August 22, 2009

A Poem for the Day - "The Ghost's Petition" By Christina Rossetti

The Ghost's Petition

“There’s a footstep coming: look out and see.”—
“The leaves are falling, the wind is calling;
No one cometh across the lea.”—
“There’s a footstep coming: O sister, look.”—
“The ripple flashes, the white foam dashes;
No one cometh across the brook.”—
“But he promised that he would come:
To-night, to-morrow, in joy or sorrow,
He must keep his word, and must come home.
”For he promised that he would come:
His word was given; from earth or heaven,
He must keep his word, and must come home.
“Go to sleep, my sweet sister Jane;
You can slumber, who need not number
Hour after hour, in doubt and pain.
“I shall sit here awhile, and watch;
Listening, hoping, for one hand groping
In deep shadow to find the latch.”
After the dark, and before the light,
One lay sleeping; and one sat weeping,
Who had watched and wept the weary night.
After the night, and before the day,
One lay sleeping; and one sat weeping,—
Watching, weeping for one away.
There came a footstep climbing the stair;
Some one standing out on the landing
Shook the door like a puff of air,—
Shook the door, and in he passed.
Did he enter? In the room centre
Stood her husband: the door shut fast.
“O Robin, but you are cold,—
Chilled with the night-dew: so lily-white you
Look like a stray lamb from our fold.
“O Robin, but you are late:
Come and sit near me,–sit here and cheer me.”—
(Blue the flame burnt in the grate.)
“Lay not down your head on my breast:
I cannot hold you, kind wife, nor fold you
In the shelter that you love best.
“Feel not after my clasping hand:
I am but a shadow, come from the meadow
Where many lie, but no tree can stand.
“We are trees which have shed their leaves:
Our heads lie low there, but no tears flow there;
Only I grieve for my wife who grieves.
“I could rest if you would not moan
Hour after hour; I have no power
To shut my ears where I lie alone.
“I could rest if you would not cry;
But there’s no sleeping while you sit weeping,—
Watching, weeping so bitterly.”—
“Woe’s me! woe’s me! for this I have heard.
O, night of sorrow!–O, black to-morrow!
Is it thus that you keep your word?
“O you who used so to shelter me
Warm from the least wind,–why, now the east wind
Is warmer than you, whom I quake to see.
”O my husband of flesh and blood,
For whom my mother I left, and brother,
And all I had, accounting it good,
“What do you do there, underground,
In the dark hollow? I’m fain to follow.
What do you do there?–what have you found?”—
“What I do there I must not tell;
But I have plenty. Kind wife, content ye:
It is well with us,–it is well.
“Tender hand hath made our nest;
Our fear is ended, our hope is blended
With present pleasure, and we have rest.”—
“O, but Robin, I’m fain to come,
If your present days are so pleasant;
For my days are so wearisome.
“Yet I’ll dry my tears for your sake:
Why should I tease you, who cannot please you
Any more with the pains I take?”

Christina Rossetti, 1866

I love this slightly spooky, but beautiful, poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). It is so rich in imagery and has such a distinctly Gothic feel to it. It is late fall or winter, and I can almost see the lonely house up in the cold and desolate moors; the two sisters inside the house awaiting the return of one of the sister's husband - from where, we don't really know, but can only surmise (Death?). This poem, it seems to me, could easily serve as the plot for a novel by one of the Bronte sisters, or even a Gothic movie.

I have been carefully reading and studying a beautiful little edition of Christina Rossetti's poems entitled, Rossetti: Poems. This small hard-back edition was published in 1993 in the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series and published by Alfred A. Knopf; and includes something over one-hundred poems.

Finally, a brief bit about the painting that I have included with the poem. This beautiful painting is entitled The Ghost's Petition, and was painted by Emma Florence Harrison in 1910. This illustration was used in an edition of Rossetti's poems published circa 1910. It seems that Ms. Harrison was active as an artist from 1877 through about 1925. Apparently, very little is known of her life, including her dates of birth and death. She worked professionally as 'Florence Harrison,' working in London, and was an exhibitor at the Royal Academy from 1887 - 1891. Ms. Harrison is primarily remembered as a book illustrator for the publisher Blackie & Son, illustrating books of poems by Christina Rossetti, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Morris. Ms. Harrison's work has that distinctive Pre-Raphaelite style, and is in high demand today by art collectors.

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