Pre-Raphaelites in The City: ‘Winter: My Secret’ (Poetry Analysis)

Dinah Roe

‘Winter: My Secret’ (Poetry Analysis) Poetry Workshop: The Poem

After consulting the statistics for this blog, I am delighted to report that my faith in the reading public’s enthusiasm for poetry has been repaid. The most frequently visited entries are my close interpretations of poems. So a big nanny nanny boo boo followed by a hearty nyuk-nyuk to those who discouraged me from starting a blog on the grounds that no one cares about poetry these days. People do care, and I can use google analytics to prove it. A very big thank you to readers who have written in about (or simply quietly enjoyed) close-reading poetry along with me.

In gratitude, my Christmas offering to you is a seasonally appropriate Christina Rossetti poem called ‘Winter: My Secret’. I hope you will join me in reading, thinking about, and delighting in this poem.

Coming to a poem for the first time can be difficult and disorienting. Read slowly; this is not a race. Cast your mind back to what it was like to read for pleasure as a child, before you were aware that people expected something measurable to come out of the process. Put no pressure on yourself to form conclusions, find connections, or indulge in analytical pyrotechnics.

Let Rossetti’s words (150 years old now) literally speak to you. Remember to listen as well as to look. Words are not just visual; they are aural and oral. Poetry is a sensual art, and we need to involve as many senses as possible in our appreciation of this form. Read the words, hear them, and speak them out loud. Don’t be self-conscious about doing this. Talking to yourself in public is perfectly acceptable these days. Just put in an earpiece, adopt a self-important look and pretend you’re on your mobile phone. 

Or, if this is too embarrassing a prospect, have a listen to Yours Truly reading the poem outloud HERE:

Please visit again for the analysis, which will be posted soon.


Winter: My Secret
(by Christina Rossetti) 

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows, and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.

Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.

Responses

  1. Thanks for a really good reading, Dinah! I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say about ‘pecked’. Interesting word to choose…

    Niall responded at 12:16am on 12/19/2012
  2. Duly noted. And believe me, I have PLENTY to say about the word ‘pecked’! Stay tuned, if that is the right word for blog-reading.

    Dinah responded at 11:19am on 12/20/2012
  3. Yeah, great choice for a winter poem.

    Again, an opening line that’s typical of Rossetti’s often almost familiar style. I like the way she starts many of her poems with a first line that sounds almost like someone trying to start a conversation with an unwilling listener.

    But I think I agree more with William Rossetti’s perceptive comment in the Poetical Works of 1904:

    “This was at first named Nonsense; but, if there is method in some madness, there may be nous in some nonsense.”

    (Poetical Works, p. 481)

    Marcos responded at 12:27pm on 12/22/2012
  4. Recently I wrote how I deeply, wibblingly, atheistically enjoy poems. However, sexual fetishes, political affiliations and personal finances have all become acceptable conversational nibbles to pair with beers at the pub, but admit to loving poetry and even your closest friends can react as if you’ve admitted to contracting a terrible disease.
    So I wouldn’t say I’m a liberated verse devotee yet, but I’ve started my journey.
    I really enjoyed your post Dinah, thanks. Reading Rossetti is always refreshing.

    Julian responded at 11:37pm on 01/10/2013
  5. Julian,

    Nice use of ‘wibblingly’! You can always come here if you feel the need to admit to loving poetry. Such admissions are actively encouraged, nay, applauded on this blog. Be assured there are many others like you out there, who write to me under the cover of anonymity. I wish you the best on your journey to verse devotee-ism! As Christina Rossetti says in Time Flies: “II piu duro passo e quello della soglia ” (‘The hardest step is at the threshold’)

    Dinah responded at 01:52pm on 01/11/2013
  6. About to be enlightened by your analysis.  This poem is a lovely tease.

    David C Brown responded at 12:34pm on 05/27/2013

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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.