A Birthday, Christina Rossetti – an analysis

Standard

Title
…will there be cake?

Gut Reaction
So… you’re in love then, huh?

What does it all mean?
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is singing? Or I suppose my heart is a thing of beauty that’s in a place where it has home and security (nest) and also all the nourishment it might need (watered shoot).

My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
So full of love is my heart that it is bent double – in the best possible way – by the amount of fruit that hangs from it. It is fertile and healthy and produces the biggest and best fruit imaginable. I guess she’s happy then, huh?

My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
Again… she’s in love, head over heels in love, this time the simile is that of a beautiful shell that’s idling in an idyllic sea.

My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
And after all these similes, she is happier than all of them, because she’s found love.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
A dais is a small platform, usually for someone important, used as a lecturn or throne, and the author wants hers made of silk and fine bird feathers.

Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
A type of fur that is set with patterns of heraldry – this time in purple.

Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
Doves are symbolic of peace, but also you have the doves as a symbol of love, and pomegranates of life, marriage and fertility. Sounds to me like someone’s planning a wedding. Also, this idea of pomegranates as a symbol of marriage etc, plus the dais; there’s a lot of ancient Greek symbolism here. I wonder if that’s intentional as in this is the theme the poem is set to, or that the author just really likes ancient Greece.

And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
The male peacock, if you like your sexual selection theory, is a thing of beauty to attract a mate. Has our author been ensnared by a peacocked dandy by any chance? But no! here’s some more ancient Greek mythology again: Argus Panoptes was a 100-eyed giant that was ‘all-seeing’; so perhaps our author is saying that she’s not going in blind, she’s still aware of everything, and she will see all or plans on seeing all?

Work it in gold and silver grapes,
Hmm. Sounds ornamental to me.

In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Fleurs-de-lys are stylised lillies and are known from the former royal arms of France; perhaps her love is from France? Looking at the repetition of silver in these two couplets, images of ‘idolatrous imagery’ were made of silver; is she putting her love on a pedestal? But again, looking at the bible there is mention of silver being of ornamental use; perhaps she just really likes silver or sees her relationship/future marriage as pious/godly.

Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.
Her life has now begun because she has met the love of my life. That, right there, makes my cynical little heart bleed, it really does.
Or perhaps it’s her love’s birthday. Either way. Bleugh.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Two stanzas of the sappiest, diabetes-inducing sweetness tooth-rot possible.

Tone
Loved up.

Suggested rhyme scheme
abcbdefe
ghihjklk

Similes and metaphors
Heart – like a singing bird… like an apple tree… like a rainbow shell…

Author’s relationship with their subject
I don’t think it needs to be said but, the author is quite… fond… of their subject.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
There is mention of the poet using anaphora to symbolise how she’s so loved up she can’t think straight to articulate how much she loves her… love. And she’s giddy with excitement because it’s their birthday. There is a heavy emphasis on the poem being drawn from Christianity, in particular the Old Testament. There is a sense that her love is someone important, someone almost royal in their importance.

Signing off
I can’t remember why I was drawn to this poem. I think I liked the use of imagery but now I’ve reread it, it’s the sappiest thing in the world, and I feel like I’ve eaten all the jelly beans in the world.

I can’t imagine loving someone that much that I’d get that excited about their birthday… I don’t even get that excited for my own birthday!

I think I’ve found myself on a very cynical day 🙂

Links

Wikipedia

Poetry Foundation

When I read this I think of the song… Hmm. Not quite. But any excuse for Etta James, right? At last

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