Christina Rossetti was born in London, England on the 5th December 1830. She was of Italian origin, although she never visited Italy and spent her whole life in England. Her father, before moving to England, worked as composer Rossini’s librettist. In England he taught and worked as a Dante scholar, marrying the much younger Frances Polidori. Polidori gave birth to the famous painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1828 and two years later to Christina Rossetti. Christina Rossetti was a devout Anglican who never married, although she was engaged twice. There is a sexist assumption that something is solemn about women who never marry. She died in 1894.
Gabriel was said to be the more famous of the Rossetti children, but Christina made her fair share of famous poems including “Goblin Market” – probably the most famous.
Her poem, “L.E.L. (whose heart was breaking for a little love)” is one of her less famous poems, but is still written in her distinctive style.
As the title suggests, the following is an analysis of the poem and an overall view of to what extent the poem can be called depressing.
Poem At Thirty Nine Analysis
The title of the poem begins with the letters L.E.L. which are the initials of another poet of the same era – Letitia E. Landon, who lived between the years of 1802-1838 – she died very young, by committing suicide, after being forced into marriage. She had a very depressing and hard, short life and Rossetti has decided to include this in her poem. The reason that she put the initials in the title instead of the whole name is not totally known. It could be because she thought it would be wrong to tell of whom she was writing of, but wanted to hint to the readers of who it was. It could be just to create a sense of mystery right at the beginning of the poem.
The title as a whole “L.E.L. whose heart was breaking for a little love” Almost appears like an epitaph of a gravestone which sets the mood straight away as a depressing one. Especially the latter part of the title which suggests that she died before she ever got to find love and whether that could be linked to her death would make it even more of a tragedy.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is an interesting one. It is a-b-a-b-c-c-c. The quatrain part of the verse (a-b-a-b) tells us of L.E.L.’s thoughts and feelings. “I laugh, I sport and jest” and “my heart is breaking for a little love”. The triplet part of the verse (c-c-c) tells us of the happiness of spring and all living things having a good time. When the quatrain and triplet are juxtaposed it shows the contrast between the depression of her feelings to the positive images of spring and thus making out that everybody and everything is having a good time, but she is not.
The nineteenth century was time when people thought that life was just a show or play and everyone would just play out their parts. We can see images of playacting throughout the poem, which portray that it was written in the nineteenth century. “Who play the pleasant parts” and ” I deck myself with silks and jewelry”. The first of these quotes sounds like it is said with a sneer as if jealous that other people have been enrolled with the “pleasant parts” and she is stuck with the lonely, depressing role. The latter of these quotes is the first part of a longer quote that follows the same pattern. It shows how she tries to hide her sad feelings, and she puts on a show to people to make-out that nothing is wrong and she is happy.
There are images of isolation in the poem that emphasise her depression, and that she is closed off from the rest of the world. “Mine own heart that dwells alone.” The contrast of “I” and “they” – “I plume myself”, “they praise my rustling show.” Also, in the first verse, there is a depressed, isolated mood created from the contrast of her public life, “Downstairs I laugh”, to her private life where she feels lonely, “my solitary room above.” The line running after that is “turn my face in silence” so we can see the sibilance of “solitary”, “face” and “silence” which creates a soft but, more importantly, sad mood to the poem.
There is a line that is, save a few small differences like tense, constant for each verse. It is the fourth line “my heart is breaking for a little love” which is also included in the title of the poem and repeated six times in the poem. This repetition, and the alliteration of “little love”, greatly emphasises her loneliness and her desire some sort of love or care in her life. The “little” creates an even bigger sense of pity, because she isn’t even asking to be loved to a great extent. She just wants a little love, someone who shows the least bit of care for her.
The use of three, or tripling, is a device used a lot in the poem. “I laugh, I sport and jest.” And ” springtime wakes and clothes and feeds” the use of three is a link to the bible, and in those days religion was a big thing. It somewhat suggests that her misery is God’s will, and it is just a small part of his great plan that is humanity.
The first verse begins with a good start, “I laugh”, but there is a sense of doubt straight away with the “But” at the start of the second line. It gives an edge to the poem, because we know it is a sign of contrast, which will lead into the depression of the poem. The happiness of spring then contrasts her feelings and creates a sense of irony.
The next verse shows her complete lack of self-esteem “woe’s me” and her isolation from the happy spring “I feel no spring, while spring is wellnigh blown.” This all adds to the depressing atmosphere.
The third verse shows more images of isolation “all love, are loved, save only I” and contrasted to the onomatopoeia of “whirr” which is a reflection to the sounds of summer.
Verse four includes yet more isolation with the contrast of “I” and “they” as explained earlier. The “I plume myself” is also a reference to nature which is ironic as she feels further from nature as possible in this poem, yet describes her actions in the way of a bird.
The fifth verse is where more positive lexis starts to appear in the quatrain. “Perhaps some saints in glory guess the truth.” This is where she longingly hopes that some angel can recognise her sadness and empathise with it by taking her to a better place. There is still a sense of doubt in the word “perhaps”.
The poem so far has seemed an extremely depressing one but in the final verse all negative lexis is changed to positive. The hope that an angel is watching has become a certainty. “Yet saith a saint: ‘take patience for thy scathe.’” It is also repeated to emphasise that it is a definite certainty. The oxymoron “true life is born of death” tells us of how the real better life doesn’t begin until death has come. The verse is all about life on earth being preparation for something better. The quote “when new spring builds new heaven and clean new earth.” is a reference to the part spring has played in the poem, and that this new spring is about more than just nature. This last line is the only one to break the pattern of the ten syllable iamtic pentametre that is used in the rest of the poem, and thus symbolising the change in the mood.
I think that calling this poem depressing is a fair statement. I would not call it totally depressing because all this woman’s sadness is taken care of when she dies and her new life is a very happy one. The whole poem, save the last verse, has been about how she is isolated from everything and how sad everything is. For this it could be called depressing, but the last verse totally flips the poem around and ends with happiness. Therefore, this poem can only be called depressing to a certain extent.