Pre-Raphaelites in The City: ‘Spring Quiet’

Dinah Roe

‘Spring Quiet’ Christina Rossetti poem inspires my sister-in-law!

My sister-in-law Alyse recently told me that Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Spring Quiet’ moved her to produce a lovely drawing which she has entitled ‘Spring Inspiration’, and I wanted to share it with you. Alyse is a young American artist who is just beginning her career. Having grown up in New York State’s Hudson Valley, she takes her inspiration from the natural world. She is also starting to become inspired by poetry.

Perhaps my tendency to hijack family occasions by banging on about nineteenth-century art and literature isn’t as tedious as I suspect. Or perhaps Alyse is trying to buy my silence at the next one, subtly suggesting that it’s time for me to start listening to a contemporary artist rather than always holding forth on those from the past. Nah! 

You can read more about Alyse and her work on her WEBSITE      

Christina Rossetti wrote ‘Spring Quiet’ when she was only seventeen years old, but her voice is already so mature that it is easy to forget just how young she was. The poem is about a wish for spring, a longing for a brighter season. If ‘Winter’ were ‘Gone’ and ‘Spring’ were ‘Come’, the poem’s speaker could escape to ‘a covert / Where the birds sing’. But as it is, she is stuck with winter, straining for sounds and signs of spring, like someone listening for the ocean’s echo, though ‘far’ from the sea.
This version is from the 1866 volume, The Prince’s Progress.

Gone were but the Winter,
  Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
  Where the birds sing;

Where in the whitethorn
  Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
  In the holly-bush.

Full of fresh scents
  Are the budding boughs                            
Arching high over
  A cool green house:

Full of sweet scents,
  And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
  ‘We spread no snare;

‘Here dwell in safety,
  Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
  And a mossy stone.                               

‘Here the sun shineth
  Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
  Of the far sea,
  Though far off it be.’

This poem was originally published in her grandfather Gaetano Polidori’s privately printed volume, Verses (1847), later edited for its appearance as ‘Spring Quiet’ in The Prince’s Progress, 1866. In 1858, she composed two additional parts, which were published posthumously as ‘Today and Tomorrow’ in New Poems (1896). The conclusion is so sad and dreary that I hesitate to reproduce parts II and III here. After all, I want to celebrate spring! But in truth, I love a note of caution, and sometimes acknowledging the bitter is the best way to celebrate the sweet. Christina Rossetti certainly thought so.


All the world is out in leaf.
Half the world in flower.
Earth has waited weeks and weeks
For this special hour:
Faint the rainbow comes and goes
On a sunny shower.

All the world is making love:
Bird to bird in bushes,
Beast to beast in glades, and frog
To frog among the rushes :
Wake, O south wind sweet with spice,
Wake the rose to blushes.

Life breaks forth to right and left —
Pipe wild-wood notes cheery.
Nevertheless there are the dead
Fast asleep and weary —

To-day we live, to-day we lov^
Wake and listen, deary.
I wish I were dead, my foe.
My friend, I wish I were dead,
With a stone at my tired feet
And a stone at my tired head.

In the pleasant April days
Half the world will stir and sing,
But half the world will slug and rot
For all the sap of Spring.

 

Responses

  1. Great post.
    I’m taking a look at your blog after a long time.
    Of course, the hope of a rebirth in springtime is nothing new in poetry. Christina can indeed sound rather cheerful sometimes, although there’s always a sense of something lurking behind the pretty sights of spring.As she grew older, it became even more evident.
    I’m surprised you didn’t include a refernce to another of your favourites, Eliot.
    How about his “April is the cruellest month” ?

    Marcos David de paula responded at 11:04pm on 06/10/2012
  2. You’re right. Mr. Eliot’s poem has been on my mind this spring. Particularly with all the rain in the UK! Welcome back. smile

    Dinah responded at 01:22pm on 06/15/2012

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.