Summary and Analysis of The World by Christina Rossetti

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About the Poet:

Christina Rossetti (5 December 1830- 29 December 1894) was an English writer who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional and children’s poems during her time. The sister of Pre-Raphaelite writer-artists, Dante Gabriel and William Rossetti, she was gifted with heights of creative powers. Although she was educated at home, it was her mother who had studied well-known religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels of her time. Some of her most famous works include “Goblin Market” and “Remember”.


Introduction to The World:

Rossetti had, “a great horror of Ôthe world’ in the sense which the terms bear in the New Testament; its power to blur all the great traits of character, to deaden all lofty aims, to clog all the impulses of the soul aspiring to unseen Truth”. The speaker’s rejection of the horrors of erotic sin echoes Rossetti’s own rejection of the strict requirements of the Petrarchan sonnet in which erotic desire has been traditionally expressed.

The Setting of The World:

The English love sonnets that inspired her work often used romantic images of “fruits” and “sweet flowers,” which use in “The World” creates a seemingly paradoxical image when preceded by the phrase “subtle serpents.” This paradox, therefore, reveals her contradiction between innocent romantic love and sinful erotic desire. When viewed in terms of the Fall, the two phrases remain completely analogous, thus implying that romantic love and erotic desire are one in the same sin.

Poetic Devices in The World:

Alliterations:

Line 1: “she wooes me, soft”

Line 3: “Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy”

Line 6: “Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety”

Line 9: “By day she stands a lie: by night she stands”

Line 11: “clawed and clutching hands”

Line 12: “that I should sell”

Line 14: “Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?”

Style of The World:

By day she wooes me, soft, exceeding fair; (A)

But all night as the moon so changeth she; (B)

Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy (B)

And subtle serpents gliding in her hair. (A)

By day she wooes me to the outer air, (A)

Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety: (B)

But thro’ the night, a beast she grins at me, (B)

A very monster void of love and prayer, (C)


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Summary of The World:

Christina Rossetti’s “The World,” “an interesting revision of the Petrarchan sonnet,” exemplifies her attempt to coerce the reader, as well as the narrator, to transcend the “traditional dialects” of beauty, eroticism, desire, and seduction, which ideas the beginning of the sonnet articulates (Harrison). By illustrating the stark contrasts between night and day and good and evil, Rossetti discloses her personal interpretation of the Fall of Man.

Critical Analysis of The World:

Rossetti’s “The World,” is quite rich and can be read in several ways. But I found most curious the treatment of day/light and night/darkness as mediums of truth and falsehood. The interesting meaning I found in the poem is that the horrors of “The World” are those the speaker places in it.

Central Idea of The World:

The speaker’s rejection of the horrors of erotic sin echoes Rossetti’s own rejection of the “strict requirements of the Petrarchan sonnet in which erotic desire (often with the inevitable sequels of seduction and/or self-destruction) has been traditionally expressed”. In addition, Rossetti reveals meaning through her lyric diction, utilizing such phrase choices as “subtle serpents” and “ripe fruits.”

The Tone of The World:

The first line of “The World” reads “by day she woos me, soft, exceeding fair.” The weighty words, “woos me,” allow one to change the title of the poem to my world. In so doing the distinction is made that the world described is that which is personalized by the speaker. Thus he interprets the world’s offerings to be made in his honour and thus his right to find it “fair” or “foul.” Under this personalized experience of the world, the speaker’s depiction of “day” as “soft, exceeding fair” suggests a sense of preference, since the opposite, expressed in the third and fourth lines as night, is deemed unfavourable. Furthermore, that he thinks himself wooed by these characteristics of the world connotes his belief in a reciprocal relationship between himself and his world.

Conclusion:

Christina Rossetti’s “The World” is one of the extremes. A heaven seeming hell occurring within spheres of light and darkness. Read one way, “The World” holds light as liar and night as truthful. Often, light is used as the medium of truth and darkness that of falsehood and although the poem seems to be doing the opposite when attention is closely paid it, it actually goes along the usual route. The dark of the world is its evil nature and its day is a mask that hides its nefariousness. The speaker plays something of the arbitrator in his pronouncement of the night as the truth about the world and the day, it’s deceit.

Contributor: Deeksha Honawar

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