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Archive for the ‘Christina Rossetti’ Category

Time for the fifth annual Poem Elf Valentine’s Day Binge. Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, providing good reason to eat chocolate, tell people close to me that I love them, and hide lovely poems around town. On with the celebration!

 

In a dark romantic bar with plenty of private corners for canoodling, I set Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” against a cocktail menu on a table for two.

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The first line is overly familiar, but it’s worth taking a minute to read the rest. Browning marries high-minded love–

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise

with a physical passion–

I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!

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The table was empty when I left the poem, but a short while later, a couple took over the booth. I slunk past to see what had happened to the poem, and found that the woman had put it under a wine glass, like a coaster. The poem seemed to have had a romantic effect on the two–

 

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Unfortunately the pull of texting won out over the pull of passion put to use/In my old Griefs

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I went to the last remaining bookstore chain in my area and left “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti in a section featuring books on love and relationships. Specifically, I put it on top of a book (top shelf) called What I Love About You:

poem is on top shelf in front of book with heart on the cover

I thumbed through the book and found that the sweet nothings there were truly nothing compared to Rossetti’s soaring lines. Wildly in love, the speaker proclaims the commencement of a new love to be a new birth-day for her:

the birthday of my life

     is come, my love is come to me

 

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Rossetti is usually my go-to girl for the anti-Valentine portion of this annual love-poem post, but this time I turned to an ancient Japanese poet named Otomo No Yakamochi to fill that role. I left a short poem of his in a high school. Swim practice was underway, and plenty of teens, lovelorn and otherwise, loitered in the hallway after school.

poem is on wall next to pool windows

poem is on wall next to pool windows

 

I was thinking of teenagers in love, teenagers experiencing their first love, and eventually, for most, facing the end of first love and all the beautiful illusions it brought.

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Alas, the rest of my poems were placed in that most prosaic and least-romantic of places, the mall. But it was cold outside, and the idea of traipsing around looking for more interesting spots was an idea better suited to a younger and warmer elf.

I returned to Victoria’s Secret (where last year I took one of my favorite pictures ever) to leave “Couples” by Romanian poet Nina Cassain. I set the poem in a red lace panty set and wondered who would buy such a cliche, man or woman.

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I haven’t figured this poem out completely, but it reminds me of some interesting advice my girlfriend’s mother gave her. Always love a man less than he loves you, she said. Presumably it was safer. But Cassain sees a benefit to loving more:

The one who loves more

is the happier.

Indeed, the happiest!

I wish I could know if the man or woman who buys this Valentine underwear is the one who loves more or the one who loves less. And if they consider themselves to have the better bargain.

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Pablo Neruda was the poet I placed last year in the Victoria’s Secret underwear. This year I put him in a less promising spot, the luggage department at Macys. But “Love Sonnet XLV” is so romantic it infuses the whole floor with charm:

Poem is in pocket of blue suitcase

Poem is in front pocket of blue suitcase

 

After I took the pictures, I zipped up the poem inside the suitcase. I dream of the person packing for a trip who finds these lines

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In the Apple Store, the most crowded store in the mall on the day before Valentine’s Day, I put a few lines of Alexander Pushkin on top of an iPad display:

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poem is on top of iPad next to frowning man

I’m enamored of the way this lover speaks to his lost love. He wishes her well, he wishes her a new love. This isn’t the kind of ex-lover we see in movies. Pushkin is a sweet counterpoint to all those stalkers and revenge seekers. (That’s Pushkin’s face I pulled up on the iPad.)

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Finally, in Macy’s kitchen section I left Donald Hall’s “Summer Kitchen.” This one is for my own Valentine, a lover of food and cooking.

poem leans against stockpot

poem leans against stockpot

Donald Hall was married to poet Jane Kenyon for twenty-three years before she died of leukemia. This poem strikes me as very Kenyon-like, celebrating their daily love, settled and quiet:

We ate, and talked, and went to bed,

And slept. It was a miracle.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! With so much hate in the world, this year I cherish Valentine’s Day all the more. Love trumps hate, I believe that with all my heart. (And the pun is intended.)

 

For more Valentine poems, see posts from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012.

 

 

 

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poem is next to red roses

poem is next to red roses

[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]

by Christina Rossetti

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

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I’m lucky this Mother’s Day weekend to be visiting my mother in Maryland, lucky to celebrate this day with her in person for the first time in twenty years at least.

 

And when one is lucky, one can’t help but think of those who aren’t so lucky. Daughters who will never again celebrate Mother’s Day with their mothers. And mothers who will never again celebrate Mother’s Day with their children.

 

I was thinking of those mothers in particular when, on a walk near my mother’s house, I came across this tribute to a young man named Noah Marks who died January 1 this year. I gathered from the assembled objects and notes that he was a lovely young man, talented, a lover of baseball and bow ties, theater and running. I also gathered that his death was a suicide.

 

I thought of his mother, how difficult every day is for her, and how hard this first Mother’s Day without Noah will be. I went back home, printed this poem, and returned to the pedestrian bridge to leave it with the other mementos.

 

To the mother of Noah Marks and to the wonderful mothers I know who have also lost beautiful young sons to suicide, Happy Mother’s Day. This line of Rossetti’s will surely call up sweet memories of your babies:

To my first love, my Mother

That’s a soul-expanding thought for any mother. And also this:

In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

 

Mothers are mothers forever, whether or not children are around to send flowers or take them to brunch. A mother’s love for her children–past, present, and future love, love that will never end–marks her indelibly. Nothing can ever take away the beauty and blessing of that love. It’s a love to be honored and celebrated.

 

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

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Poem is on right side of entry way

 

MIRAGE

 

by: Christina Rossetti

 

THE hope I dreamed of was a dream,

Was but a dream; and now I wake

Exceeding comfortless, and worn, and old,

For a dream’s sake.

 

I hang my harp upon a tree,

A weeping willow in a lake;

I hang my silenced harp there, wrung and snapt

For a dream’s sake.

 

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart;

My silent heart, lie still and break:

Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed

For a dream’s sake.

 

 

 

Inception-movie-image by gwendolyn maiaThe best place for Christina Rossetti’s poem “Mirage” would be in the opening credits of Inception II.  That is, if you’re in the camp that believes Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was still dreaming at the end of the original movie.

 

Inception is about the only place where this poem wouldn’t serve as a gloating over another person’s suffering.  Hidden in a gift shop’s Valentine’s Day display, The hope I dreamed of was a dream,/Was but a dream would be a bad omen or painful reminder.  Tucked in with graduation cards, it would mock the relentless urging to follow dreams.   The college prep section of Barnes and Noble, the cast list for a high school play or a dressing room mirror during bikini season would all be mean-spirited spots to leave this poem.

 

It seemed less unkind to leave it at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.  I do hope no Anna Karenina’s staggered nearby who might be driven to the train tracks by the poem’s despair.  I left the poem as a diversion for train travelers, not a mirror, as a reminder that the train they just entered or exited can be a place of dramatic emotions, a scene of separation, the end of a romance. The D.C. station seems particularly appropriate for the poem because D.C., like L.A. and New York City, attracts some of the most ambitious dreamers in the country.   Unlike those other cities, ambition in D.C. is often tied to idealism, a sure combination for the kind of bitter disappointment in the poem.

 

The hope dreamed of in this poem is romantic, not professional and certainly not political.  It speaks of a heartache I’ve never experienced.  I myself am not one to bet the bank on a romantic dream.  I like to think I have good judgment where men are concerned.  But it’s true that I haven’t had many occasions to exercise said judgment.  Perhaps I try not to want anything so badly that not getting it will crush me.  Enlightened detachment or damage?  An open question.

 

At any rate, my instinct to detach makes me a terrible consoler for the broken-hearted, especially for one of my daughters who these days seems ever in the throes of romantic dreams.  Many times I’ve mistakenly thought that if I could help her see she’s misreading signals or that a prospect isn’t worth her attention, I could prevent her from feeling exceeding comfortless.  It hasn’t worked.  In fact, my attempts at consolation have earned me the unfortunate nickname of “Dream Crusher.”  Dream Crusher! my husband sings, Put on your boots and crush those dreams!

 

Dream Crusher reads this poem and says, Get it together, girl!  You don’t want to end up like Ophelia (drowned) or Miss Havisham (cobwebbed).  And next time, sister, don’t pin all your hopes to a man.

 

But the Poem Elf in me loves this poem.  It’s gorgeous.  It asks to be heard out loud, to be memorized, to be stashed away for gloomy days.

 

My delight in the despair comes from the intricate way Rossetti uses tricks of sound to suggest more than is actually said.  The rhyme scheme hinges on a single sound, “ake,” which if you didn’t notice can also be spelled “ache.”  The harp, hung up on a tree and broken, carries a sound-suggestion of “heart” even before she mentions the word.  “Lie still” she commands her heart, but the command echoes an accusation she may have thrown at the lover who betrayed her.  The repetition in each verse becomes a keening:  was a dream,/was but a dream, she wails, and we see her rocking back in forth in anguish.

 

For all its sweet tones, the poem is violent.  Hints of suicide lurk in the stanzas.  The harp is wrung and snapt  like a neck.  It hangs from a tree.  And the lake holds promise of a final silencing, a means to lie still forever.

 

Christina Rossetti by Ma-BellyChristina Rossetti (1830- 1894) was born in London to an Italian family of high Romantic pedigree.  Her father was a poet, her mother the sister of Byron’s friend and doctor, her brother Dante an artist and poet, and her two other siblings writers.  She was a central player in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, serving as the model for several paintings and was certainly the strongest poet in the group.  She lived with her mother her whole life and never married although she had plenty of suitors.   As a very pious Anglican, Rossetti ended one engagement because her fiancé re-converted to Catholicism.  She turned down two others for religious reasons.  She died of breast cancer a few weeks after her 64th birthday.

 

I have a t-shirt with one of her poems on it (from a sister’s weekend, see here) and you may have run across “When I Am Dead, My Dearest” searching for a funeral material.  This animated video of her reciting that poem is really creepy, more suited to Halloween than the week before Valentine’s Day.  Sorry, Dream Crusher insisted on posting the link.

 

But Poem Elf wanted you to see another picture from Union Station:

 

 

 

 

 

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