Introduction to the Poet:
Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems.
Of all Victorian women poets, posterity has been kindest to Christina Rossetti. Her poetry has never disappeared from view, and her reputation, though it suffered a decline in the first half of the twentieth century, has always been preserved to some degree in Rossetti’s lifetime opinion was divided over whether she or Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the greatest female poet of the era; in any case, after Browning’s death in 1861 readers saw Rossetti as the older poet’s rightful successor.
Christina Rossetti was born in Charlotte Street (now 105 Hallam Street), London, to Gabriele Rossetti, a poet and a political exile from Vasto, Abruzzo, and Frances Polidori, the sister of Lord Byron‘s friend and physician, John William Polidori. She had two brothers and a sister: Dante Gabriel became an influential artist and poet, and William Michael and Maria both became writers. Christina, the youngest, was a lively child. She dictated her first story to her mother before she had learned to write.
Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father, who had her study religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and would have a deep impact on Rossetti’s later writing. Their home was open to visiting Italian scholars, artists and revolutionaries. The family homes in Bloomsbury at 38 and later 50 Charlotte Street were within easy reach of Madam Tussauds, London Zoo and the newly opened Regent’s Park, which she visited regularly; in contrast to her parents, Rossetti was very much a London child, and, it seems, a happy one.
In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves’ Disease, diagnosed in 1872 suffering a nearly fatal attack in the early 1870s. In 1893, she developed breast cancer and though a tumour was removed, she suffered a recurrence in September 1894. She died in Bloomsbury on 29 December 1894 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
The poem is a soul rendering autobiography of Autumn himself that expresses his desolate, lonesome pathos. The lack of a friend, the loneliness has driven him to melancholia. The poem, with the beautiful imageries and learnt diction, stands supreme in Rosetti’s works.
The Setting of Autumn:
The poem is set during the autumn when the deciduous trees shed its leaves when the tempest is frequent, and the river dries up.
Throughout the poem, the imageries described clearly suggest that the poem was written during the season of autumn and is associated with deep melancholy.
Poetic Devices in Autumn:
Filled with imagery of the lonely shore, the gushing wind filling up the vacuum, the gusty creaks, the broken path split with a thunderstorm, the death of a hawk-bird embracing the arms of death, in the most pathetic manner, the poem uses imagery to express the sense of sadness.
It also deals with the imagery of the maiden singing love songs that is temporary, the falling of leaves and thus brings out the loneliness of the season.
Though not directly mentioned, Autumn is personified in the truest sense. It has feelings and emotions of loneliness and abandons being. The poem is basically like an autobiography of Autumn, expressing the most intricate emotions.
The sea is also being personified by saying it is uncongenial and unkind.
“ hear me moan.”
-repeats the m sound \m
“ do dwell alone;”
-repeats the sound /d
“solitary swallow flies”
-Repeats the sound \s\
-repeats the /t/ sound.
Summary of Autumn:
The poem begins with:
“I dwell alone – I dwell alone, alone,
Whilst full my river flows down to the sea,
Gilded with flashing boats
That brings no friend to me:
O love-songs, gurgling from a hundred throats,
O love-pangs, let me be.”
The season, autumn is personified throughout the poem. Autumn says that he dwells alone and the river, filled to the brim, flows down to the sea. It moves with fishing boats but it brings no friend to him. Thus he is desolate and uncared. The pain of being desolate is magnified when he hears love songs from ‘a hundred throats’, meaning, the love songs are sung by all but the love pangs strike him because he is lonely, uncared for and unloved.
“Fair fall the freighted boats which gold and stone
And spices bear to sea:
Slim, gleaming maidens swell their mellow notes,
Love-promising, entreating –
Ah! sweet, but fleeting –
Beneath the shivering, snow-white sails.”
Here, autumn says that the boats carry jewels, gold, stone, valuable materials and spices that is carried to the sea. On the boats, the woman, in love throws their pleasant notes to the sea, beneath the snow white sails and they ‘swell’, that is, the notes move with the undulating flow of the sea. The promise of love is entreating and sweet but only lasts for a while, and is temporary.
“Hush! the wind flags and fails –
Hush! they will lie becalmed in sight of strand –
Sight of my strand, where I do dwell alone;
Their songs wake singing echoes in my land –
They cannot hear me moan.”
The wind of the sea is blowing but it is unaware that on the shore, during the tide (possibly the low tide), the winds will stop flowing. Habituated to the silence and the solitary atmosphere, autumn cannot take the songs of wind and moans, but the songs are so loud, nobody can hear him moan.
“One latest, solitary swallow flies
Across the sea, rough autumn-tempest tossed,
Poor bird, shall it be lost?
Dropped down into this uncongenial sea,
With no kind eyes
To watch it while it dies,
Unguessed, uncared for, free:
Set free at last,
The short pang past,
In sleep, in death, in dreamless sleep locked fast”
Autumn here speaks of a solitary swallow hawk bird that flies across the sea but during the tempest, the tide or storm, it has dropped in the uncongenial sea. The unkind sea has no kind eyes; it simply stands and watches the bird die without a hint of emotions. However, the bird is free and finally dives into a dreamless sleep, that is, death.
“Mine avenue is all a growth of oaks,
Some rent by thunder strokes,
Some rustling leaves and acorns in the breeze;
Fair fall my fertile trees,
That rear their goodly heads, and live at ease.”
The path and streets are filled with growing oak trees, some parts are broken and split by thunder. The rustling breeze and acorns are flowing and falling from fertile trees and erect their sizable head.
It is to be noted, that the deciduous trees shed their leaves during autumn and hence, the comparison is made.
“A spider’s web blocks all mine avenue;
He catches down and foolish painted flies,
That spider wary and wise.
Each morn it hangs a rainbow strung with dew
Betwixt boughs green with sap,
So fair, few creatures guess it is a trap:
I will not mar the web,
Though sad I am to see the small lives ebb.”
Next, the Autumn says that a spider blocks the path and catches flies. The trap it makes is very interesting. It creates the web, that looks like a rainbow in dew between the green grasses. So many small creatures cannot realise that it is a trap and thus becomes a victim. However, Autumn do not do not destroy the web, though he is lonely and unhappy to see the small creatures get killed.
“It shakes – my trees shake – for a wind is roused
In cavern where it housed:
Each white and quivering sail,
Of boats among the water leaves
Hollows and strains in the full-throated gale:
Each maiden sings again –
Each languid maiden, whom the calm
Had lulled to sleep with rest and spice and balm
Miles down my river to the sea
They float and wane,
Long miles away from me.”
The trees shake and the hollow of the wind is filled up. The sails of the boat make hollows in the winds, that is, the boats travel in the direction of the wind. The maidens in love sings and the maiden whom the resting and calm atmosphere had lulled to sleep: now wakes up and sings. The boats move away from the river towards the sea and move away from the autumn.
After further descriptions, autumn sighs and says:
“My trees are not in flower,
I have no bower,
And gusty creaks my tower,
And lonesome, very lonesome, is my strand.”
The trees do not flower and it has no shady places to offer. The towers have creaks and thus, Autumn thus, says almost in an achingly moving tone, that the shore is very lonely, desolate and unloved.
Critical Analysis of Autumn:
The poem ‘Autumn’ by Rosette is associated with the season, the end of summer and before the approach of winter, where the leaves from the deciduous trees fall off, the rivers slowly dries up and tempest and tides are common. The poem describes the season with a tone of melancholia and lonesome pathos.
As one moves down the poem, the helpless condition of Autumn is too pathetic to bear. The opening line of the poem suggests that Autumn is a season who is lonely, as it is personified. The rivers flowing to the sea, with the maiden singing love songs but finally disappearing, with the love songs lingering in the ears of Autumn, is painful. The trees shedding their leaves, the swallow hawk dying in the tempest, the web that attracts insects and kills them is all symbolism of death and melancholia.
The poem brings out the sadness of Autumn in a most aching and moving manner.
Central Theme of Autumn:
The central theme of the poem deals with the pathos and events of nature that drive one to the deepest of philosophies.
Autumn is personified and the poem seems like an autobiography of autumn himself. The season is melancholic and lonely. The fleeting songs of love of the maiden, the web of spider killing insects, the death of a hawk-bird, embracing the eternal dreamless sleep is all a symbolism of the pathos faced by the season.
The shore is empty, he has no shades to offer and will remain as a lonely soul.
The Tone of Autumn:
The tone of the poem is one of melancholy associated with the longing to be loved and cared. Throughout the poem, by various events, it is seen that Autumn is lonely and sad.
The opening lines of the poem suggest us that Autumn dwells alone when the summer has gone by and the winter has not arrived yet. In this phase, Autumn is standing alone and seeing the shore being empty, the birds stopping to sing but drowning in the deep abyss of death.
Until the end of the poem, the tone remains one of sadness and loneliness.
On the conclusion, it is perfect to say that the poem portrays the pathos of Autumn, representing nature in its most lonely and helpless state. Though the poem is filled with melancholy, the sense of loneliness and pathos is heart rendering, it leaves a great impact on the mind of the reader.
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Contributor: Bidisha Das