I became acquainted with Christina Rossetti’s poetry while reading The Oxford Book of Christian Verse earlier this year. While her poems were written before the age of free verse, I was struck by how natural her language is—she avoids awkward word order to fit a poem’s meter or rhyme scheme. Some of her imagery is vivid, and I am also touched by the tenderness toward God that comes through her religious poems.
Our family was recently on vacation and ended up browsing a book store (as we often do). I picked up a volume of Rossetti’s poems and began reading. Much to my amusement, the first three poems in the book were about death (two involved ghosts). So I am finding Rossetti has a gloomy side, like many good poets 😉
One of the three poems about death is called “Dream Land.” With a haunting, ethereal tone, it explores the losses of a woman who has died. The rhyme and meter support the tone and draw the reader into an almost entrancing chant.
The opening lines set a somber, mysterious mood, which pervades most of the poem:
Where sunless rivers weep Their waves into the deep She sleeps a charmed sleep: Awake her not.
Despite this, the very end of the poem reframes death as “perfect peace” and even strikes notes of hope and resurrection:
Sleep that no pain shall wake; Night that no morn shall break Till joy shall overtake Her perfect peace.
“Dream Land” is a short poem—just four stanzas—but does a good job enveloping the reader in what is a surreal but ultimately optimistic meditation. Rossetti does a good job framing death as a temporary loss leading to something greater: a seed given up in hopes of a flower.