October 23, 2011

A Poem for the Day: "Autumn" by Christina G. Rossetti

Here is a poem by one of my favorite Victorian poets, Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894).  Christina was the younger sister of the PreRaphaelite poet and painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (at left, is his pencil and chalk portrait of his sister).  She was a prolific poet who, through the course of her life, wrote something over 1,000 poems, and is perhaps best known for her epic poem, Goblin Market (1859).  Also, about two years ago I read Jan Marsh's seminal biography of Rossetti entitled Christina Rossetti: A Literary Biography.  While it was tough to find a copy (my used copy came from Britain), it was well worth the effort (and money!) as it shed so much light on this lesser known, but very important poet.  If you're interested in learning more about Christina Rossetti and Marsh's wonderful biography, have a look at my book review in this earlier posting here.

The poem I'm posting is entitled Autumn and was written in April 1858.  I have always loved this poem for its introspection, vivid imagery, and similes.  For some reason, I have always kind of looked upon Rossetti's Autumn as being akin to Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott (originally written in 1832, but revised in 1842).  Obviously, Rossetti must have been very much aware of Tennyson's poetry (he was, after all, Poet Laureate during much of her life).  Anyway, without further ado, here is Christina Rossetti's poem--



I dwell alone--I dwell alone, alone,
Whilst full my river flows down to the sea,
Gilded with flashing boats
That bring no friend to me:
O love-songs, gurgling from a hundred throats,
O love-pangs, let me be.

Fair fall the freighted boats which gold and stone
And spices bear to sea:
Slim, gleaming maidens swell their mellow notes,
Love-promising, entreating--
Ah! sweet, but fleeting--
Beneath the shivering, snow-white sails.
Hush! the wind flags and fails--
Hush! they will lie becalmed in sight of strand--
Sight of my strand, where I do dwell alone;
Their songs wake singing echoes in my land--
They cannot hear me moan.

One latest, solitary swallow flies
Across the sea, rough autumn-tempest tost,
Poor bird, shall it be lost?
Dropped down into this uncongenial sea,
With no kind eyes
To watch it while it dies,
Unguessed, uncared for, free:
Set free at last,
The short pang past,
In sleep, in death, in dreamless sleep locked fast.

Mine avenue is all a growth of oaks,
Some rent by thunder-strokes,
Some rustling leaves and acorns in the breeze:
Fair fall my fertile trees,
That rear their goodly heads, and live at ease.

A spider's web blocks all mine avenue;
He catches down and foolish painted flies,
That spider wary and wise.
Each morn it hangs a rainbow strung with dew
Betwixt boughs green with sap,
So fair, few creatures guess it is a trap:
I will not mar the web,
Tho' sad I am to see the small lives ebb.

It shakes--my trees shake--for a wind is roused
In cavern where it housed:
Each white and quivering sail,
Of boats among the water leaves
Hollows and strains in the full-throated gale:
Each maiden sings again--
Each languid maiden, whom the calm
Had lulled to sleep with rest and spice and balm,
Miles down my river to the sea
They float and wane,
Long miles away from me.

Perhaps they say: "She grieves,
Uplifted, like a beacon, on her tower."
Perhaps they say: "One hour
More, and we dance among the golden sheaves."
Perhaps they say: "One hour
More, and we stand,
Face to face, hand in hand;
Make haste, O slack gale, to the looked-for land!"

My trees are not in flower,
I have no bower,
And gusty creaks my tower,
And lonesome, very lonesome, is my strand.

(Composed, April 14, 1858)


The painting that I've attached to the right of the poem is by the famous American landscape painter, Thomas Moran (1837-1926), and is entitled A Scene on the Tohickon Creek: Autumn and was painted in 1868.  Please, please do 'click' on the painting and enjoy the larger view of this exquisite work of art!

Moran is one of my favorite landscape painters, and is one of the artists from the mid-19th century American artistic movement known as the "Hudson River School".  Other artists in this 'school' included, for example, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, and Martin Johnson Heade.  The artists of the Hudson River School were influenced by Romanticism and the earlier artistic works of landscape painters like J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, as well as by the literary works of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Thomas Moran traveled out west with one of the early exploratory teams from the U.S. Geological Survey (the Hayden Survey, 1871) and made many beautiful sketches and paintings of the scenery that he encountered.  It was largely because of his landscapes and sketches being exhibited back east that Yellowstone National Park was created.  In fact, the U.S. Congress purchased several of his large canvasses that were then hung in the Capitol building for years (they are now in the Smithsonian Museum).  Some of Moran's paintings can currently be found in the Department of the Interior building, the Smithsonian, and in the Oval Office of the White House.

I have always very much admired the compositions and lighting conditions depicted in the landscape paintings of Moran, Bierstadt, Church, and Cole, and continue to strive to duplicate the qualities of those elements in my own photography.  Whether or not I have been successful is a determination I leave entirely to the judgment of the viewer.  If you're interested in taking a look at my current portfolio of landscape photography, please have a look here.


1 comment:

  1. ...and I linked this one in my "Friday Five" too - love these poems!