is a certain asceticism, passion itself speaking a chastened language, the language, generally, of sorrowful but absolute renunciation. This motive, passion remembered and repressed, condemned to eternal memory and eternal sorrow, is the motive of much of her finest work”

Acts of renunciation in Christina Rossetti’s poems, as in major poems by the other Pre-Raphaelites, are aesthetically complex events resulting from a variety of impulses and compulsions. They are sometimes external to the speaker in a poem and can include not only the death of the beloved, whereby renunciation is enforced, but also rejection by the beloved (as in both Rossettis’ many poems of betrayal, or in “King Arthur’s Tomb” by Morris, or in Swinburne’s Anactoria). Renunciation can also be forced upon a speaker by sexual inadequacy (as in Swinburne’s “Hermaphroditus”), or by the simple unavailability of the beloved (as in Morris’s “Peter Harpdon” and “Geffray Teste Noir,” as well as Swinburne’s Tristram). Internal compulsions, too, can require renunciation. Moral compunctions impel it in Dante Rossetti’s “Jenny” and Swinburne’s “Laus Veneris.” Sometimes an extreme sensitivity to the simple fact of mutability — of the sort we see in both sections of The House of Life, in poems by Swinburne from “The Triumph of Time” to “A Vision of Spring in Winter,” in the final sonnets of Christina Rossetti’s Monna Innominata and pervasively in her poetry — determines the need to renounce not only the beloved, but also the very desire to live. Such diverse gestures of renunciation account in large part for the retreat from life, the elegiac tone, and the mood of “aesthetic withdrawal” characteristic of Pre-Raphaelite poetry. The resulting melancholy and ethereal final effects that the dialectic of desire and renunciation conveys in this poetry leaves us with the powerful impression of uniform artistic goals, values, and procedures among the Pre-Raphaelite poets.

On the other hand, we will see how love was related to death by the poem: Remember. As she shrinks into love, she shrinks into death.


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

In this poem, she requests of her lover to remember her even in her death. A wish that she may live in the memory of the one she loves and yet not obliging him to remember her if he does not want to; if the thought of her should make him unhappy. Most of her works reflected her visit in the ideas of death, afterlife, sadness, and love that gave life and profoundness to her poems.

The poem in its simplest form, very characteristic of Rossetti’s work, is but beyond the words or lightness of its rhyme and meters. It speaks of a poet’s profound thoughts of love and death, her melancholy; for love is not a mere indication of life and happiness but of woes and death.

In my opinion, this is one of the most profound poems written by Christina Rossetti because ‘Remember me when I am  gone away, Gone far away into the silent land’, it’s a clear allusion to the reader expressing her dream and her desire of being someone in a future; as we know, she was nobody for the society which she lived in.


When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

This poem goes more far away from a simple meaning. For me, there is a verse which is decisive:’I shall not see the shadows’, because it refers Victoria woman were controlled by men (the shadows). The death is seen as a solution to be free from men’s manipulation. ‘Haply may forget’ is referring to forget how she was controlled by her men.

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