Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
On December 5, 1830, Christina Rossetti was born in London, England, one of four children of Italian parents. Her father was the poet Gabriele Rossetti; her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti also became a poet and a painter. Rossetti’s first poems were written in 1842 and printed in the private press of her grandfather. In 1850, under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne, she contributed seven poems to the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, which had been founded by her brother William Michael and his friends.
Rossetti is best known for her ballads and her mystic religious lyrics. Her poetry is marked by symbolism and intense feeling. Rossetti’s best-known work, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published in 1862. The collection established Rossetti as a significant voice in Victorian poetry. The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems appeared in 1866 and was followed by Sing-Song, a collection of verse for children, in 1872 (with illustrations by Arthur Hughes).
By the 1880s, recurrent bouts of Graves’ disease, a thyroid disorder, made Rossetti an invalid and ended her attempts to work as a governess. While the illness restricted her social life, she continued to write poems. Among her later works were A Pageant and Other Poems (1881), and The Face of the Deep (1892). Rossetti also wrote religious prose works, such as Seek and Find (1879), Called to Be Saints (1881), and The Face of the Deep (1892). In 1891, Rossetti developed cancer, of which she died in London on December 29, 1894. Rossetti’s brother, William Michael, edited her collected works in 1904, but the Complete Poems were not published until 1979.
Christina Rossetti is increasingly being reconsidered a major Victorian poet. She has been compared to Emily Dickinson, but the similarity is more in the choice of spiritual topics than in poetic approach, Rossetti’s poetry being one of intense feelings, and her technique refined within the forms established in her time.
Reprinted with the permission of the Academy of American Poets, 75 Maiden Lane, Suite 901, New York, NY. www.poets.org.