Mother Country : A Poem by Christina Rossetti

LD: This is one of my favorite Christina Rossetti poems, less well known than it ought to be and seldom found in anthologies.  Its exquisite musicality is entirely dependent on rhyme and meter, since the same melodic effects cannot possibly be achieved by unrhymed “free verse”.

The poem’s burning sincerity, which is the hallmark of all Rossetti’s verse, has the indelible stamp of her character: that of an otherworldly mystic consumed by an abhorrence of everyday existence in this vale of tears, together with an insatiable longing for heaven and an after life in some Platonic realm beyond time. This is the lost paradise of her dreams, inklings of which are experienced on this earth only in childhood, if one is lucky enough to have a happy childhood.

Here, then, in this idealized Eden of childhood innocence, is the “Mother Country” which forms the subject matter of this extraordinary piece of mood music. This is genius of a high order, seldom reached by any other female poet in history. [LD]



by Christian Rossetti   

Oh what is that country
And where can it be,
Not mine own country,
But dearer far to me?
Yet mine own country,
If I one day may see
Its spices and cedars,
Its gold and ivory.

As I lie dreaming
It rises, that land:
There rises before me
Its green golden strand,
With its bowing cedars
And its shining sand;
It sparkles and flashes
Like a shaken brand.

Do angels lean nearer
While I lie and long?
I see their soft plumage
And catch their windy song,
Like the rise of a high tide
Sweeping full and strong;
I mark the outskirts
Of their reverend throng.

Oh what is a king here,
Or what is a boor?
Here all starve together,
All dwarfed and poor;
Here Death’s hand knocketh
At door after door,
He thins the dancers
From the festal floor.

Oh what is a handmaid,
Or what is a queen?
All must lie down together
Where the turf is green,
The foulest face hidden,
The fairest not seen;
Gone as if never,
They had breathed or been.

Gone from sweet sunshine
Underneath the sod,
Turned from warm flesh and blood
To senseless clod,
Gone as if never
They had toiled or trod,
Gone out of sight of all
Except our God.

Shut into silence
From the accustomed song,
Shut into solitude
From all earth’s throng,
Run down tho’ swift of foot,
Thrust down tho’ strong;
Life made an end of
Seemed it short or long.

Life made an end of,
Life but just begun,
Life finished yesterday,
Its last sand run;
Life new-born with the morrow,
Fresh as the sun:
While done is done for ever;
Undone, undone.

And if that life is life,
This is but a breath,
The passage of a dream
And the shadow of death;
But a vain shadow
If one considereth;
Vanity of vanities,
As the Preacher saith.

17 thoughts to “Mother Country : A Poem by Christina Rossetti”

  1. “Here Death’s hand knocketh
    At door after door,
    He thins the dancers
    From the festal floor.”

    This poem makes me want to read more of this fine lady.

    If more of us simple beings only realized that life is fleeting, we might value material things less and the important things more. We need reminders like this.

    1. It seems to me that any thinking person is being constantly “reminded” of death, nowadays. In fact (maybe just because of the gloomy winter weather)(or the dominant newscasts) I have been depressed by the prevalence of deathly omens for some time. Everywhere we look, there is evidence of death’s inevitable hold. Murders, sickness, killings; favorite animals and pets, family and friends – we always face it. There is no escape except fantasy or mindless hedonism. I used to go out to the stables at night and hug the horses (while a little drunk on wine) with a gentle head resting over my shoulder, sharing concerns with the finest folks I know (besides my dog), and shed tears of sadness for the way things are, sometime. It never ends. Christina Rossetti must have felt the same.

      1. You speak like a true poet, Gilbert. As indeed you are. I am deeply moved by your words.

        Your above comment, if I may say so, is a beautiful little prose poem. Just break it up into separate lines and it would make an effective free verse poem.

        I will attempt to do this for you now … because I teach English in school and often do this for the aspiring young poets in my midst. Pardon me if I edit your prose a wee bit and make some minor alterations. Hope you approve the result! 🙂 (MB)

        1. ON FACING DEATH

          By Gilbert Huntly

          We are all reminded of death
          Maybe it’s just the weather,
          the gloomy winter weather.
          Or it’s the iron in the soul,
          and growing older.

          I witness death everywhere.
          Wherever I cast my eyes,
          I encounter the Grim Reaper
          sowing his killer seeds,
          scattering his dark omens:
          murder, sickness, killings without number
          of faithful farm animals and beloved pets,
          of family, friends, and old flames once adored.

          Wherever we turn, we face it:
          the grim reality
          of old age, sickness, death.

          There is no escape from these terrors
          except through fantasy
          or in the mindless pleasures of the flesh.

          I used to go out to the stables
          at night, in the old days,
          and hug the dear horses
          while still groggy with wine.

          A gentle head, equine,
          would nuzzle my shoulder,
          hugging me with its warmth.
          I would share my sad thoughts
          with these noble beasts, my companions,
          the finest folk I ever knew
          apart from my trusty dogs.

          I would shed tears of sadness
          for the way things are.
          It never ends.

          Maybe our best poets
          feel the same way as me,
          and say it in their own fine words.

          — Gilbert Huntly

          1. @ Madame Butterfly

            Absolutely brilliant!

            @ Gilbert Huntly

            You have just found a magnificent translator! Well done, Gilbert! I can honestly say you could get this poem into any poetry magazine in America. It not only has the merit of total sincerity and the simplicity of plain speaking. It also has literary finesse, emotional impact, and is well crafted with the right imagery. Not a word is wasted.

            1. If there really is a GOD there will be HORSES HUNG LIKE HORUS IN HEAVEN waiting for Us, *grin*

              I am currently composing an epic poem entitled “HORSES HUNG LIKE HORUS IN HEAVEN”. Stay tuned for publication!

              Ever notice : The root word of HORSE and HORUS is the same root word–> HOR. The word, lol, “WHORE” also shares the same root wood as HORSE and HORUS, HOR. Maybe that’s why the, lol, wHORe Lasha feels such an affinity to HORses HUNG LIKE HORus. Now WE find out Gilbert also has an affinity with the HORses HUNG LIKE HORus in the stable, *grin*.

              They all got the same root word in common, HOR. LMFAO!!!!!

              1. Someday I will meet Christina Rossetti in the next world, but non ancora, non ancora. I don’t know about anyone else but personally I’m in no rush to meet her in the next world. She’s a great female poet and that’s wonderful, good for her, but that’s not enough for me to get gung-ho to meet up with her. Then again, I’m not morbid and morose like our goddess from the dark side of the m00n.

                Funny, at a website supposedly inspired by Catholicism and a website where there is a fixation on DEATH, there’s NEVER any mention of the Catholic viewpoint of DEATH, like “THE 4 LAST THINGS”. WE are “Catholics”, but WE are fixated on DEATH, WE NEVER mention Catholic eschatology.

                Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lasha and “ex-nun” Moronica and cousin “MonteCRISTO” never heard of The Catholic “LAST 4 THINGS” Every time I hear cousin Monte’s name I picture the statue of Christ on top of Mount Corcovado in Rio – then I have to remind myself cousin Monte is really a wanna-be joo hollywood Wizard of Oz. Monte himself is a HOOT so it logically follows that Monte’s Darkmoon website is a HOOT! 🙂

                I wouldn’t be surprised to find out cousin Monte went to a Jesuit seminary. Once a crypto JEWsuit, always a crypto JEWsuit! LOL.

                There’s such a thing as “ex-nuns” and there’s NO such thing as ex crypto JEWsuits, amirite? I think I am right. I don’t believe in ADMIN like so many others do, I have doubts and misgivings about ADMIN many times; Oh “Christ” on the “Montee” … I believe in ADMIN … help thou my Unbelief, *grin* 🙂

    2. @ Jake

      Yes, the lines you quote bring tears to my eyes. “He thins the dancers/From the festal floor.” No one but Christina Rossetti could have put it like that. I’m so glad LD has brought this fantastic female poet to out attention.

      It is more than ironical — to me at any rate — that the poetry published on this website receives almost no notice from posters here. They genuinely appear to think that the Jew-bashing articles are more important and relevant. How wrong they are! The articles are ephemera, all forgotten in a few weeks. All nine day wonders. The poems are still fresh and young, long after they are written.

      Sic transit gloria mundi!

  2. Death of a father and a dream of a child
    a poem I wrote a few years ago

    When I was young, I used to ask about my father
    And my mother would always say: He shall come back
    He went on a faraway journey, son! As distant as the remote stars
    O how much he loves you! Especially that you are the youngest one
    The last-born and the nectar-sweet as well!
    It is bedtime, sweetheart; you are mightily sleepy, so go to sleep.
    She would then hold me close to her bosom

    And embrace me amidst sighs and yearning.
    I would smilingly fall asleep, entertaining dreams
    With delightful promises dinning in my ears!
    Years have passed since, and I came to realize the truth
    O how I wish I were buried within the folds of those years!
    Now I am an adult, inhabited by sorrow
    And know that grief is my lot.
    I have slashed my dreams with the knife of deep mental anguish
    And sallied forth on the paths of life
    While my festering wounds grew greater and deeper.
    I came to know that my Dad has taken an eternal trip
    And ever since, he hasn’t come home, nor written to us.
    I went on playing with my companions
    Yet, inwardly I was alone
    Immersed in my troubled thoughts
    Had I a picture of him, or seen his image
    I would thank God that he does exist !
    My mother had described him to me;
    She said that his face and physique
    Closely resemble those of my uncle’s.
    No semblance of my father, however
    Will quench my scalding sorrow
    Description is mere illusion
    And consolation is considerably remote

    1. @ Al

      Very moving. You write from the heart. Well done!

      And yet it doesn’t follow from this pessimistic statement that there is no life after death and that life in this world is meaningless. You remind me of that gloomy Greek philosopher who said: “To die as soon as possible would be a good thing, but it would have been even better not to have been born.”

      1. SAKI,
        THANK YOU SIR.

        Indeed there is life after death and the word of Allah is true when he says those who die as martyrs would never disintegrate into the soil .They will be resurrected intact as intact as the day they died .

        In the video below, when my brother died in 2017 his wish was to be burried next to his son who was blown to pieces by the Israeli murderers in 2004 .
        At 4 minute of the video , my nephew’s flesh and blood were still fresh as the day he was burried ,they did not disintegrate like the rest of us.

        Yes indeed there is God and there is resurrection and a hereafter.
        Thank you again sir for your kind words.

        if you all wish ,you can use google to translate the description of the video .

        1. Thank you, Al. And thanks also for the video. Your comment cheers me up considerably. I too have read the Qur’an in the Yusuf Ali translation recommended by LD. It has the Arabic text on one side of the page and the English translation opposite, and each page has many explanatory footnotes. A monumental work of Islamic scholarship and devotion.

  3. @Madame Butterfly, Sister Monica (and TROJ)

    Madame, I am pleased that you related my comment in such a pleasing fashion; and, as always, I am happy for Sister’s approval of my comment. I didn’t intend to stir-up such a fuss, TROJ, but I am amused (as always) of your take on the matter. 😉
    I have a very soft heart for horses and dogs – and they feel it. Like people, though, there are some with whom one cannot get along (but they are far fewer in number!).

  4. Good Grief! How MANY MORE morose musings from this “Moaning Minnie” do we have to put up with???

    It’s enough to drive even a t-totaller to drink… and not stagger out ’til closing time, rather than to have to return to Ms Rissotto’s ‘Seven Rooms Of Gloom’

    Give me a Buxom Betty, Sexy Susan – or even a Chatty Cathy – ANY day of the week!

    ADMIN: You got any “cheerful” poems? Send ’em along!

  5. I came to Christina Rossetti via her brother Dante Gabriel, who did some fine translations of early Italian poets, including Dante Alighieri’s “La Vita Nuova”.
    Here is one of his poems, entitled “Sudden Light”:

    I have been here before,
    But when or how I cannot tell:
    I know the grass beyond the door,
    The sweet keen smell,
    The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

    You have been mine before,–
    How long ago I may not know:
    But just when at that swallow’s soar
    Your neck turn’d so,
    Some veil did fall,–I knew it all of yore.

    Has this been thus before?
    And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
    Still with our lives our love restore
    In death’s despite,
    And day and night yield one delight once more?

    1. @ Mazetto

      The poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti you quote is truly beautiful. I’ll have to read more of his poetry. I am more acquainted with his work as a painter.

      I’m sure his sister Christina would have adored this poem of her elder brother Dante Gabriel which is full of the spirit of pre-Raphaelite romanticism. Both brother and sister, by the way, were steeped in Plato and were devout admirers of Dante.

      1. I’m wondering if Gian Franco, the talented translator on this site, has written any poems in Italian? If so, please give us a sample, Gian. We have enough Italian to appreciate it, and those who don’t know Italian can get a rough idea of what you are saying by getting an online Italian-English translation.

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