e can properly understand Christina Rossetti's artistic values and procedures only when they are placed within the relevant contexts of their development and implementation. Such contextualization also enables enhanced perceptions of the "meaning" relative canonical value, and reception history of her work. Reconstructing the aesthetic, social, and religious ideologies of Rossetti's immediate environment, out of which her poetics emerged, clarifies the interaction in her poetry among Pre-Raphaelite, Ruskinian, and aestheticist impulses. These impulses uniquely accommodated the High Anglican values with which she grew up and which increased in importance to her as she aged.
In an 1886 essay William Sharp, the devoted friend of Dante Rossetti and an intimate of the whole Rossetti family, made a statement that most present-day students of the Pre-Raphaelites would find startling. Four years after Dante Rossetti's death he compared the popularity of Christina Rossetti's poetry with that of her ostensibly more famous brother: "The youngest of the Rossetti family has, as a poet, a much wider reputation and a much larger circle of readers than even her brother Gabriel, for in England, and much more markedly in America, the name of Christina Rossetti is known intimately where perhaps that of the author of the House of Life is but a name and nothing more." (Sharp, "The Rossettis," 427). Although we might be skeptical that various prejudices molded Sharp's opinion, evidence suggests that it was widely shared. Two years later a writer in Harper's New Monthly Magazine insisted that "Christina Rossetti's deeply spiritual poems are known even more widely than those of her more famous brother." (Bowker, "Literary Centre ," 827). Clearly at work in these evaluations is an implied distinction between popularity and notoriety. For most readers Christina Rossetti's poems were more accessible than those of her brother, but her work was also and [23/24] distinctively more compatible with the fundamental aesthetic (as well as moral) values of its audience. As Sharp further noted, "she has all the delicacy and strength of her brother's touch, [but] she is free from the frequent obscurity or convolution of style characteristic of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his weakest moments." (429).
Despite its stylistic divergence from her brother's poetry, Christina Rossetti's work was not anomalous among either generation of Pre-Raphaelites. Even Swinburne, whose antiorthodoxy and iconoclasm seem to conflict most profoundly with Rossetti's values, enthusiastically hailed her as the "Jael who led our hosts to victory." Throughout her poetry and much of her prose Christina Rossetti demonstrated true and deep affinities with Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic values. A careful examination of her poetry significantly increases our understanding of Pre-Raphaelitism as a major phenomenon of Victorian cultural change, one that is radically innovative but stiff deeply rooted in tradition. As much as her brother, Swinburne, or Morris, and certainly to a greater extent than figures more peripheral to the Pre-Raphaelite circle, Christina Rossetti produced works that appear to be dominated by the same aesthetic consciousness and literary values that make Pre-Raphaelitism the central but variegated movement which unintentionally spawned the aestheticism of the 1880s and 1890s. 4 Pre-Raphaelitism, in fact, influenced aesthetic thought in a way that made the movement central to the transition from the sentimental moral idealism of the Victorian mainstream to the variously nihilistic, skeptical, and ironic value systems that dominate modern poetry.
That most Victorians perceived Christina Rossetti as unequivocally Pre-Raphaelite in her poetic affinities becomes clear when we read through the contemporary reviews of her three major volumes of poetry, along with those of the New poems and the collected Poetical Works edited by William Michael Rossetti and published after her death. The reviewers — men and women, English and American — focused on a variety of characteristics that dominate her poems and that they perceived as uniquely Pre-Raphaelite. These include her close attention to detail and her "pictorial" modes of representation; the medieval atmosphere and settings that appear repeatedly in her poems; her appreciation of the world's physical beauty and its expression in lush images; the intensity of her poems, which seems inseparable from their "sincerity"; her preoccupation with love and her experimental approaches to it as a dominant topos; and even her religious devotion, which at least two critics described as "aesthetic mysticism." With the important exception of devout religiosity, these characteristics [24/25] of Rossetti's poetry are still considered major components of Pre-Raphaelitism.
In 1866 The Nation printed a review of Christina Rossetti's first two volumes of poetry. It begins, "any American reader who for the last two or three years has occasionally seen and admired the stray poems attributed to Miss Rossetti, being asked to describe them by one word, would have pronounced them Pre-Raphaelite" ([Dennet], "Miss Rossetti's Poems" 47). Some thirty years later another American reviewer reprinted "When I Am Dead, My Dearest" and, in order to emphasize "the spiritual relationship of the author to the poets of the group sometimes styled Pre-Raphaelite," pointed out the resemblance between Rossetti's poem and Swinburne's "Rococo" ("Christina Georgina Rossetti," Dial, 38). An anonymous commentator in Book Buyer asserted during the same year that Christina Rossetti's "poetic vision had all the glow and delicacy of invention which animates the canvas of the English Pre-Raphaelite" (The Rambler, 21). And with the greater self-consciousness of an historical critic, Edmund Gosse, writing the year before Christina Rossetti's death, carefully examined her relations to the other Pre-Raphaelite poets. He cited the seven poems she contributed to The Germ in 1850 and acknowledged the order in which the first well-reviewed Pre-Raphaelite volumes were published: by her, by Morris, by Swinburne, and finally by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He then concluded:
It is with these poets that Miss Rossetti takes her historical position, and their vigor and ambition had a various influence upon her style. On this side there can be no doubt that association with men so learned and eager, so daring in experiment, so well equipped in scholarship, gave her an instant and positive advantage. By nature she would seem to be of a cloistered and sequestered temper, and her genius was lifted on this wave of friendship to heights which it would not have dreamed of attempting alone. ["Christina Rossetti," 214]
As we know, Dante Rossetti's influence was indeed crucial in inducing Christina to publish her volumes of poetry with some regularity. Beyond this knowledge, it is useful for the historical critic interested in patterns of cultural change to determine with some precision what aesthetic values and moral perceptions the brethren had in common; the extent to which these were seen by their contemporaries as commonplace or genuinely innovative; and finally the degree to which the brethren's reliance upon such values and perceptions, as they found them in literary models, shaped their own work and molded patterns of artistic practice that diverged from [25/26] the mainstream, opening up new directions in art for their contemporaries and successors.
In The Pre-Raphaelite Imagination John Dixon Hunt has begun the large task of making such determinations. His catalog of the general "modes" of Pre-Raphaelite imagination quite properly includes
First, the enthusiasm for what was seen as the picturesque and inspiratory Middle Ages, to which most Pre-Raphaelites looked for subject matter and even technical knowledge. Second, growing out of these mediaeval interests, their introspection and the fashion in which they chose to communicate their meditations and the shadowy depths of the psyche. Third, their celebration of the noumenous; the search for a dialect of symbolism subtle enough to convey their apprehension of a meaningful world beyond exterior description and rational habits of mind. Fourth, an account of one specific symbol invoked by almost all of the Pre-Raphaelites — the famous image of a woman with large, staring eyes and masses of heavy hair... Fifth, their attempt, often uneasy and hesitant, to accommodate themselves to a modem world of photography and scientific definition by means of realistic description, frequently of subject matter ignored by most other Victorians. There are, naturally, connections between these five topics, but they seem to represent distinct and important elements in the complex fabric of Pre-Raphaelitism. [xi-xii]
Significantly, Hunt concludes this catalog of elements by stressing that "all were imitated by the first Pre-Raphaelite brothers and are equally integral parts of the imagination of the 1890's" (xii). Throughout his study, which carefully examines the evolution of the Pre-Raphaelitism of 1848 into the aestheticism of the nineties, Hunt focuses his attention primarily on the work of the painters in the first brotherhood and then on Swinburne, Morris, and Dante Rossetti among the poets of the second; he thus leaves Christina Rossetti to be perceived as a shadowy figure on the outskirts of Pre-Raphaelitism. (Hunt does, however, devote several pages to the similarities between aspects of Christina Rossetti's Commonplace stories and the elements of aestheticism.) Most other modern commentators on the movement also usually evade any discussion of the relations between Pre-Raphaelitism and the aesthetics that inform Christina Rossetti's poetry.
At least one of the most helpful modern critics of Pre-Raphaelitism, Cecil Lang, feels compelled to ignore consideration of her work under the general rubric of "Pre-Raphaelitism" when he is using it strictly as a critical, rather than an historical, term. Within his "descriptive definition" of Pre-Raphaelite writing as "visualized poetry of fantasy" or "fantasy crossed with realism," he excludes "nearly all the poetry of Christina Rossetti" (Pre-Raphaelites and Their Circle, xxvi-xxvii). Such exclusion is imperative, Lang claims, in the service of "nuances of appreciation" and making "nice discriminations." Lang does, of course, retain a sampling of Christina Rossetti's verse in his historically founded anthology of Pre-Raphaelite poetry. As we shall see in later chapters, such discriminations do indeed need to be made in order fully to understand how Rossetti's poetry serves, ultimately, as a critique of the values of her era very different in focus and ideology from the critique supplied by her brother Dante, or by Morris and Swinburne. Yet, as is already clear, Rossetti's own contemporaries, when viewing the literature of their age critically, very often made no "nice discriminations" between the central aesthetic of her work and that which shapes the poetry of the other Pre-Raphaelites.
Victorian reviewers were sometimes distressed and sometimes delighted to see a new "school" of poets on the scene, as they discussed the accumulating volumes of Pre-Raphaelite verse during the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. Different critics emphasized different characteristics of the poets' works, but, as we have seen, most of them perceived in Christina Rossetti's poetry a special combination of traits that seemed uniquely Pre-Raphaelite. Reviewers did, for instance, discuss her poetry's "painterly" qualities, which in some cases enabled them to see continuity rather than disjunction between the work of the first brotherhood in the visual arts and that of the second in poetry. Richard La Gallienne, writing in The Academy (1891), insisted upon the "rich material symbolism" that pervades Christina Rossetti's verse. It has, he noted, "that "decorative" quality, as of cloth of gold stiff with sumptuous needle-work design, which is a constant effect in the painter's poetry" (La Gallienne, review of Poems, 131). J.R. Dennet, in The Nation (1866), observed the extent to which, like that of the other Pre-Raphaelites, Christina Rossetti's poetry was "picturesque": "It was her practice to dwell elaborately upon details" ("Miss Rossetti's Poems," 47). And in the same year the Athenaeum's anonymous reviewer of The Princes Progress and Other poems argued that Rossetti redeemed her work only "by painting scenes which, though touched by the light of imagination, are yet as vividly true as if they were photographs of familiar objects" (824).
This critic also emphasized the medievalism that was, and still is, seen as essential to the Pre-Raphaelite artistic vision. His emphasis is implicit in his focus upon the stasis of the "pictures" Christina Rossetti "offers to us":
She does not unveil to us the face of humanity until the flush of human impulse has died away. We do not see the conflict of the heart, but the sequel of that conflict. Hence, there is in some of her best pictures the air of the cathedral rather than that of the world without. Her saints and heroes have not the stir and dust of life about them; [27/28] but they smile to us in a repose almost mournful, like effigies from a stained window or the sculptured forms of knight and dame in the coloured light of the aisle. 
Alice Law, in a eulogistic essay written for the Westminster Review the year after Christina Rossetti's death, also strongly insisted upon the importance of medievalism to the Pre-Raphaelites. She took care to point out that "it is this prevailing mediaeval Pre-Raphaelite attitude which so markedly separates Miss Rossetti's — as also her brother's — poetry from that of all her predecessors and contemporaries." ("Poetry of Christina Rossetti," 452). She explains:
The keynote of much of Miss Rossetti's word — music is its aesthetic mysticism and rich melancholy. [These qualities are] associated, . . . as in the works of her brother and other Pre-Raphaelites, with the deep mediaeval colouring, and quaint bejewelled setting of an old thirteenth- or fourteenth-century manuscript. The women of Miss Rossetti's pages have much in common with the long-tried Griseldas or ante-Renaissance type, with the slow fading Isabella of Boccaccio or the olive-wreathed, flame-robed virgins of the Divine Comedy. 
The Pre-Raphaelites' attention to picturesque detail, the medievalist atmosphere and settings, the pervasive melancholy of their works, and their awareness of their art's primarily Christian literary and pictorial origins — all are described in Law's commentary as also the fundamental characteristics of Christina Rossetti's poetry. In designating "aesthetic mysticism" as the composite final effect of these traits, Law unintentionally raised the issue that is ultimately central to any full understanding of Christina Rossetti's position in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, as well as to all accurate perceptions of the place Pre-Raphaelitism holds in the development of Victorian artistic culture away from its predominantly moralizing function toward the culture of aestheticism. This issue is religion.
Since her own era, Christina Rossetti's devout Christianity has often been seen as a characteristic that divides her from the other, avowedly non-Christian, members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle. This belief persists despite the distinctly religious "atmosphere" of much of the work produced by both generations of Pre-Raphaelites: its use of biblical images and typology; of religious figural language; and, more especially and pervasively, of medievalist backgrounds and settings that were seen by their early audiences to have clearly devotional, if not dangerously "Romanist," associations. When discussing Pre-Raphaelitism as an historical movement [28/29] , we must remember that the first brotherhood was inspired largely by the sacramental aesthetic articulated by Ruskin in volume 2 of Modern Painters, and that — regardless of their personal religious beliefs — the artistic practices of the poets in the second brotherhood in many ways extended the artistic precepts of the first brotherhood. George Landow properly reminds us that the Pre-Raphaelites "read not only the first volume of Modern Painters, which emphasized truth to nature, but the second volume, which contained Ruskin's theories of beauty and imagination" (Victorian Types [full text in VW).Both generations produced works that rely upon the careful presentation of natural detail in order to convey transcendental Truth — hence, perceptions of their "aesthetic mysticism." — Dante and Christina Rossetti are, of course, the crucial figures in maintaining this continuity. What Herbert Sussman has observed to be true for the painters of the first brotherhood holds also for the poets of the second. Their procedure is everywhere largely figural — or symbolist, to use language appropriate to current perceptions that their work does as much to foreshadow modem artistic and literary developments as to imitate medieval ones; for the clearest presentation of this view of Pre-Raphaelite poetry, see Edward Engelberg's anthology, The Symbolist Poem. More clearly and concisely than any other commentator, Sussman explains the system of values crucial in understanding the central precepts of Pre-Raphaelite art as they derive from Ruskin's sacramental vision of the world. Of course, these same precepts also lead, ironically, to the Paterian and Wildean aestheticist impulses that dominated the 1890s and enabled the modernist poetry of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound to emerge (see Bloom, Walter Pater, 1-21).
Ruskin developed an aesthetic in which the facts of nature, of history, even of contemporary life can become through the intensity of their representation radiant with transcendent meaning. Within this view, realism and symbolism are not opposed but interdependent. In theory, at least, . . . the more accurately each minute fact of the phenomenal world is reproduced, the more forcefully the spiritual significance will shine through. Such an aesthetic depends upon faith in a sacramental universe.... To the religious scientist, the physical world is itself a form of language, a book written by God that men must decipher. To . . . Ruskin, the more clearly the artist can reproduce this language by creating the illusion of confronting the phenomenon directly, the more forcefully the content of this natural language will emerge. For the early Ruskin, the highest example of such an art is, of course, the work of Turner. The fusion of mimetic and religious criteria in Ruskin's defense of Turner's "Truth" provides the background for the sense of sacred mission informing the Brotherhood's own adherence to scientific realism and also helps explain Ruskin's comparison of the Brotherhood to the stylistically opposite work of Turner in his "Pre-Raphaelitism" pamphlet of 1851. (Fact, 4-5)
During the year before Ruskin's pamphlet was published, seven poems by Christina Rossetti appeared in The Germ. (There were two poems in the January issue; three in the February issue; and two in the March number, retitled Art and Poetry, Being Thoughts Toward Nature, Conducted Principally by Artists.) The brethren's apparent [29/30] receptivity to her work suggests that they perceived no radical disjunction between the "sacramental" values her poems displayed and their own aesthetic principles. Indeed, if Sussman's statement of the brotherhood aesthetic is correct, and if all the brethren had accepted Ruskin's aesthetics with his own soul-felt sincerity, there would have been no discrepancy. After all, Dante Rossetti was perennially fascinated by religious typology and iconography; James Collinson, Christina's sometime fiancé, was, as it turned out, inalterably Roman Catholic; Holman Hunt was as obsessively devout as Christina herself; art theorists like John Tupper who wrote for The Germ shared her own and Ruskin's sacramental vision of the world; and all of the brethren were devoted Ruskinians, regardless of their religious dispositions. 25
Like the brethren, Christina read Ruskin with interest, and a late letter makes this dear. Even in 1883, despite Ruskin's "annoying" criticism of her late brother's painting, she confided to her sister-in-law, Lucy, "I cannot help admiring much of [Ruskin's] work" (FL, 137-38). A great number of Rossetti's devotional poems, and many of her "secular" love poems as well, appear to be grounded in Ruskin's theories of typical and vital beauty. In volume 2 of Modern Painters Ruskin defines "beauty" theocentrically as "either the record of conscience, written in things external, or . . . the symbolizing of Divine attributes in matter, of . . . the felicity of living things, or ... the perfect fulfillment of their duties and functions. In all cases it is something Divine; either the approving voice of God, the glorious symbol of Him, the evidence of His kind presence, or the obedience to His will by him induced and supported" (WJR, 4:210). Typical Beauty is "the symbolizing of divine attributes in matter" and, as George Landow makes clear, it "most directly partakes of the Holy." (John Ruskin, 110). A number of precise correspondences exist between Ruskin's ideas of beauty in its relation to the divine and those of Christina Rossetti.
In a passage originally intended for the second volume of Modern Painters, Ruskin revealed the experiential origins of his conception of the beautiful. One July evening, observing a storm in the Alps, in an epiphanic moment he became aware of "the real meaning of the word Beautiful." The mountains, like "mighty pyramids[,] stood calmly in the very heart of the high heaven," while "the ponderous storm writhed and moaned beneath them." At that moment he came to understand that all things in nature which are "the type of God's attributes" are capable of turning "the human soul from gazing upon itself" and fixing the spirit "on the types of that which is to be its food for eternity; — this and this only is in the pure and right sense of the word BEAUTIFUL" (WJR, 4:364-65 [another discussionm of this passage]).
This is a common pattern of experience in Rossetti's poetry, as it is in biographical reminiscences that punctuate her prose writings. (See, for instance, my discussion of "An Old World Thicket" later in this chapter.) Compare, [30/31] for instance, this passage from The Face of the Deep: "Once, years ago in Normandy after a day of flooding rain, I beheld the clouds roll up and depart and the auspicious sky reappear. Once in crossing the Splügen I beheld that moving of the mists which gives back to sight a vanished world. Those veils of heaven and earth removed, beauty came to light. What will it be to see this same visible heaven itself removed and unimaginable beauty brought to light in glory and terror! auspicious to the elect, by aliens unendurable" (Face, 217).
Basic to Rossetti's view of all human perceptions, as to Ruskin's, is the belief that "All the world over, visible things typify things invisible" (SF, 244). She explains more fully that "common things continually at hand, wind or windfall or budding bough, acquire a sacred association, and cross our path under aspects at once familiar and transfigured, and preach to our spirits while they serve our bodies" (SF, 203). Rossetti's conclusions to her investigation of the relations among Nature, God, and human perception, which runs throughout Seek and Find, serve almost as a summary of the central tenet of Ruskin's moral and sacramental theory of art in Modern Painters, volumes 1 and 2. "To exercise natural perception," Rossetti maintains, "becomes a reproach to us, if along with it we exercise not spiritual perception. Objects of sight may and should quicken us to apprehend objects of faith, things temporal suggesting things eternal" (SF, 180).
Rossetti also reveals an implied acceptance of Victorian beliefs — variously articulated by Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, Keble, Isaac Williams, and others — in the poet as prophet. But Ruskin, too, repeatedly returns to this essential doctrine of his theocentric aesthetic (even in works written during his long years of religious crisis); he repeats it not only in a larger number of different contexts but also more emphatically and in more diversified language than any of his contemporaries except perhaps Browning; see Landow, John Ruskin, 372-91.
Ruskin expressed his perceptions of the poet as prophet most forcefully between 1846 and 1856. It was during these and the next five years that Christina Rossetti was most keenly interested in his work, his relations with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and especially his patronage of her brother. (Ruskin was reading and evaluating her early poems in 1861.) As Landow observes, Ruskin "takes quite seriously and quite literally the idea that to imagine deeply is to prophesy, and that to be an artist and poet is to be a prophet; and he can do this because his theory of the allegorical imagination derives from a theological tradition which holds [31/32] that such a mode is necessary to accommodate divine truths to the human condition" (373). In volume 2 of Modern Painters Ruskin explains that the power of prophecy is the "very essence" of imagination (WJR, 4:225). Its "first and noblest use is, to enable us to bring sensibly to our sight the things which are recorded as belonging to our future state, or as invisibly surround us in this." Ultimately then for Ruskin, the penetrating, prophetic imagination of the artist works for the salvation of his or her audience (4:225). Only the noblest men and women, of course, have such powers of artistic prophecy: the greatest are those who embody in their works the "greatest number of the greatest ideas" (WJR, 5:66). The gifts of such an artist cannot be acquired, however: "the greatness . . . is, in the most conclusive sense, determined for him at his birth" (WJR, 5:68). Though modest in her expression of the same doctrines, Rossetti does, nonetheless, quietly insist upon them: "Natural gifts are laid as stepping-stones to supernatural: the nobler any man is by birthright, if keen of insight, lofty of instinctive aim, wide of grasp, deep of penetration, the more is he able and is he bound to discern in the visible universe tokens of the love and presence and foreshadowings of the will of God" (SF, 180). Rossetti is not referring exclusively to poets or artists, but such figures would certainly be included among the "nobler" men she describes.
The language Rossetti uses here reminds us inescapably of the hierarchical and evolutionary metaphors that form the substructure of Tennyson's In Memoriam. Once again, however, we are forced to recall the extent to which hierarchical and historically typological modes of perception were pervasive among the Victorians. They are, in fact, crucial to Ruskin's commentary on Typical Beauty in Modern Painters, and they dominate Christina Rossetti's concluding remarks in Seek and Find. In volume 2 of Modern Painters Ruskin explains how proportion, as one aspect of Typical Beauty, is a principle fundamental to both the physical and the moral worlds. Sensitivity to proportion results in perceptions that are analogical, typological, and hierarchical. Ultimately, all things are thus sequentially unified, forming
links in chains, and steps in ascents, and stages in journeys; and this, in matter, is the unity of communicable forces in their continuance from one thing to another; and it is the passing upwards and downwards of beneficient [sic] effects among all things, the melody of sounds, the continuity of Lines, and the orderly succession of motions and times; and in spiritual creatures it is their own constant building up, by true knowledge and continuous reasoning, to higher perfection, [32/33] and the singleness and straightforwardness of their tendencies to more complete communion with God. (WJR, 4:94-95)
Concerned with the achievement of unity with both God and Nature as a means to redemption, Rossetti moves toward her conclusion to Seek and Findby citing a passage from Romans that would equally well have served Ruskin's general purpose: "Nor will the contemplation of any creature, whether higher or lower than man in the scale of creation, avail us anything, unless by help of it according to its proper endowment and capacity we discern Jesus, in Whom "dwelleth all the fullness of Godhead bodily" (Col. ii. 9): "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead" (Rom. i. 20)" (SF, 326). Rossetti's and Ruskin's concern with hierarchical accessions and with emblematic correspondences between the material and spiritual worlds reveals the underlying preoccupation of both writers with the necessary orderliness of all art in which true beauty inheres. Ruskin repeatedly emphasizes the "orderliness of beauty or its dependence upon order" (115). His six "orderly" aspects Of Typical Beauty frequently appear as themes, formal characteristics, or significant aspects of the emotional texture of Rossetti's verse. They include infinity (or incomprehensibility of the divine), unity, repose, symmetry, purity, and moderation (Ruskin's equivalent of the Tractarian value of "Reserve").
In addition to the clear parallels between Ruskin's ideas of Typical Beauty and Christina Rossetti's implicit as well as explicit aesthetic values, striking correspondences to his concept of Vital Beauty also emerge in her work. As Landow succinctly explains it, "Vital Beauty... is the beauty of living things, and it is concerned not with form [as Typical Beauty is] but expression — with the expression of the happiness and energy of life, and, in a different manner, with the representation of moral truths by living things." Landow properly emphasizes that "this second form of Vital Beauty is closely related to Ruskin's religious world-view, since these beautiful truths exist as part of a divinely ordained great chain of being in which each living creature plays a role as agent and as living emblem of divine intention." Full comprehension of Vital Beauty as it is embodied in living creatures depends principally upon "sympathy," the ability imaginatively to identify with the object of our interest or scrutiny (4.148-49, 151).
Rossetti's extraordinary capacity for sympathetic identification with her subjects and personae is manifest throughout her poetry, as is her common procedure of drawing moral or theological lessons from the experi- [33/34] ence of such sympathy. Her devotional poem "Consider the Lifes of the Field" (from Some Feasts and Fasts) is exemplary:
Flowers preach to us if we will hear:--
The rose saith in the dewy mom:
I am not fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the com:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent out fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of his love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.
Employing the empathetic imaginative powers of the "Poet mind," Rossetti here demonstrates a Blakean capacity for observation and identification. Such sympathetic identification and a resulting awareness of "divine intention" is also characteristic of her nondevotional poetry, in which the moral precepts or teleological epiphanies are often expressed obliquely rather than directly, through symbol, allegory, or implication; see, for instance, "In an Artist's Studio," "Wife to Husband" "Listening," "The Convent Threshold," "Cousin Kate," "L.E.L.," "Three Nuns," and "Is and Was." Rossetti's sympathetic imagination, often subject to retrospective interpretation through her typological and analogical habits of mind, appears most directly, however, in her devotional prose works.
Two passages from Time Flies: A Reading Diary typify her Ruskinian perceptions of Vital Beauty. In her entry for 30 March, Rossetti recalls an [34/35] experience with a "pill millipede" that occurred one holiday at Penkill Castle. Surprised to discover the insect on her bedroom floor, she explains good-humoredly that "toward my co-tenant I felt a sort of good win not inconsistent with an impulse to eject it through the window." Having picked it up, she finds a "swarm" of baby millipedes in her hand. "Surprised, but resolute," she puts the family outside, but finds serious meaning in the episode. "Pondering over this trifle," she concludes, "it seems to me a parable setting forth visibly and vividly the incalculable element in all our actions. I thought to pick up one millipede and behold! I was transporting a numerous family." Thus, "if ... we cannot estimate the full bearing of action, how shall we hope to estimate the full extent of influence?" Rossetti describes a similarly emblematic experience with nature in the entry for 26 June. It involves an encounter between a spider and his shadow witnessed at Meads:
They jerked, zigzagged, advanced, retreated, he and his shadow posturing in ungainly indissoluble harmony. He seemed exasperated, fascinated, desperately endeavouring and utterly helpless."She understands, of course, that the spider is terrified by his black "double" and vainly attempts to flee it. The interpretation of this simple "Parable of Nature," however, is sophisticated: "To me this self-haunted spider appears a figure of each obstinate impenitent sinner, who having outlived enjoyment remains isolated irretrievably with his own horrible loathsome self." And, "if thus in time, how throughout eternity? [Rossetti, Time Flies, 62, 122.]
Ruskin's ideas of Typical and Vital Beauty — worked out with greater systematization and in greater detail than Rossetti's — clearly provide a ground for understanding her habits of mind and her artistic practice in both prose and poetry. So do Tractarian poetics, as George B. Tennyson has correctly insisted (VDP, 198-213). But it is crucial to recall that Ruskin's aesthetic theories were deeply affected (if not instigated) by the Tractarian influences to which he was subject as an undergraduate at Oxford. (Jerome Bump also acknowledges this important fact in "Hopkins' Imagery," 115-16, n. 31.) Just as the structures of poems and prose works by Rossetti (including Time Flies) often imitate the pattern of Keble's The Christian Year, so the systematic and detailed descriptions of plants appropriate to given occasions in Called to Be Saints mimic Ruskin's own descriptive botany throughout the first two volumes of Modern Painters. Seek and Find vaunts an even more characteristically Ruskinian organization, sequentially observing and providing emblematic analyses of the elements or the general categories of natural phenomena. In her book Rossetti sets out to articulate the various "truths" of nature. Ultimately, she and Ruskin (along with the Tractarians) attempt, with varying degrees of self-consciousness, to [35/36] extend and redirect the general Romantic project of coming to spiritual terms with their sensory responses to the external world, its beauty in potential and its realized beauty, as well as its (ostensibly) failed or corrupt beauty. This project, of course, had its source for western writers in Plato, but more directly for the Romantics, for Ruskin, Rossetti, and the Tractarians, in medieval religious and aesthetic thought. Its culmination in the nineteenth century appeared, after the mediation of the Pre-Raphaelites, in the avant-garde work of Hopkins, Pater, Wilde, and the aesthetes.
Last modified 24 June 2007