Christina Rossetti: Twice

Prof. Valentine Cunningham (Corpus Christi College, Oxford University), who gave a lecturoe on Victorian Poetry Now at the German-English Society in Essen in March 2014, calls Christina G. Rossetti “the best woman poet of her time and indeed, one of the greatest of Victorian poets” (p. 662). Among others, he chose Twice, written in 1864, to be included in his anthology The Victorians.

Discussion Questions:

1) (St. 1-3): ‘But this once hear me speak…’

What do we learn about expected male and female behaviour in Victorian England? Is the speaker in a position to give her heart as she chooses? How does she react to being rejected?

2) (St. 4-6) : ‘My broken heart in my hand’                 

How can a broken heart be mended? What gives security when ‘hope was written on sand’?

3) (St. 1-6): ‘I take my heart…’

How does the poem express both the speaker’s vulnerability and her strength? What role does repition play in the poem?

                               Twice

I took my heart in my hand                  1
(O my love, O my love),
I said: Let me fall or stand,
Let me live or die,
But this once hear me speak –              5
(O my love, O my love) –
Yet a woman’s words are weak;
You should speak, not I.

You took my heart in your hand
With a friendly smile,                           10
With a critical eye you scanned,
Then set it down,
And said: It is still unripe,
Better wait a while;
Wait while the skylarks pipe,                  15
Till the corn grows brown.

As you set it down it broke –
Broke, but I did not wince;
I smiled at the speech you spoke,
At your judgment that I heard:                          20
But I have not often smiled
Since then, nor questioned since,
Nor cared for corn-flowers wild,
Nor sung with the singing bird.

I take my heart in my hand,                                  25
O my God, O my God,
My broken heart in my hand:
Thou hast seen, judge Thou.
My hope was written on sand,
O my God, O my God:                                               30
Now let Thy judgment stand –
Yea, judge me now.

This contemned of a man,                                               contemned: to view with contempt;
This marred one heedless day,                                     marred: spoiled, damaged, disfigured  
This heart take Thou to scan                               35     heedless: careless, thoughtless  
Both within and without:
Refine with fire its gold,
Purge Thou its dross away  –                                            purge: purify; cleanse a person from sin
Yea, hold it in Thy hold,                                                       dross: an impurity/an oxide, formed on
Whence none can pluck it out.                             40     the surface of a molten metal (Schlacke)

I take my heart in my hand –
I shall not die, but live –
Before Thy face I stand;
I, for Thou callest such:
All that I have I bring,                                                   45
All that I am I give,
Smile Thou and I shall sing,
But shall not question much.


Source:

The Victorians. An Anthology of Poetry and Poetics. Ed. by Valentine Cunningham. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2000 

Illustration:

Christina Rossetti. Pencil Profile, 1848, by D. G. Rossetti. Licensed by Wikipedia.de

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