The summer nights are short

Here is a nice short summer poem, by Christina Rossetti, making us conscious of the length of the days and the nights and the beauty of birdsong, when we open out ears to hear it.

The Summer Nights Are Short

The summer nights are short

Where northern days are long:

For hours and hours lark after lark

Trills out his song.

The summer days are short

Where southern nights are long:

Yet short the night when nightingales

Trill out their song.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

From <>

As we all know, nights are short and days are long in the summer, and this poem celebrates the season, implying we should be outside In the countryside, listening to the birds sing. The lark will sing all day, and we can notice it if we will but be aware. The nightingale sings at night and the beauty of its song makes the short night seem to pass by even faster.

A simple, but effective poem, to celebrate the beauty of our surroundings and the differences between the seasons.

The Poetry Dude

Somewhere or other there must surely be

A wistful poem of longing for love by Christina Rossetti, expressing the feeling or hope that someone to love must exist somewhere in the world if only he or she could be found.

Somewhere or Other

Somewhere or other there must surely be
The face not seen, the voice not heard,
The heart that not yet—never yet—ah me!
Made answer to my word.

Somewhere or other, may be near or far;
Past land and sea, clean out of sight;
Beyond the wandering moon, beyond the star
That tracks her night by night.

Somewhere or other, may be far or near;
With just a wall, a hedge, between;
With just the last leaves of the dying year
Fallen on a turf grown green.

From <;

There is a pleasing symmetry and progression in this poem. The first stanza focuses on the potential lover and the enigma of their existence or non-existence, ” the face not seen, the voice not heard” etc. In the second stanza the poet wonders where her lover might be found, near or far, but emphasizing the far, while in the third stanza, she explores the same question, but here wondering about the near. Of course, both far and near locations are impossibly inaccessible to the poet as she sits and muses.

So perhaps there is n love at the end of the story, but there is a fine poem.

The Poetry Dude

My heart is like a singing bird

Christina Rossetti’s poetry is often a little melancholy, a little sad, a little wistful perhaps, so it is great to be able to feature one of her poems which bursts with joy and exuberance. It is a poem dealing with the exhilaration of being in love (rather than the suffering which we saw in the poem by Garcia Lorca posted here).

When we see the title, ” A Birthday” we might imagine that it is actually about the poet’s birthday, or the birthday of someone close to her. But no, we find that being in love is a re-birth, a new birthday for her, hence the outpouring of excitement and wonder.

A Birthday

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

From <;

The first wo words give a clue as to what is to come, “My heart” might be uplifted by a normal birthday or by the beauty of the world, but it is more likely to be the destination of the emotions of love. In fact, this is reinforced by the first four couplets, each of which begins “My heart is like…”, accumulating the images of beauty, abundance and contentment. A singing bird, an apple tree laden with fruit, a rainbow -these are all beautiful and gladdening things, but the poet’s heart is even gladder because her love has appeared.

The second half of the poem expresses the poet’s feelings in a different way. She wishes for a dais hung with silk and precious down ,magnificently carved with images if luxury, with gold and silver everywhere. Such a place would be a worthy platform from which to proclaim to the world that she is in love.

I think she must have been really in love…

The Poetry Dude

Oh why is heaven built so far,

This poem, by Christina Rossetti, is for anyone who looks up at the stars and feels insignificant, overwhelmed, but fascinated by the enormity of the night sky. At night, when you can think deep thoughts, De Profundis, about your place in the universe.

De Profundis

Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.
I would not care to reach the moon,
One round monotonous of change;
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range.
I never watch the scatter’d fire
Of stars, or sun’s far-trailing train,
But all my heart is one desire,
And all in vain:
For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope;
I strain my heart, I stretch my hands,
And catch at hope.

From <;

The poet looks up at the sky in awe. The stars attract but are inaccessible. Even the moon, which is close and therefore less interesting is out of reach to the earthbound human.

Reaching out to the stars symbolises hope and aspiration and human optimism. It has inspired generations of astronomers, scientists and engineers to push the limits of human achievement, such that humanity now has a tiny toehold of experience and knowledge beyond our own planet.

I like to think that poets, and poems such as this, have played a part in this great adventure.

The Poetry Dude

There is but one May in the year, 

As we are still in the month of May when this poem is posted, here is a short seasonal poem from Christina Rossetti, giving a somewhat different perspective on “the darling buds of May”.

There Is But One May In The Year

There is but one May in the year,
And sometimes May is wet and cold;
There is but one May in the year
Before the year grows old.
Yet though it be the chilliest May,
With least of sun and most of showers,
Its wind and dew, its night and day,
Bring up the flowers.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

From <;

So yes, there is only one month of May in the year, the height of spring in the northern hemisphere, when all of nature should be bursting with renewal, growth, optimism and joy. But the poet reminds us that May can be wet and cold, chilly and rainy (remember she lived in England), so not every day can feed our fantasies of spring. Even so, the poem finishes on an upbeat note – despite the vagaries of the weather and the dampeners on the springtime mood, the flowers will come.

A short and simple poem, but well worth spending some time with, especially in this month of May.

The Poetry Dude

Come to me in the silence of the night;

Today’s poem is by Christina Rossetti. Although you cannot really tell from the body of the poem, I take the title to indicate that it is inspired by the Greek mythological tale of Echo, and her ill-fated love for Narcissus. But it could also stand for anyone, approaching death, thinking back to the loves of their youth and trying to capture a last glimpse or memory of long-lost feelings.

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low
As long ago, my love, how long ago.

From <;

The first stanza is striking by the repetition of “come” in the first, second, third and fifth lines – the fact that it is repeated so much reinforces the impression that it is a forlorn plea – what must come, memory, lost love, paradis perdu, will, of course, not appear.

In the second stanza, we have repetition again in the first line of the word “sweet”, each time reinforced by another adjective, and then repetition of words beginning with “w”, ” whose wakening”, “where”, “where”, “watch”, which bind the stanza together in a sense of wistful longing. Is it a dream, or is it the approach of death which is referred to here?

The third stanza gets to the heart of the longing for a dream or a hint of the long-lost lover, from many years ago, just as Echo might have wept remembering Narcissus. Again, there are several repetitions which reinforce the sense of almost desperation and longing in the poet’s feelings – “come to me in dreams”, “pulse for pulse”, “breath for breath”, ” speak low, lean low”, “long ago”. It is almost a hypnotic effect and feels like an inner voice, as in a dream or as in the final moments of a life.

A beautiful, haunting poem…

The Poetry Dude

When I am dead, my dearest

There are many poems in which the poet finds consolation in the face of impending death or old age by the fact that his or her poems will live on for ever and give some kind of immortality. You can find this in Shakespeare, in Ronsard, in Garcilaso, in Quevedo, to name but a few. In this poem, Christina Rossetti takes a different and somewhat unexpected attitude to death.


When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

From <;

The poem is adressed to her “dearest”, probably a lover or husband, but perhaps a child. She invites the dear one to make no particular or special arrangements to mark or memorialise her death – don’t plant flowers or trees – and to either remember her or forget her as she wishes. So, in a sense she is setting her dear ones free to react to her death in any way they wish because she knows that, being dead, it will make no difference to her. There is no setting expectations which could interfere with the freedom of choice of those left alive, or cause them to feel guilty if they do not follow certain wishes of the deceased.

The second stanza emphasizes that, being dead, the poet will experience nothing of the living world, having no senses to see, feel or hear anything. The final two lines of the second stanza echo the final two lines of the first stanza, but this time it is the poet who may remember or forget – I think haply means perhaps…

This is a simple, but effective poem, with repetition of key words and phrases, and simple constructions which make it easily memorable and accessible to all. Very nice.

The Poetry Dude