Loss as a Central Theme of “Shut Out,” “Up Hill,” and Other Poems

It is undeniable that the theme of loss is weaved throughout much of Rossetti’s poetry, often reflecting the emotional hardship of her own life. It stands out clearly in Shut Out as a key part of Rossetti’s message and is arguably used as a vehicle to demonstrate areas of loss and isolation that were present in Rossetti’s own life. Through considered use of language, Rossetti creates contrasting atmospheres of loss and hope that clearly help highlight the emotional and spiritual difficulties of loss, as well as brandishing a selection of poetic techniques that help in her presentation of loss as a life altering, soul consuming emotion. It could almost be said that the use of the Garden of Eden as a central plot point is merely a catalyst to further express her feelings on the topic. Ultimately, we are painted a complex yet concise picture of Rossetti’s feelings towards this theme in all of its complexity.

Rossetti presents the impact of loss as a battle of contrasting emotions, although initially suggesting that loss has a life destroying effect upon a person there are definite sparks of hopefulness within the poem. The clear use of contrasting imagery throughout the poem is a demonstration of loss’s fluctuating effects. Within the first stanza, the cold and lifeless imagery of the “iron bars” gives an almost unnatural depiction of Rossetti’s feelings. Her choice to use the image of prison-like bars perhaps suggests that these feelings of loss are purely a construction of man, not nature, or in the view of Rossetti, God. This point is further supported by the juxtaposition used in the description of the gardens natural charm. By describing the flowers as “bedewed and green”, we are presented with the idea that Rossetti views the climb out of loss as a gift from God. The connotations of freshness and purity relate directly to Rossetti’s open devotion to the Christian Faith. Ultimately through this clever use of juxtaposition Rossetti is able to convey the eruption of contrasting emotions felt after a loss of any form, the relevance of these are everlasting, even to a 21st century reader. This point is further complimented through Rossetti’s use of a large shift in tone between the sixth and seventh stanzas. The penultimate stanza has a heavy semantic field of pain and isolation. The speaker is described as being “blinded with tears” not only showing the feelings of depravity but also creating a violent undertone. This is however soon juxtaposed with the final stanza’s depiction of a “lark” building a nest within a “violet bed”. The themes of rebirth and natural beauty are heavy within this stanza not only further demonstrating the extreme flurry of emotions associated with loss but also painting a hopeful future for all who are crippled with the pains of loss. When looking broadly at all of Rossetti’s work, it is easy to find other examples of this idea that beyond loss hope still prevails.

Within the poem Up Hill, Rossetti demonstrates her confidence in her own faith and depicts heaven to be a welcoming place for all who believe. The poem is littered with dark imagery and language possibly describing the pain of losing someone, which is ultimately countered by the reassurance of the second speaker who is symbolic of any Christian’s view on death; they do not fear it, as they will reach paradise after death. Like Shut Out, Up Hill places a considerable focus on contrast, utilising the two speakers to demonstrate the polar opposite emotions given by loss. Once again, we are shown a hopeful future for those suffering from the pains of loss; however, in this example Rossetti tackles the more abstract aspects of loss as she delves into the core philosophy of her faith. Rossetti also presents the theme of loss as not only a devastating emotion, but as an ever-present part of people’s lives, that has the power to dictate their feelings actions. Ultimately, she has depicted loss as an emotional prison that prevents the victim from enjoying the life they were given by god. Her use of a clear and consistent rhyme scheme, with the ABBA structure, is used throughout to give a tight, controlled tone to the poem, Rossetti may feel that the ‘prison’ of loss has prevented her from wallowing in her other more joyful emotions. This idea is further supported by the mention of the “wall” built to exclude the speaker from her lost garden. A wall has very obvious connotations of segregation and permanence, enforcing the idea that loss has an almost unnaturally controlling effect upon a person. This and the tightly structured rhyme scheme is accompanied with the Ballard form that the poem takes. The obvious connotations of the Ballard is that there is a moral lesson to be learnt. In this sense, it could be said that Rossetti believes that God created loss as lesson to teach his followers, a possible question of their faith.

Throughout Rossetti’s life, she devoted herself to God, often choosing the virtuous path of Christianity over her own aims and desires. Although questioning her own faith in defiant moments within her life, her passion for God is present throughout her poetry. The idea of the structure and form of the poem mirroring the emotional imprisonment of loss is also apparent in the final stanza where syntactic parallelism is used to further enforce the fact that the pain and turmoil caused by loss can distort the lives of its victims in an almost calculated fashion. Conclusively, Rossetti views the theme of loss as a oppressive part of people lives with the capacity to carve said lives into whatever cruel path it sees fit. Once again, these ideas and techniques are found within many of Rossetti’s poems. In The Round Tower at Jhansi, human structure is once again used to emphasise the catastrophic effect of loss upon the unfortunate. Like the previously mentioned “wall” the Tower at Jhansi is used to emphasise the permanent impact of loss on the mental state of those who have suffered its pains. In The Round Tower can also be compared to shut out in terms of its Ballard form and tight ABAB rhyme scheme. The theme of loss is shown in an overly emotional tone as the two lovers defy the law of Christianity and take each other’s lives as to escape the “wretches below”.

Rossetti demonstrates to her readers that loss can influence every aspect of their lives, not only changing the way in which they view the world, but also consumes all they knew to be true. In fact, Rossetti succeeded in representing loss as a darker, more morbid state. She presents the theme subtly in all aspects of her poetic prowess and is able to cast light on a theme that has infinite relevance within our world.

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