A Better Resurrection

Known until now as the goblet of the Infanta Dona Urraca - daughter of Fernando I, King of Leon from 1037 to 1065 - is displayed in the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, northern Spain on March 31, 2014. Spanish researchers Margarita Torres and Jose Miguel Ortega River reveal in their book 'The kings of the Grail' that they have found the goblet from which Jesus Christ supposedly sipped during the Last Supper. After a three year hunt begining with Egyptian parchments the two historians claim the mythical object of countless quests in literature and art has actually been lying for nearly a millennium in a basilica in the northwestern Spanish city of Leon.   AFP PHOTO/ CESAR MANSOCESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images
Overview
This is a devotional poem focused on the power of Christ as a redeemer and a saver of souls. Rossetti/the poetic voice of this poem is seeking a spiritual rebirth to give her life meaning.
A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
     My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
     Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
     No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
     O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
     My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
     And tedious in the barren dusk;
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. 

My life is like a broken bowl,
     A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
     Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
     Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
     O Jesus, drink of me.

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Composed in 1857 again around the time she may have begun looking to religion to give her life meaning after her failed relationship with James Collinson. It was published as a devotional poem in her 1862 collection Goblin Market and Other Poems.

The other thing you need to understand here is the intertextuality of the poem. The poem is written for devout Christians like herself and thus there is an expectation of prior biblical knowledge and understanding. This is possibly quite harsh on you, so I will fill you in as I go in the language and techniques section and point you in the direction of the excellent, but awfully named cross-ref.info for a more thorough exploration.

 Themes

Rossetti’s trust in the Lord and faith to give meaning to her life seems to be the main idea within this one. She positions herself/the poetic voice as being in a state of destitution, loneliness and depression and pleads with Christ to help her be reborn into faith and thus give her something to live for.

Content

This is going to be a whistle-stop tour and then I will write a dissertation in the next section, examining and linking ideas.

Basically Rossetti is pretty miserable and feels like she has nothing to live for in the opening stanza. She is alone, consumed by her own negativity and feels numb to the world around her. As a result she is looking to the heavens for Jesus to bring her back to life, or in other words to give her some meaning in her life.

The second stanza continues in the same vein. The imagery used in comparison to our life suggest the oncoming of death and a complete emptiness in her life. However, she ends with a seemingly more confident assertion of her confidence that the Lord will provide her with salvation.

Finally, she provides us with an analogy between her life being a broken bowl and Jesus being some sort of master potter or blacksmith. While her bowl is currently pretty useless, she wants him to ‘remould’ her and then to use the bowl for whatever he wishes. Thus her broken bowl will again have life, but will be dedicated or devoted to Christ.

Language and techniques

The title itself is a point of interest. If this ‘resurrection’ is going to be ‘better’ then we need to think about what it is being compared to. as a devotional poem I can only think that it is referencing her first life, which has turned out to be so rubbish (however, I’m not sure birth counts as a resurrection, maybe it is a surrection… ignore me, please). Why is it better? Presumably because she will be living her new life devoted to Jesus and not as a nasty little sinner.

Immediately Rossetti sets up a mood of negativity with the repetitive ‘no wit, no words, no tears’. The repetition serves to emphasise the emptiness of her life – with an absence of intelligence, conversation and emotion in her life. She continues by comparing herself through a simile to ‘a stone’, which is a fairly common idea in her poetry. This is quite easy to interpret as it suggest emotional death – it is also described as ‘numbed’ – with her no longer feeling an exposure to hope or fear. I don’t think you need to mention the biblical ideas that relate to this, as these are now common associations.

More emphasis in her looking all around and finding that she ‘dwell[s] alone’. Obviously it is never nice to be alone, but the fact she is looking about her suggests she is desperate to find meaning and a way out of loneliness. Her pain is clearly pretty extreme as she refers to it in terms of death again when she describes her eyes as being ‘dimmed with grief’ as if she is mourning her own passing from the world.

Next she refers to the absence of ‘everlasting hills’, which needs a bit of explaining. In Psalm 121 in the Old Testament (I may be relying on others for this information) it says:

I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord. 

Rossetti’s eyes are also ‘lift[ed]’ and this is clearly a direct reference. Thus she does not see hope on the horizon and sees salvation from Christ as being some way away. Presumably this is because her life is ‘in the falling leaf’, a piece of pathetic fallacy that suggests she is dying rather than being dead and ready for rebirth.

The final line of the stanza, as in each, is a direct plea to Christ. She doesn’t want Christ to make her faster, ‘quicken’ is used here to mean revive.

Continuing in the same manner in the second stanza, we are now confronted with a series of natural images that represent the emptiness and death within her life. She opens with a simile linking her to a ‘faded leaf’, which should have connotations in your head with a loss of colour and death again, suggesting emptiness in her life. However, it is also a direct biblical reference to the prophet Isaiah which is used to contrast the magnificence of God compared to the rather colourless and dullness of man, perhaps also to show a distinction between sinners and the devout.

Her ‘harvest dwindled’ into nothingness and her life is ‘tedious in the barren dusk’. This presents her life in relation to crops and fertility and we picture the famine and starvation of her soul in this ruined wasteland. Further, the word ‘tedious’ shows just how frustrated she is with her existence, it is boring and seems to stretch on forever. The comparison is extended with another simile likening her to ‘a frozen thing’ (nice and specific!) without ‘bud nor greenness’.

However, the negativity of this stanza is starkly contrasted by the final two lines which show the hope that exists within her heart. ‘Yet it shall rise’ is a definitive statement that expresses the belief that faith will save her and her ‘sap of spring’ moves our barren field into a new life or new beginning.

Again the comparison to a ‘broken bowl’ should be pretty simple to interpret: it is pretty useless and empty. However, this is also a biblical reference from Psalms 31:12 where someone compared to broken pottery is seen as being forgotten and forsaken. Christ is seen as being the one to ‘melt and remould’ and therefore give her meaning. Specifically this will be to serve and devote herself to him as a ‘royal cup’.

Structure

There is some clever stuff here, but I am going to refer you to cross-ref.it again as it is explained brilliantly there.

Tone

Each stanza begins with desperation and desolation, but gradually the end of the stanzas suggest hope. At first this is just one line, then two and finally we have four lines that talk about her hope and confidence in faith to remould her and restore purpose to her existence.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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