Winter: My Secret

What effect is created by the poet's use of rhythms and stanza form? By her diction and syntax?

Is the poem colloquial in its diction and meter?

How is the poem altered by the use of an implied inner auditor? Can this inner auditor be identified with the audience?

What use is made of the metaphor of the seasons? Why do you think autumn is omitted from the sequence?

To what extent does the speaker find winter attractive? Difficult to endure? Does her mood fluctuate and shift?

How do you interpret the poem's ending? Will the speaker ever reveal her secret?

What attitudes towards secrecy, privacy and identity does the speaker reveal?

Can the reader have any notion of the nature of the secret? Do you think it is literary? Romantic? Non-existent? Indeterminate?

Would you describe this poem as coy? sad? What does the poet mean by "just my fun"?

Does the speaker of this poem seem to believe that full communication is possible?


How does the sonnet form affect the poem’s message? What is distinctive about its sounds and organization?

How are the octave and sestet distinguished?

What can be inferred about the speaker’s relationship to the implied auditor? Was he a lover?

What had been their relationship? Are there reasons why the speaker’s descriptions of the past are relatively unspecific?

Does the speaker assume that “the darkness and corruption” will “leave / A vestige of the thoughts that once I had”? If so, why would this make it better that he should “forget and smile” rather than remember? Will she be watching him, as it were, and if so, would his smiling forgetfulness or his sadness most cheer her?

How is the poem affected by these final images? Does the poet wish remembrance?

Does it alter your response to this poem to realize that it was written when the poet was 19?

A Chilly Night

Why do you think the ballad form was chosen for this poem?  What is its setting?

Why do you think the speaker seeks the ghost of her mother (as opposed to, say, a past lover or other family member)?

What is her emotional situation? Why do you think her friends have failed her?

How are the denizens of the other world described? What features do they seem to have? Why can’t they speak to her?

What level of communication is in fact possible?

What is her specific request to her mother’s ghost? Why is revealed by the fact that the ghost tosses her hair and wrings her hand?

What effect does this communion with another world have upon the speaker? How has  her emotional situation altered?


Who/what is “my soul’s dear soul”? Is it a separate person, such as a loved one? A part of the self? What evidence is there for this view?

What are some advantages of the poem’s five-line stanza form?

What are characteristics of “the soul”? How is it domiciled? How does it occupy itself? How would you describe the soul’s mental state?

How does the poem develop incrementally the concept of the “soul”?

To what degree is the speaker able to understand her soul, and what does this indicate?  Why does she address the soul as “O self-forgetful”?

What does the speaker surmise that the soul may desire? Is it significant that she cannot be certain?

What are the connotations of the fact that the soul is “Less than happy, over wise”? That she has been deaf to the speaker’s pleading? What has happened to the speaker in the meantime?

Why does the speaker intend to bury her soul?  What is the effect of the formal ritual which ends the poem? Why the use of willow and carved alabaster?

What will be the speaker’s relationship to the buried soul? Will she and her soul be forever separated? United in memory?

A Dream

What purpose is served by the poem’s opening lines? Why does the speaker state that no one would believe her tale, then tells it anyway: “Yet if you will, why, hear it to the end”?

What is the poem’s setting? Is this significant?

What do you make of the monstrous crocodile? What imagery is used to describe him? Is the effect of his gorging attractive?

At an allegorical level, are his predations sexual? Political? It has been claimed that the poem may refer to events in the Crimea at the time of its composition (1855)? Do you find this plausible?

What meanings are attached to the white winged vessel? Why does the crocodile then “shed appropriate tears” and wring his hands?

Does the speaker assume that her audience will want to know the meaning of her dream?

What is the effect of her final claim that she herself doesn’t know?  Does this seem coy? Honest?

The Iniquity of the Fathers Upon the Children

 Why does the speaker begin her account with the statement that she has experience a “rose of keenest thorn”?

What seem to be the themes of this poem? Do these parallel those of the other poems by Christina Rossetti which we have read?

What do you make of the poem’s rhythms and tone? Do they reinforce its meaning?

What are the speaker’s earliest memories? How is the youthful mother presented? What effect does the absence of an acknowledged parent have upon the speaker’s life?

What special difficulties would this situation have presented in Victorian England?

What do we learn about the speaker? About the town in which she lives? About the lady of the manor house?

What does she know about her own situation, and how is this revealed to her? What are some troubling aspects of her life with the woman she supposes to be her mother? Why does she feel shame?

Why doesn’t the speaker wish to marry one of the suitors who may be attracted by her dowry and handsomeness?

Whom does she blame for her sense of depression and ostracism? Does the poem bear out these judgments?

In what way is this a companion poem to “Goblin Market”?

In An Artist's Studio

What effect is created by the use of the sonnet form for this topic?

What contrast structures this poem? What descriptions are used for the artist's model as she appears in his drawings and paintings?

What words describe the artist's model in real life? Why is this contrast significant?

What level of meaning is added by the poem's final line?

It has been suggested that this poem is a critique of her brother's relationship with his fiance/model, Elizabeth Siddal, whom he drew and painted in dozens of pictures, and who suffered from ill health during their long engagement. Others have thought that it points to the the subterfuges implicit in the idealization of women in Pre-Raphaelite art. What attitudes toward art and gender roles do you believe are latent in the poem?

How would you describe the poem's final tone? Mocking? Regretful? Alienated?

At Home

What irony is presented by the title? What situation is described in the poem?

Is this motif a familiar one from literature, and if so, how does Christina Rossetti vary the theme?

What effect is created by the poem's use of rhymes and stanza form? How does the poem's diction emphasize the fickle nature of her former friends' behavior?

What grieves her in their reactions?

What final message is conveyed by the poem? Are humans to be blamed for the fact that identity and memory are so fleeting?

On the Wing

What advantage is gained by the use of the sonnet form in this poem? How are the octave and sestet distinguished thematically?

What effect is created by casting the poem as a dream?

What is the meaning of the image of the mating pigeons attacked by the hawk? Are there disturbing or unusual aspects of this image?

What is the speaker's final situation?

What meaning is conveyed by the final image, conveying the "sound of far-off piteous bleat of lambs and sheep"?

Is this an appropriate image for the themes of this poem? Why do you think the image is one of sound? What would have been some common associations with "lambs and sheep"?

How would you interpret this poem? What do you think is Rossetti's attitude toward the chances of fulfilled sexuality and mutual trust?


What are features of the poem's form, stanza variation, repetitions, and sequencing?

Does the last line seem to suport the meaning of "advent"? Why do you think the poem ends, "Earth grown old"?

How do you interpret this poem? What do you think is its final message? Is it subtly conveyed, and if so, how may this affect the message itself?

Would you describe this as an effective poem? If so, why?

Sleeping at Last

What are qualities of the poem's stanza form and language?

What is added the poem by its repetitions? How do its rhythms and sounds support its meaning?

What may Christina Rossetti have meant by "sleeping"? Are the poem's statements consistent with/expressions of the poet's devout Christianity? Does the poem suggest that the sleeper will experience heaven?

What do we know about the subject? What account is given of her life? Why do you think the poet fails to mention her name or their relationship?

What function is served by the poem's images? Is the sequence of its stanzas cumulative?

The Iniquity of the Fathers Upon the Children

To what does the title refer? Is the biblical statement descriptive, or a claim that iniquities should be visited upon descendants?

What effect does the biblical title have upon the way in which the reader interprets the poem?

Are the themes of this poem related to those of other Rossetti poems such as “Goblin Market”? (the evil consequences of seduction)

Do the poem’s meter and diction seem appropriate for its subject?

What use is made of the pun on “under the rose”? (flower  imagery)

What have been sad elements of the speaker’s life? What events have made her feel  especially isolated and betrayed?

How has her mother behaved towards her, and what effect has this had?

Does the speaker find excuses for her mother’s behavior? What have been the lady’s own problems? How have social attitudes influenced her behavior?

What remarks does she make regarding her father? How has he wronged her and her mother?

Ultimately, does the speaker seem to feel most resentment against her mother, her father, or society?

Why does she not wish to marry or produce children? How do you interpret her decision?

Is the ending effective in reinforcing Rossetti’s theme?


What relationship do you see between these shorter poems and "Goblin Market"? Is the poet's tone similar? Her preoccupations? Her use of language?