Many of Christina Rossetti's personal, non-narrative poems such as "A Better Resurrection," "Good Friday" and "Who Shall Deliver Me?" employ a very personal and often prayerful tone. The personal aspect of the poems, as indicated by the speaker's continual usage of first-person pronouns, focuses primarily on the speaker's shortcomings, insecurities and recognition of mortality. Though Rossetti's personal reflections are generally vague and not terribly revealing, the underlying sentiment and construction of a sense of self can be seen as a bridge between confession in the religious sense and the explicit confessional poetry that emerged in the twentieth century. The sense of self presented in "Who Shall Deliver Me?" is hopelessly fractured and constantly in internal conflict.

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for case and rest and joys

Myself, arch-traitor to myself;
My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling load from me
Break off the yoke and set me free. [1876]

The poem features several repeated lines and words that create the sense of many internal variants underlying one surface form. The question of "who shall wall/ Self from myself, most loathed of all?" illustrates for the reader the division of selves that the speaker experiences, but the lack of explicitly differentiated words to distinguish "self" from "self" creates what seems to be an intentional confusion of to whom exactly the repeated words and pronouns refer. The result is a fractured identity for the speaker, which carries with it a crucial and unresolved confusion about the reality of that fracturing. The question of whether the speaker identifies one central self with conflicting desires, or instead cannot identify a single self-identity at all, is nullified by the conclusion that only God — through death and salvation — can free the speaker from the earthly strains that rend herself apart.

Questions

1.Who are the multiple selves of Christina Rossetti? Does the position of the speaker suggest a disconnect between Christina-the-poet and Christina-the-woman?

2. How does the effect of repeated first-person pronouns interact with the surface message of the poem? Are the various "selves" actually distinguishable?

3. Christina Rossetti's execution of her thematic focus on death and salvation often sets up her mortal failures and then resolves them with divine salvation. She often presents herself as a passive participant in her own salvation. How does this structure reflect her particular religious beliefs and dogma?

4. Rossetti's handling of death seldom includes any mention of a rewarding afterlife. Is the final exhortation to "set me free" and indication that death is a portal to internal salvation, or is death merely a chance to escape the weight of the earthly world — even if death is just a vast, unconscious nothingness?


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Last modified 3 March 2009