Sexuality and Mortality in “The Round Tower at Jhansi,” “A Birthday,” and Other Poems

April 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

Most of Rossetti’s poetry has links to the concerns of love and passion, with some displaying it as enjoyable if not exciting. However, on the other hand much of her writing condemns passion, making links to religious texts such as in “Soeur Louise de la misericorde.” Many of the darker poems that link to death also have connections to love, indicating the pure mortality of it such as in song. Rossetti explores theme connected to love through her use of language and form inside of the poem; it is mentioned in multiple essays about the topic of love she connects to a ‘victorian sentimentality’ perhaps creating literature with dramatic tales of love and loss to engage an audience in a world dominated by men. Such features are especially prominent in “The Round Tower at Jhansi” and a few related texts.

Some of Rossetti’s works, such as “A Birthday,” celebrate loving relationships (perhaps over-sighting passion) demonstrating the pure joy that comes with love and being loved. Using similes such as ‘my heart is like a singing bird’ Rossetti indicates such love, emphasising the delight it brings. Using a direct reference to the narrators heart and connecting that with a song bird can also indicate the idea of opening up inside of a relationship with the heart being the most sensitive part of the body. This theme of opening up appears rarely in Rossetti’s pieces and is important here as it draws the readers attention to such a line highlighting the trusting relationship the two characters have. In this poem Rossetti is able to display a close and full hearted depiction of love: the use of anaphora with the phrase ‘my heart is like’ emphasises this love as it indicates that she is unable to word the exact feeling reflecting how her heart it deemed to be “full.” This along with the personified objects to represent her heart combine to create an often untold exploration into the theme of love which would be the wording of it. With the narrator struggling over how to convey the love she feels so deeply even going as far as to reference the church explaining he would ‘raise me a dais’ clearly making a link between not only religious imagery but also other poems inside of her collection with also deal with the theme of love, perhaps in different ways.

It could be indicated that the reason for Rossetti’s shift into perhaps more convent ail approaches to writing about love would be because of the multiple proposals she encountered in her time as a writer and could maybe even be linked to the brief engagement she had and the joy she felt. However another view could be that it actually represents her love for god himself making the religious connection all the move important. It is also argued by certain writers particularly Alice Kirby that she has given her characters ‘the agency to make their own decisions’ which indicates perhaps why this poem was written in such a way, focusing on the woman alone and not naming the character she is talking about, it given a proto-femanist gaze to the poem indicating that the narrator has perhaps made her own choices about love and a loving relationship with the repetition of the personal pronoun ‘my’ indicating a rather egocentric stand point for a poem based in the victorian era, especially with a woman with highly religious views such as Rossetti’s. Overall, in “A Birthday Rossetti” explores love directly, looking at the more beautiful and joyous moments and conveying that love can make a persons life feel full and vibrant.

Another poem that portrays a positive view on love and passion is “The Round Tower at Jhansi”; although the narrative of the poem is bleak, the loving elements inside of it are joyful and reflect a trusting and deep relationships atop the melancholy of the situation the narrators find themselves in. The action of ‘Kiss and kiss’ convey the passionate relation the couple share, and is one of the few times that Rossetti has a positive portrayal of passion explaining how ‘it is not pain thus to kiss and die’ with the indication that the pain of death can be numbed by as kiss an act which can be viewed as intently passionate especially in the situation. This numbing suggests that just the feeling of love can overcome death and reflects completely the depth of the love the characters share. Rossetti explores this saddening yet passionate love using such language in the poem linking the connotation of death to the living feeling of love. The poem was meant to be based upon an actual event that occurred in India during the victorian era and would have appealed to a wide reading audience. This may be why there is the positive spin of love and hope intermixed with the siege of the tower and the imminent deaths of the couple. As it is put in another essay about “The Round tower at Jhansi,” ‘the writer returned again and again to the theme of lost and doomed love’ which gives the alternative view of the love portrayed in this poem, which is ‘doomed’ this more negative portrayal. This would also link into Rossetti’s own views of love after she turned down several men in her time perhaps linking to her more negative view of love and passion in the poem. However, this view can be easy argued against as although Rossetti did have some negative views of men inside of her poetry these views are rarely consistent with some referring to her as a strong christian who believed simply in the way of god, as it would be indicated by good Friday and up-hill. Other writers can see her as one of the early feminists (although it did not have a name in victorian Britain) such as in “A Birthday” and “Goblin Market.” Theses mixed views help to embed the argument the in The Round Tower at Jhansi explores love and and passion as something both song and beautiful with the love overcoming even the pain of death.

On the other hand most of Rossetti’s poetry conveys a more negative view of love and passion condemning it. In “Soeur Louise de la misericorde,” Rossetti explores the opposing view of passion looking into how it is sinful and incorrigible. The use of the repetition of the word ‘desire’ demonstrates this as it highlights the emotions once felt and disparages them. As the narrator explains how to be desired is the ‘vanity of vanities:’ a clearly negative portrayal it is understandable why this can be viewed as a negative portrayal of love and passion. As it explains that to have a passionate relationship is to throw away any sentiment towards god. This linked with the fact that the narrator is a nun conveys that to be rid of such desire is to be rid of earthly passion; turning to god instead. This poem is believed to be based of the king of Frances lover who ran away and became a nun suggesting why Rossetti reflects negatively on such passionate relationships as she would have been influenced by the story of this woman. On the other hand it can also be argued that this poem shows a fallen woman deploying a woman who fell from the right path and is correcting that by following god, still condemning passionate relationships but also exploring the theme of forgiveness. Again, Alice Kirby explores this understanding of Rossetti’s poem explaining how she ‘gives a voice to the fallen woman.’ This links directly to Rossetti’s life as she worked for a time with fallen woman in linden helping prostitutes to turn their lives around. Rossetti explores the theme of love and passion quite differently in “Soeur Louise” than she does in “A Birthday,” conveying a negative message linked with passion and love and pushing the fact that by turning to the church you can be saved instead of love itself saving you.

Rossetti also explores love and passion is “Song,” and yet again she looks at the theme in a completely different way. The opening line ‘when I’m dead my dearest’ shows this different portrayal directly, as in “Song” Rossetti explores the theme of love being a very mortal attraction. Once a person is dead they can no longer love this is explored completely in song as the narrator says ‘plat thou no roses at my head’ the connotation of roses which are a conventionally passion based flower can indicate the relationship she had. The wish for such plants not to be planted shows how she no longer cares, that once dead there is not point having love or passion. Rossetti does not negatively display passion in “Song” as she does in “Soeur Louise”; she simply explores how it is not necessary for someone who is dead. Some of Rossetti’s poem carry this incredibly melancholy theme of death and love including shut out which carries highly depressive imagery that could link to being locked away from love. This theme of death comes up very little in other works perhaps due to its opposing view to that of the Christian faith of who believe that there is a life after death and that (as long as you are good in life) you will receive paradise. Thus, the portrayal of love and passion in “Song” is that of an extremely earth-bound sentiment, and Rossetti explores this sentiment through her use of past tense language.

As a poet, Rossetti has very conflicting views on love, perhaps because of the different states she viewed in through out her life. Some such as “Soeur Louise are incredibly negative, condemning passion, whilst others such as “A Birthday” explore how love can be fulfilling and joyful. These conflicting views are present in throughout the various themes of Rossetti’s poetry, allowing Rossetti to create a poetry unified, paradoxically, but its shifting attitudes.

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