Compare and Contrast William Blake’s Poems

Compare and contrast William Blake’s poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” and show how within their similarities, differences can be found. Then discuss how these two poems exemplify the “two contrary states of the soul” that the Romantics sought to explore.

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Who created good and evil? Why would the same hands that created the good also create evil? These are probably questions that us, human beings have been asking ourselves sometimes in our lives but do not have answers to. William Blake, in his two poems “The Lamb” and “The Tiger” addresses these questions. They give a view on religion that shows innocence and saintliness, as well as the frightening and inexplicable.

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These poems both ask a question about the creator. In the Lamb, the creator question is answered. The child knows that the one who created him is the same being that created the Lamb, in lines 17 and 18, Blake writes: “I a child & thou a lamb;/ We are called by his name”. The child though does not mention God until in lines 19 and 20 when he says: “Little Lamb God bless thee. /Little Lamb God bless thee.” “The Lamb” directly tells us that the child knows the creator to be God, while in “The Tyger” the creator question is not answered; it is left hanging for the reader to figure it out. The author asks if the same mighty hand that created the sweet and innocent lamb could be the same hand that created the fearful and dreadful tiger. This is shown in the fifth stanza when Blake says, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” Though these poems are similar in that they ask the creator question, they are different in the way that the question is asked. In “The Tyger”, Blake presents his question in Lines 3 and 4 in a more arrogant way, “What immortal hand or eye,/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”, while in the Lamb, the question is “Little Lamb who made thee/ Dost thou know who made thee” (lines 9 & 10).
The poems “The Lamb” and “The Tyger” both use animals in addressing the creator question. The difference is that the Lamb is considered meek and mild, showing that it is a harmless animal “Little Lamb who made thee/ Dost thou know who made thee ” (lines 15 & 16), while the Tyger is considered to be fearful and dreadful “Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” (1st stanza).
These poems also have a sense of awe about them. The sense of awe in “The Lamb” is more of a childish wonder and innocence, while in “The Tyger” it is more of an adult and an experienced being. Blake’s use of “happy”‘ words in “The Lamb,” words like “delight,” “bright,” and “rejoice” (1st stanza) show the association with innocence. In “The Tyger,” words like “burning,” “burnt” show harm, dreadful, and fearful nature.
The two poems have an allusion. The Lamb symbolizes Christianity, and it being an innocent animal, resembles Jesus, who in the New Testament was innocent and was crucified for our sins. In “The Lamb” there is an allusion to biblical text, suggesting that the Lamb’s creator is God. In lines 3,4, & 5, “Gave thee life, and bid thee feed/ By the stream and o’re the mead/ Gave thee clothing…” resembles Psalms 23 and shows that the Lamb was created by a loving God who created everything else. In the Tyger, there is a paradise lost allusion. Blake includes Satan as likely being involved in the creation of the Tyger when in Lines 5 and 6 he says: “In what distant deeps or skies/Burnt the fire of thy eyes?”. “Deeps” in this sentence signifies “hell” while “skies” signify “heaven”, showing that the creator of the Tyger could be residing in one of the two places.
The author also uses imagery from nature, and shows the difference in the living places for the two animals. The Tyger was said to be living in a forest of the night which is more violent, fiery, and predatory., “Tyger Tyger, burning bright,/In the forests of the night” (lines 1 & 2), whereas the Lamb lives by the stream, a more peaceful place, green, and nurturing “Gave thee life & bid thee feed/By the stream & o’er the mead” (lines 3 & 4).
These poems, however address the “two contrary states of the soul”: innocence and experience which reflect good and evil respectively. The Romantics sought to explore the soul, its contrary states, connection to nature and the imaginative and innovative powers which would change the face of literature. Blake, in response to the rationalism of the Romantics, has chosen to exemplify these two states in relation to nature by choosing two contradicting animals: Lamb and Tiger. Lamb is known to be a peaceful animal while a Tiger is a dangerous animal. In “The Lamb” the innocence which became so important in the Romantic period is obvious. The author asks the questions, and then speaks like a child in answering them to take the reader to a higher level of truth. He points out “features” which a lamb would have–“clothing of delight, tender voice,” etc. In the second, third, and fourth stanzas of “The Tyger”, he lists the remarkable physical features of this amazing creature. He goes on to ask, what would be his answer, if the one who made the lamb made the tyger…what does this contrast offer the reader a chance to reflect on here? The fifth stanza asks what the maker’s reaction was when he saw the “fearful symmetry” of this creature.
In the Tyger, he writes about who would create such an evil animal. In other words, why would the same God that created the good let evil take place on earth? He talks about angels crying. He talks about the hardwork it took to create the Tyger, and how evil it is showing that it was meant to be created the way it is. Who would do that? Waste their time working so hard on something evil?
 

Comparison of Poems by William Blake and Christina Rossetti

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is among the prophetic books of William Blake. These have been written by imitating biblical books of prophecy however they express the personal romantic and revolutionary beliefs of the poet. This book describes the visit of the poet to hell, a device that had been adopted from Paradise Lost of Milton and Dante’s Divine Comedy by Blake. However as compared to Milton or Dante, the conception of Hell of Blake does not start as a place of punishment. Instead it is a source of unrepressed energy, as compared to the regulated and authoritarian perception of heaven. The purpose of Blake is to create, what he mentions as a ‘memorable fancy’ so that the repressive nature of conventional morality as well as the institutional religion can be revealed. In this regard, Blake writes that, “the ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations and whatever their enlarged and numerous senses could perceive. And particularly they studied the genius of the city and country, placing it under its mental deity” (Kaplan,2000).

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In this way, the theory of contraries propounded by Blake was not his belief in opposites but instead it was the belief according to which the contrary nature of God is reflected by each person. It was also believed that moderation in life cannot be achieved without contraries. In the same way, Blake also explored the contrary nature of energy and reason. In this regard, he believed that there are two types of persons, the rational organizers and the energetic creators of what he calls as the angels and devils in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In this way, Blake believes that both these types of people are necessary for life. This text of Blake has been interpreted in several different ways.
“The Garden of Love” is a romantic poem written by William Blake. The poem has been written with a view to express the belief of Blake regarding the neutrality of sexuality and also the way in which they organized religion, especially Orthodox Christian Church during the times of Blake, have resulted in repressing the natural desires of human beings with their rules and preaching. At this point, it needs to be noted that for those times, it was really a great statement to be made (Griffin, 1994).
The reason was that by advocating the natural desires of human beings, Blake had made a direct attack on the orthodox Anglican Church. He had even mentioned ‘priests’ and ‘Chapel’. The indignation of Blake can also be seen in the second line when he talks about seeing “what I had never seen”. Therefore it is interesting to note that Blake claims to have never seen it when he had literally spent all his life knowing the attitude of the church towards sexuality. Perhaps it means that Blake was speaking from the point of view of innocence that has only entered the world of experience and as a result, suffers a shock to see that the freedoms enjoyed by it in the past have been curtailed by the Church (Cronin, 2000).
In the same way, a clear dislike can also be seen in the point regarding the changes that have taken place in the Garden of Love. At this point, Blake is referring to the church and also expressing its dislike. In these lines, there is a clear critique of the church and also the practices of the Church related with religious beliefs. Moreover, the poet has also made an accusation that the Church is not allowing them to be happy and instead it is putting pressure on the lyrical.
Seen in the context of realities present in the 18th century England, in view of the practices and doctrines that have been adopted by the Church of England, these lines also express the feelings of the persons who did not follow the Church of England at the time and also did not agree with the interpretation of the Bible by the Church. In this way, although the poem is provocative but at the same time, it also reflects comedies some of the realities present in the 18th century (Bentley, Jr., 2004).
In this way, it has been expressed in the point that while walking in the ‘Garden of Love’ a lot of changes have been made in the garden. While earlier, there were flowers in the garden but all that has changed and instead there is a Chapel in the garden. Moreover, it is also seen that now the Garden of Love has tombstones, graves and priests. As a result, these changes have resulted in fading the beauty of the ‘Garden of Love’. As a result, the feelings of anger and dismay have been expressed in the point regarding the changes that have been made in the ‘Garden of Love’. The author is dismayed because as a result of these changes, the desires and wishes will not be fulfilled. As a result, the priests and the Chapel are considered as being responsible for the unfulfilled desires (Griffin, 1994).
On the other hand, in case of “Promises like Piecrust” the focus is mainly on the fact that in reality, it is easy to break promises, perhaps they are so flaky that they have been compared to a pie crust. However, an attempt has not been made by Rossetti to emphasize that it is a negative thing but on the other hand, according to her, she accepts it as a fact of life which cannot be escaped however, it does change the quality of relationships that a person has with others. In this poem, the focus is on to friends or lovers who do not make any promises to each other so that they may be “free to come as free to go”.
It would have been very illegal for a woman to suggest this notion during the Victorian era. However it appears that Rossetti believes that one of the main reasons behind the tension in most of the relationships is that there are too many unrealistic ideas and constraints present in a relationship. These relationships have been called by Rossetti as “Promises like Piecrust” and these are the relationships in which no promises regarding future commitments are made and in the same way, the past lovers are not discussed (Kaplan, 2000). As a result, in this type of relationships, the possibility that any partner may be hurt as a result of broken comments is completely eliminated in such a case. Similarly, the partners are not worried that a promise may be broken by the other partner.
In this way, the poem suggests that promises are like unrealistic constraints. Essentially, restrictive barriers are imposed by these promises regarding dedication and commitment due to the reason that such promises can be broken easily and at the same time, not only these promises resulting obligation and pressure of the partners, they also have to make significant efforts for keeping such promises (Packer, 1963). This view regarding love has been explored by Christina Rossetti in this poem which is related with the negative perspective that the poet has towards the promises made by lovers. She believes that promises can be broken easily, and at the same time they do not provide liberty to the partners in a relationship and similarly, promises also blind towards the future (Hassett,2005). In this regard, the speaker had denied promises as a result of the distrust she has in promises. Rossetti had also shown are general belief in the beginning of the poem according to which, the metaphor of a pie crust has been used to describe the promises made by lovers.
As is the case with pie crusts, which can be broken easily, the poet illustrate the promises made by lovers in a relationship can also be broken easily (Fairchild, 1939). As a result, the poet states that “promises are like pie crust” and it had been used by hard to describe her belief that promises can be broken easily. Generally, in almost all cases, pie crust is the part of the pie that can be broken off easily and it is made in such a way so that it may be broken for protecting the more important ingredients of the pie (Harrison, 2004). In this way, Rossetti had used the metaphor of pie crust for referring to the promises made by lovers in a relationship because according to him, promises cannot stand forever. She believes that at one point or the other, a promise made by lovers will lose its validity. In this way, in the opinion of the poet, a never-ending validity of a promise cannot be guaranteed by the type of promise as is the case with a pie crust that breaks regardless of the kind of pie. Therefore, the short durability of the promises made by lovers has been illustrated by Rossette with the use of pie crust as both tend to break easily and also to show the fact that the promises made by lovers cannot be considered as trustworthy.
Therefore in the end, a comparison of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, “The Garden of Love” and the poem “Promises like Pie Crust” reveals that different issues related with love have been raised by the authors in these works. While Blake has discussed that moderation in life cannot be achieved without contraries. Therefore the “devils” and “angels” mentioned by him are in fact two types of people, one are the “energetic creators” and the others are the “rationale organizers”. On the other hand, in “The Garden of Love”, William Blake has discussed the restrictions that have been imposed by the Orthodox Church on Love. He believes that too many restrictions have been imposed by the Church and at the same time, the conditions in the “Garden of Love” have been changed by it. In her poem, “Promises like Pie Crust”, Rossette had discussed the fragile nature of promises that are made by the lovers in a relationship. As promises can be broken easily and they do not have a long validity, Rossetti believes that persons who are in a relationship should not be bound by promises. However a perusal of all these the works reveal that when it comes to love, all these three works have presented very radical ideas for their time.
References

Antony H. Harrison (2004) The Letters of Christina Rossetti Volume 4, 1887–1894 University of Virginia Press
Bentley, Jr, G. E.2004, Blake Records. Second edition. New Haven and London: YaleUniversity Press
Cronin, Richard. 2000, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth.London: Macmillan,
Fairchild, Hoxie Neale (1939) Religious trends in English poetry, Volume 4 Columbia university press
Griffin, Dustin H.1994, Satire: A Critical Introduction. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press
Hassett, Constance W. (2005) Christina Rossetti: the patience of style University of Virginia Press p15
Kaplan, Carter. 2000, Critical Synoptics: Menippean Satire and the Analysis of IntellectualMythology. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Press
Packer, LonaMosk (1963) Christina Rossetti University of California Press pp13-17

 

Comparing Owen and Women Writers’ Poems

Owen was an English poet whose work was characterised by his anger at the cruelty and waste of war, which he experienced during service on the Western Front. Edited by Sassoon and published in 1920, Owen’s single volume of poems contain some of the most poignant English poetry of World War One, including ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.

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One way Owen conveys the experience of war is by making people aware that the actual horrors of war were hidden behind propaganda. He conveys this very well in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.” This is one of the most memorable lines of Owen’s poetry. It translates from Latin to: “It is sweet and right to die for one’s country”. This was a phrase repeated in schools and churches and homes and political circles to entice young men to embrace patriotic fervour and enlist in the military. The true nature of war was concealed and they went off to war like the soldier in “Disabled” – young, naive, full of dreams and completely unprepared for the carnage and complexity, “half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race”. This completely dismantles the myth that war is glorious and young men should die on their nation’s behalf. The verses before the last lines of ‘Dulce et decorum est’ implies that the war was a surreal war of horror, nightmare, and pain. This single poem of Owen’s is enough to convey to the reader just how terrible WWI was, and how far removed the actuality of battle was from idealism and heroism. ‘The Falling Leaves’ Margaret Cole says “I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree” by connecting the leaves to the soldiers she is linking the inevitability of the soldiers’ deaths to the inevitability of the leaves falling from the tree. This shows that, like Owen, Margaret believes that the propaganda is misleading and although she thinks the soldiers are brave “gallant multitude” she thinks they are being brave for the wrong reasons, just like Owen. Owen, again, reveals the lies of propaganda in ‘Disabled’ “Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal” Owen is implying that no one appreciates the protagonist and his work, Owen implies that he is forgotten and that he is not the hero he thought he would be and the propaganda misled him completely.
Another way Owen conveys the experience of war is by highlighting how the soldiers are not appreciated as there are loads of soldiers and an individual is not going to be remembered for what a vast mass has done even if that individual has lost a part of him for the war. One of the reasons why ‘Disabled’ is such a strong and memorable poem is how much it resonates with the reader. The young protagonist is realistic, relatable. He could be any one of the young men who joined the war for glory and did not stop to contemplate the sacrifices required, and who returned home very different physically or psychologically from his former self. He spends much of the poem reminiscing about the days before the war when he was heroic and beloved, as well as physically whole. He joined the war for seemingly silly reasons, and Owen condemns how easy it was for such a naive boy to lie about his age and enlist. “Now he will never feel again how slim Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands, All of them touch him like some queer disease.” The quote shows how the boy’s greatest regret now is that he will not be attractive to women. He does not lament his lack of glory or awards, but that his life back at home will be incomplete and unfulfilling. This is a pitifully sad and universal fear for young men of all wars and all eras. The protagonist doesn’t think he is a whole person “men that were whole” he is abandoned, uncared for, isolated, forgotten as he is not really a man. Margaret Cole similarly writes about this issue in ‘The Falling Leaves’ “I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree” this implies that the soldiers’ deaths are trivial, just like Owen did, as she is implying that in this poem the leaves are soldiers and not many people care if a multitude of leaves fall off a tree they just carry on with their lives as if nothing happened. Margaret Cole is implying that the after effects of the soldiers are trivial to society. Anna Gordon-Keown differs in the way she conveys the experience of war. In ‘Reported Missing’ Anna writes about a mother who has recently received news that her son has been reported missing while he was fighting in the war. Anna conveys the mother to be grieving heavily, and also in denial of the son’s death, “This heart would never beat if you were dead.”. The fact that the mother is in so much distress really implies that the death of one soldier can mean the emotional death of many.
Owen also highlights how the soldiers are being controlled in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ “What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?  Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”. This poem suggests that the young men fighting in the war die nameless and faceless – like animals. They are denied the dignity of proper funerals and burials in many cases, and are not afforded the rituals and traditions of those who die under normal circumstances. They must be content with the sounds of guns and rifles as their bells and choirs. Owen also expresses sympathy with the women back at home who mourn their fallen sons, husbands, and brothers, but has little to comfort them. War disrupts the patterns and norms of life, and, clearly, of death. Owen also highlights how soldiers are being controlled in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ where Owen says “Men marched asleep” this implies that the soldiers are simply going to war for the sake of it and are being blinded by their false hope of being a hero not rationally thinking of the consequences to soon follow.

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In conclusion, Owen is (rightfully) very infuriated with practically everything to do with war and he didn’t like how it was portrayed. He has first-hand experience with the horrors of war but the women writers don’t so they can only write about what they have heard (or have been fed) so the ways they convey war are sometimes quite different.

Awakening and Existence of Female Consciousness within Li Qingzhao’s Ci Poems

Literature is a window through which the public is able to study the essential events of a dynasty or a country and understand the development of a culture. The long course of Chinese civilization had witnessed the rise of numerous renowned male poets and composers of Song ci, for example, Li Bai, Du Fu, Xin Qiji, Su Shi, and Tao Yuanming. Some of them were romantic and elegant, while others realistic, bold and unconstrained. Despite different personalities and styles in writing, all of them were prolific, composing hundreds and even thousands of poems to articulate their ambitions, to express compassion for the people, and to condemn the tyrants.

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In contrast to the large number of celebrated male poets in Chinese history, few female poets were remembered and few of their works were widely circulated and studied. The less amount of female literature circulating around and being studied by Chinese students does not cover the glory of female literature in imperial China nor does it deny the accomplishments of female poets, such as Empress Wu, Xue Tao, and Yu Xuanji (Chang et al., 1999). Among those talented female poets, Li Qingzhao stood out because of her transcendent temperament, distinguished accomplishments in poetry, and critical female consciousness embedded in her poems. Unlike traditional women who were constrained by the great virtues, such as humility, subservience, self-abasement, and obedience, as described by Ban Zhao in Admonitions for Women (Ebrey, 2009), Li utilized her words and poems to pursue love and to rebel against feudal ethics. The Song dynasty was a fundamental stage in the development of female literature since this era witnessed the great awakening and development of female consciousness in writings produced by women. Li Qingzhao was thus the most critical representative of this era’s female literature since her poems intensely revealed the awakening and existence of female consciousness through choice of themes, narrative strategies, and main focuses (Li, 2013).

One of the most eminent Chinese historians, Tan Zhengbi, once highly remarked on Li Qingzhao’s accompaniment and her contribution to female literature development. Tan said “there are few female writers in the history of Chinese literature. Cai Yan of the Han dynasty, Xue Tao and Yu Xuanji of the Tang dynasty are few of the brightest and most talented. Among them only Li Qingzhao took a leading position in the literary circle and was able to rival such a large number of male poets in imperial Chinese history.” (Li, 2013)

The Chinese patriarchal feudal traditions advocated the idea of male superiority and female inferiority (Robertson, 1992). Females were seen as male subordinates without political and economic status. Females even did not have the right to choose a partner or freely pursue love. Moreover, feudal ethical concepts, such as wives submitting to husbands, imprisoned women’s thoughts and made them abandon their independence and intellectual development (Robertson, 1992). However, with unique female aesthetics, Li Qingzhao’s poems described the lifestyle and emotions of women in the Song dynasty (Robertson, 1992). The complete and systematic female consciousness expressed in those works has inspired countless readers (Robertson, 1992). Li boldly demonstrated her resistance and rebellion against the feudal rites in her poems. Furthermore, she was brave enough to speak about love and politics (Robertson, 1992). The female consciousness in her works is mainly reflected in the following aspects, including self-awareness, the pursuit of love, and social consciousness (Robertson, 1992).

 

1. Self-awareness

Most women in imperial Chinese society lacked individuality and independence. They were constrained and imprisoned in the fate of staying at home, submitting to their fathers, husbands, and son, and taking care of the family. On the contrary, Li Qingzhao had the courage to praise herself, to evaluate herself, and to examine and criticize authorities. Her confidence, independence, and resilience were shown vividly and incisively in many of her works.

In one of the poems praising osmanthus flowers, Li Qingzhao captured the characteristics of osmanthus flowers and wrote that “love is far away, while only the fragrance stays” (Ching-Chao, 1979). She imagined herself to be the elegant osmanthus flowers and expressed her inner noble characters (Ching-Chao, 1979). Moreover, with the verse, “osmanthus flowers do not need to be light blue and deep red, since they are inherently the greatest and top-rated flowers”, Li strongly expressed her disdain for ostentation, while advocated refined aesthetic tastes and lifestyles (Ching-Chao, 1979). Furthermore, she continued to complain that Qu Yuan did not include osmanthus flowers into his masterpiece, Li Sao, and boldly pointed out his lack of aesthetic tastes. Li Qingzhao’s confidence, pride and even narcissistic attitude towards life were fully demonstrated throughout this poem.

2. Pursuit of Love

In imperial China, women’s thoughts and behaviors were strictly managed and controlled by the feudal ruling class and the feudal regulations. Women were deeply repressed emotionally by the influence of feudal ethical traditions and concepts. Freedom and rights, such as love and marriage, were strictly entitled to men (Jiaying, 2004). However, Li Qingzhao had the courage to express her pursuit of love, her cherish for her husband, and her desire and praise for true love in poems. With gentle, elegant, and passionate words, she recorded various experiences of life and love from a unique aesthetic perspective of women, shaping an image of females who desired freedom and were daring to love and hate. Her writings also displayed a distinctive female consciousness (Jiaying, 2004).

Many of Li Qingzhao’s poems, especially her early works, depicted young girls’ yearning for and active pursuit of love (Jiaying, 2004). For example, in one of her most celebrated poems written to the tune “Rinsing Silk Stream”, she wrote the following verses and expressed the intense emotions of a young girl. “Thousands of light flakes of crushed gold for its blossoms, Trimmed jade for its layers of leaves. This flower has the air of scholar Yen Fu. How brilliant! Plum flowers are too common; Lilacs too coarse when compared. Yet, its penetrating fragrance drives away my fond dreams of faraway places. How merciless!” (Ching-Chao, 1979)

With only a few strokes, Li Qingzhao was able to picture a gorgeous girl with beautiful makeup and dress, passionately pursuing freedom and love. Using the image of a girl who dared to rebel against feudal ethics, Li Qingzhao fully expressed her support for women’s active pursuit of love. At the same time, she harshly criticized the oppression of women in the patriarchal society and highlighted the female consciousness in her works.

Li Qingzhao also did not hesitate to show her love life in her poems. Her love life was not always happy and sweet (Jiaying, 2004). She was once upset and frustrated with her marriage with her husband, Zhao Mingcheng. One of the most famous poems Li wrote was when her husband traveled far away from home for business. At that time, they were a newly married couple and had to be separated (Jiaying, 2004). Therefore, she had a lot of difficulties restraining her sadness and wrote down a touching and sentimental masterpiece as a gift for Zhao Mingcheng. She wrote “who sends letters in the cloud to come? When wild goose returns, the moon climbs the west building” and “one kind of lovesickness, idle worry in two places” to show that she and her husband missed and cared about each other (Ching-Chao, 1979). Moreover, this poem demonstrated that in Li’s marriage, she viewed husband and wife as equal and independent. However, this intimate relationship also made them depend on each other (Jiaying, 2004).

3. Social Consciousness

In imperial China, women had no social status, and few women had the opportunity to express their concern for the country and the people. Li Qingzhao was not only knowledgeable and talented, but more importantly, her talent was not limited to playing the piano and chess, painting, poetry and music. Li Qingzhao lived in a fast changing dynasty and as a woman, she could not kill the enemies on the battlefield when the foreign armies invaded, nor could she enter the court to discuss politics when the country was in danger (Van Bibber-Orr). However, she still held a firm sense of social responsibility and expressed her deep concern for the country and the people from a unique female perspective through her poems.

Although Li Qingzhao was a representative figure of the school of graceful and restrained ci poetry in the Song dynasty, there was a heroic spirit in her blood. After the Rebellion of Jingkang, she lost her husband and was displaced from her home, experiencing all kinds of hardships. Li Qingzhao opposed the negative actions of the rulers of the southern Song dynasty and hated the pain brought by the war (Van Bibber-Orr). At the same time, she expressed her wish to firmly fight against the unfair fate. In the later stage of Li Qingzhao’s creative career, many works reflected her experiences through her own sufferings (Van Bibber-Orr). From the perspective of a woman, Li used her sensitive heart to feel the pain of the suffering people, and expressed her deep sympathy for them with her sincere writings (Ko, 1992).

As a woman living in the imperial Chinese society, Li Qingzhao broke away from the strict confinement of the traditional feudal ethics with her distinct female consciousness. Her achievement as a woman in the history of Chinese literature will forever remain legendary. Her poems aroused the awakening of female consciousness and had a profound impact on the development of many knowledgeable women and female literature and Li Qingzhao thus became a monumental figure admired by generations of readers.

References:

Chang, Kang-I. Sun, Haun Saussy, and Charles Yim-tze Kwong. Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism. Stanford University Press, 1999.

Li, Xiaorong. Womens Poetry of Late Imperial China: Transforming the Inner Chambers. University of Washington Press, 2013.

Robertson, Maureen. “Voicing the Feminine: Constructions of the Gendered Subject in Lyric Poetry by Women of Medieval and Late Imperial China.” Late Imperial China 13.1 (1992): 63-110.

Ching-Chao, Li, and Qingzhao Li. Li Chʻing-chao, complete poems. Vol. 492. New Directions Publishing, 1979.

Van Bibber-Orr, Edwin. “Bodies of work: song dynasty prefaces to women’s poetry as gender discourse.” International Communication of Chinese Culture: 1-16.

Xuanji, Yu, and Hsüan-chi Yü. The clouds float north: the complete poems of Yu Xuanji. Wesleyan University Press, 1998.

Ko, Dorothy. “Pursuing Talent and Virtue: Education and Women’s Culture in Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century China.” Late Imperial China 13.1 (1992): 9-39.  (Tan Zhengbi’s quote)

Jiaying, Ye. “From Li Qingzhao to Shen Zufen: Talking about the Evolution of Aesthetic Qualities of Feminine Ci-poetry [J].” Literary Heritage 5 (2004): 000.

Ebrey, Patricia Buckley, ed. Chinese civilization: A sourcebook. Simon and Schuster, 2009.
 

Studying The Poems of Christina Rossetti

Born into a family of artistic talent, it is of little surprise that a young Christina Rossetti first demonstrated her poetic ability at the age of eleven. “To my mother” was a poem written for Christina’s mother Frances Rossetti. The poem is an expression of her love for her mother, it is light and confident, a reflection of her happy and positive childhood self. However this positivity was soon to be overcome by a depressive state which would lead Christina into a morbid self analysis, a disturbance that only heightened the intensity and beauty of her later poetry. A decline in health in her mid-teens was to be the beginning of a life-long difficulty for Christina as her health rarely improved after this period in her life. Rossetti’s increasing devotion to Anglo-Catholicism influenced every aspect of her life; she allowed her faith and love of her God to be at the forefront of her mind from an early age and she made her decisions based upon strict religious values.

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This is evident in her writing as throughout Christina’s life her poems become explicitly religious and moralistic. A link between her obsessive religious following and her bad health was made by her physician Charles Hare who reportedly provided Rossetti with a private diagnosis of ‘religious mania’. One of Rossetti’s most famous poems ‘Goblin Market’ is an erotically charged depiction of female desire and temptation with a religious undertone. The implied repression of desire within Goblin Market has a poignant relevance to Rossetti’s place in Victorian society where female desire was fundamentally repressed and discouraged. With close reference to Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and other poems, this study aims to explore the theme of repression in the life of Christina Rossetti to discover whether it was a subsequent accomplice to the deterioration of her mental and physical state.
There is an air of mystery surrounding Christina Rossetti. During her teenage years there is little documented on her, and when she emerged, she was reserved, retreating, and defiant of intimate relations. She upheld a barrier of resistance, a rejection towards the generic life of a woman in Victorian society. Her brother, William Michael Rossetti describes this mysterious change in his sister’s character,
“In innate character, she was vivacious, and open to pleasurable expressions, and during her girlhood, one might readily have supposed that she would develop into a woman of expansive heart, fond of society and diversions and taking a part in them of more than average brilliancy. What came to pass was of course quite the contrary”
Christina’s religion had led her to re-evaluate herself and delve so far into her psyche that she had become a stranger to her former mind. William, describes the
‘Odd freakishness which flecked the extreme and almost excessive seriousness of her thought’
Christina appears to have been vulnerable and an introvert, the focus on sin was damaging to her stability. She began to analyse the woman she was growing up to become, perhaps her poetry, the creative outlet that she engaged in for pleasure began to feel like a burden upon her and a hindrance obstructing her relationship with God. Her poetry was something she would spend a great amount of time thinking about, and to a devout Christian, any obstacle that comes between themselves and god is perceived as sin. Being under these demands and restraints, Christina’s health declined she suffered a nervous breakdown. According to William,
“She was not fully fifteen when her health became obviously delicate”2.
Her mental state declined as she had frequent bouts of depression, and physically she would complain of difficulty breathing, heart palpitations and feeling as though she was being suffocated. A valid explanation of these symptoms could be Rossetti’s body reacting to the suffocation she was imposing upon herself in her struggle for spiritual perfection. All of these physical symptoms coincide with that of an anxious state of mind, and her doctor, Charles Hare, had privately diagnosed Christina with ‘religious mania’ but formally diagnosed ‘angina pectoris, real or imagined’ thus supporting the hypothesis that the illness could have been a physical manifestation of Rossetti’s repressed lifestyle1.
Christina had two siblings, and stated that she felt she was ‘beheld far ahead of myself the clever sister and two clever brothers’. It seems Christina was an introvert, and had a deep emotional mind; her poetry emits an air of solitude and desperation. The novel Maude is the most biographical of all Christina’s work and it draws upon this sadness,
“I have gone over again and again, thinking that I should come right in time, and I do not come right’
The novel focuses upon a female heroine who experiences a religious crisis because she does not feel worthy, this mirrors Christina’s difficulties within her faith,
Christina appears to be overcome with the burden of self inspection, the longing for peace of mind and a contentment of existence shadows over her. These poetic statements convey a desperate cry, a plea for guidance, and for renewal. Many other of Christina’s poems including, “A better resurrection” also shares this element of distress, Christina conveys an ache for restoration, a self resurrection. The poem has an immediate negative statement of self
” I have no wit, no words, no tears”
She alludes to wanting to break free from human attachment and emotion in order to attain her spiritual ambition. Christina is acknowledging the absence of emotion in her life and further describes her life as a ‘falling leaf’. The leaf metaphor may be representative of her existence as a woman of faith, defying human emotions, and being discontent with her mortal existence, she welcomes death and the idea of a re-birth in heaven, and she feels herself break away, and fall like a leaf away from the natural world, aware and fearless of the ground where she will eventually rest. The tree in which this leaf has fallen from may represent the natural world, a world of beauty that Christina could not engage with as she resisted earthly wonders, and viewed her time on earth as a test of faith, a stepping stone to a new life. Christina pleads for Christ at the end of the first stanza and asks him to “quicken” her, presumably requesting a hasten death to begin her journey to heaven.
“My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall- the sap of spring
O Jesus, rise in me”
Christina’s resistance and self repression has resulted in a detachment from the world around her. Her inability to see the ‘greenness’ further suggests that she has acquired a blindness to previous visual pleasures. It seems as though she recognises that spring and nature should evoke a happy reaction within her, but instead she is ‘frozen’, unable to appreciate or notice the beauty of a natural wonder. She asks of Christ, “Rise in me”, a yearning for renaissance, she wants to be revived after death in the same way Christ was resurrected. Alternatively critics such as Julia Touché (2007) have suggested that Christina’s plea to Christ to rise within her is alluding to the absence of a love interest or husband in her life and the desire for Christ to fulfil that void.
“A vision of a new spring that comes with Jesus. Disappointed with the love of man she experienced in her life, Rossetti turns to find a substitute in Jesus Christ. He is both begged and expected to bring forth new life in her” 
This view is possible due to Christina’s dissatisfaction with the men who had taken an interest in her and her strong belief that her husband should behold the same faith and ideologies as her own. Perhaps the “greenness” she was blind too was in fact representative of what earth has to offer her in terms of romantic love. She may have been comparing love to the blossoming growths within nature, and expressing her dismay at not even being able to see a possibility, a start, a “bud”.
Rossetti’s poem ‘A portrait’ has an evident melancholy truth to it as it enhances the struggle that Christina endured with her repression and faith. It tells the story of personal restraint and character transformation. The female character chooses to be blinded from material joys and beauty in hope of reaching religious ecstasy after death, a similar theme to “A better resurrection” though this poem is told in a third person narrative, as though Christina is trying to analyse her own persona by looking at it objectively, rather than expression her personal emotion. The poem begins with a description of self control, an example of resisting life’s trivial joys for want of a pure existence.
“She gave up beauty in her tender youth, gave all her hope and joy and pleasant ways; she covered up her eyes lest they should gaze on vanity, and chose the bitter truth”
Beauty is disregarded as are hope and joy, perhaps Christina had found joy in self presentation and materialisms before her devotion to the church or maybe she is implying a relation between her joyful innocence of youth and beauty, and remarking that once stripped of these pleasantries and molded into a religious expectation, she has lost her beauty of character. The reference to eyes being covered may represent a resistance of desire, and that if she does not look towards the things she may not obtain then she will not be tempted towards sin.
“So with calm will she chose and bore the cross
She hated all for love of Jesus Christ”4
The hate for all but Jesus is signifying the way that Christina resisted social norms and personal choice in fear of al all knowing God. The choice of bearing the cross alludes to Christina’s decision to become a practising Christian. The poem concludes with the character being free from pain. Her liberation is described by the bowing of her head as she meets her death on earth with the expectation of raising her head in the company of saints in heaven. Christina seems to be visualising death as though it is her ultimate freedom and purpose. She refers to a bridegroom and asks ‘Shall the bride seek to stay?’ This bridegroom may be that of Jesus Christ as during her life, Rossetti had reserved her romantic and sexual affection, and focused all her attention on Christ himself. It is possible that Christina found that a man on earth could not amount to the love she felt for her saviour in heaven. It shows a great strength in character for the subject of the poem to subject herself to a life of self-denial all in the hope of a happy ending in a world that she could but only envisage. The poem does not talk of heaven or confirm that she awakes there but instead she dies dreaming of the world she longs to reach. The impressive strength and determination towards her religious objective in this poem and many more of Christina’s poetry is alas tainted by the depressed and lonely character she so often conveys.
Christina’s most famous poem is “Goblin Market”. It is one of the most perplexing and widely interpreted poems of the nineteenth century. The poem introduces us to two female heroines Lizzie and Laura, sisters who are tempted by Goblin Men to eat their delicious fruit; Laura succumbs to temptation and thus falls unwell. Laura is resolved when Lizzie seeks out the Goblin men; she suffers abuse as she refuses to consume their offerings but manages to run home with the fruit still upon her body and invites Lizzie to taste the juices that remain. The characters in the poem depict the institutions within Victorian society that many females of the time wanted to eradicate by seemingly mocking society.
“Laura rose with Lizzie: Fetched milk and honey, milked the cows, Aired and set right to the house, Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat”4
This description of the sisters going about a daily routine of a wife may be Christina expressing a dislike for the expectations of women in Victorian society. Women were to remain innocent, unaware and obedient of their husbands. It appears to be land without masculinity; however the Goblin’s portray sinister male roles. The Goblin’s appear to control the desires of the women by luring them with their tempting fruits despite the woman knowing whether the goblins will follow through with their promises. Laura pays the Goblins for their fruit with a lock of her hair; this could be Christina displaying the offering of one’s body or as a symbol of her cutting away her female purity by allowing herself to be seduced. When Lizzie refuses to eat the fruit of the goblin men they appear to treat her with violence. In terms of sexual interaction, this could be seen as Lizzie refusing to meet the male demands and suffering sexual violence as a result.
It is most probable that the fruit represents female sexuality as many critics have also stated. There are no males within the poem; however the Goblins appear to represent masculine figures, The ambiguity surrounding the intended purpose and consequence of devouring the forbidden fruit mirrors Rossetti’s opinion of the status of women within a Victorian society.
The poem is highly erotically charged and has many interpretations including that of Christian redemption and sexual temptation. In the bible story of Genesis, Jesus Christ proclaimed “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” undoubtedly suggesting that the fruits grow from separate trees. Rossetti’s Goblin Market does not appear to suggest a division between the fruits from the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life and instead it appears they are the same fruit, the same temptation from the same source. In Genesis, the two characters Adam and Eve eat some forbidden fruit from the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ and are therefore punished and denied access to the “Tree of Life”. However, in Goblin Market, Laura is denied access to the exact same fruit that was originally forbidden to her. Laura’s recovery is initiated when she tastes the juices of the forbidden fruits for a second time, and this time, the fruit function as a “fiery antidote”, giving her enough to vaccinate her, however not appearing to further feed her addiction, and she is cured. The themes of sin and clarity are therefore merged and unclear by the source of the fruits, as it does not coincide with the biblical view that resisting temptation of fruit is to be moral and that to succumb is a sin. Rossetti’s description of the fruits as they are luring Laura towards them with their charms is highly erotic and appealing.
“Plump unpecked cherries/ Melons and raspberries…Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries,”4
Her use of language evokes an explicitly sexual impression of Laura being overcome with desire, which is further enforced by Lizzie’s insistent discouragement and warnings,
“No” said Lizzie. “No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil charms would harm us.”4
The intense passion that Rossetti accumulates with her choice of language is seemingly intentional and obvious despite there not being any direct reference to sex within the poem. Rossetti herself had always maintained that the poem was intended for children, however the erotic imagery and sexual language pervades this poem and deems the notion of it being intended as a child’s fable as improper and untrue. The poem has an unexplained, peculiar feel to it. This odd behaviour mirrors Christina’s own queer ways as part of her unwavering religious devotion. Christina’s brother. It is perhaps possible that Rossetti saw this wild exploration of temptation within Goblin Market as a weakness or lapse within her Christian faith, and therefore tried to disguise the poem as that of a different thematic interpretation in an attempt to maintain her strong moral persona.
The fundamental difference between the biblical character of Eve and Christina’s character Laura is that unlike eve, Laura is liberated from her suffering and ultimately achieves redemption. Laura’s recovery is due to the help of her sister Lizzie who sacrifices herself by confronting the Goblin’s herself to obtain more fruit to satisfy her sister’s painful desire. Victorian women were deprived of having a good sexual knowledge or understanding and many women turned to other women or to the church and considered themselves as married to Christ. Christina does not directly mention God within the poem; instead Christ’s sacrifice appears to be symbolized in the way that Lizzie surrenders herself to the Goblin’s on behalf of her ‘fallen’ sister. The Goblin men treat Lizzie harshly and are physically rough; there is an element of rape about the passage, although it is not described as sexual violence. Lizzie fights back and Laura is able to repent in the same way that she fell, by ‘sucking until her lips were sore’. It is entirely possible that Rossetti intended the sacrifice to be similar to that of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity. However, an alternative theory is that the sisterly sacrifice could be to emphasise Rossetti’s faith within female friendship, and her belief in the power of sisterhood. Christina was an associate at St Mary Magdalene’s Highgate Home which was a sisterhood that aimed to redeem fallen women and critics argue that this was Christina’s inspiration for the poem itself. The reference ‘fallen’ was applied to a woman who had given into seduction and led a life of sin. Rossetti portrays this rebellion within the character of Laura, the illicit woman, rebellious and unrestrained. Rossetti supervised young reforming prostitutes and her interest in the redemption of fallen women is consistent with the theme of tempted women that prevalent within “Goblin Market” suggesting that the friendship between Lizzie and Laura represented the relationships she had developed within the sisterhood. Having lived a life without a husband and without succumbing to sexual desire, Rossetti may have felt the same sexual temptations that she conveys with such grand description in the poem. Having met fallen women who had experienced a life of sin and watching their recuperation with the help of other women at Highgate, Goblin Market could have been a way for Rossetti to express the extent of her desire as well as to conclude that one who succumbs to desire will fall, like the women she was supervising and that women need a sister or perhaps even Christ to help in repenting and recovery. The reference to the character of Jeanie, a woman who had succumbed to the Goblin’s temptation appears to be representing the the danger of losing ones virginity, and a warning that Laura should not chose this same fate. Anthony H Harrison (2007) implies that Jeanie may also be referenced in the poem to portray the fallen women that Christina was helping at Highgate.
“To help them avoid becoming wholly lost to the world like Jeanie in Goblin Market, these penitents might be guided, as Rossetti had been, toward an imagined realm-distant from this world of “perishable stuff”-where their recalcitrant passions could be ultimately fulfilled”
Women were encouraged to remain innocent within the Victorian period, and this meant that they should be ignorant to sexual knowledge. As Christina was educated at home and also heavily involved within the church, it is likely that she would be very limited in her understanding sex and of the sexual desires she experienced. As a woman resisting sexual temptations for the love of her God, Christina probably felt it was her obligation as a Christian as well as a woman to help these women at Highgate to regain their self respect and to encourage them to repress the incentive an imagined world of eternal life.
. The death of Christina’s father put an end to the innocence and protection that accompanies childhood security, she was left feeling empty. When religion willingly stepped in to fill the void, Christina could not resist. She used the obedient lifestyle and resistance as a suit of armour, protection from the world that she had been sheltered from by her devoted and caring family.
“Roses on a brier” is a short poem focusing upon resistance of desires, particularly that of sexual desire. It expresses an immense sadness as Rossetti portrays a character who is reassuring oneself that her repression shall be rewarded and that her suffering is not in vain. The poem conjures up a feeling of sorrow towards Christina herself as a woman who at times was so evidently discontent but continued with her repressed lifestyle as she was adamantly determined to fulfil her religious aspiration. The poem invites a deeper look and insight into Christina’s sorrow and sexual frustration.
“Be stilled, my passionate heart;
Old earth shall end, new earth shall be;”4
The instruction to “be stilled” is a self reassurance that heaven awaits those who resist their passionate urges and that to succumb would be to jeopardise ones attainment of life within heaven, the “new earth” once she meets her death, the “old earth”. It would be fair to assume that Christina would have had many conversations with herself where by her faithful mind was in conflict with tempted heart.
“Be still and earn thy part
Where shall be no more sea”4
The sea Christina refers to could be a metaphor for the difficulty of life. She asks her strong desire not to yearn for pleasures that she cannot allow herself to experience and so affirms that this life will end and she will achieve religious ecstasy within her new life. It appears she may be even hoping that she will “earn thy part” and secure her place in heaven quite soon as she longs to be free from the restraints that she suffers on earth.
Passion in the form of a sexual partner by means of a husband was never to play a part in Christina’s life. She was twice sought for marriage, however refused both proposals based on religious reasons as both of the men did not conform to the views of the Anglican Church. The first proposal was not long before her seventeenth birthday, it came from an artist friend of her brothers, James Collinson. James was a recent convert from Catholicism and when he decided to convert back, Rossetti called off the engagement. The second marriage proposal was made to Rossetti in the 1860’s by a man called Charles Cayley, that of which she accepted. However when Rossetti discovered he was Agnostic, she refused to marry him, and although it appears she loved him, the two just remained as friends. These dramatic choices were to become symbolic of the control that her religious faith would have upon her personal life.
I would conclude that it is evident from studying Christina Rossetti’s poetry that she suffered emotionally as an effect of her self-imposed repression and one can gather from the documented reports from her doctor Charles Hare and brother William Rossetti that this control of her character would have been the cause of her mental health and subsequently caused physical illness in the form of anxiety. However Christina had suffered illness for the most part of her adult life, that of which were not related to her mental decline, after a life of battling numerous illnesses, she would have been well prepared for her eventual death which was a result of Cancer. Christina often pondered death, both with intrigue and yearning. Her lifelong devotion to her religion increased her curiosity to the heaven that she dreamed she would reach after death. Her resistance towards many of the natural desires that she experienced in her life led her to dream of leaving this world, for it was a world where she would not allow herself live without restriction and to divulge in natural pleasures.
Christina lived her life on this earth without engaging in marriage, having a family of her own or having any sexual experiences. It would be wrong to assume that she was unhappy with this, as this is the life she wanted for herself despite her evident struggle to remain true to her beliefs and repress the desires that tempted her to waver from her faith. Her passion and success in her life derived from her incredible talent as a poet. The words within her poetry were heavily influenced by her religious values and the subsequent difficulties that she endured. This misery and depression she suffered in striving to live a strictly religious lifestyle is what resulted in the beautiful, melancholic and gothic nature of Christina Rossetti’s poetry, the fact that her suffering has increased her success leaves a bittersweet irony tainting the works of this Victorian heroine.