At Home

Overview
Rossetti hypothetically evaluates what impact her death would have on the world, or, in particular, upon her ‘friends’. This can also be read as being how she feels after renouncing earthly joys in favour of devoting herself to her faith. Although the title projects an idea of warmth, comfort and security, the poem gives lie to this as she sees her friends ‘feasting’ and enjoying themselves without a thought to her, with their focus solely on the present and future, with the past ignored. I’d interpret this as Rossetti feeling a bit miserable at how good a time they are having, while she feels dead, but also the fact that they are risking their salvation by putting it off for the future and sinning in the present.

Click the tabs on the left to view each stanza.

Stanzas 1-2Stanzas 3-4

When I was dead, my spirit turned
     To seek the much-frequented house:
I passed the door, and saw my friends
     Feasting beneath green orange boughs;
From hand to hand they pushed the wine,
     They sucked the pulp of plum and peach;
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
     For each was loved of each.

I listened to their honest chat:
     Said one: “To-morrow we shall be
Plod plod along the featureless sands,
     And coasting miles and miles of sea.”
Said one: “Before the turn of tide
     We will achieve the eyrie-seat.”
Said one: “To-morrow shall be like
     To-day, but much more sweet.”

“To-morrow,” said they, strong with hope,
     And dwelt upon the pleasant way:
“To-morrow,” cried they, one and all,
     While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon;
     I, only I, had passed away:
“To-morrow and to-day,” they cried;
     I was of yesterday.

I shivered comfortless, but cast
     No chill across the table-cloth;
I, all-forgotten, shivered, sad
     To stay, and yet to part how loth:
I passed from the familiar room,
     I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
     That tarrieth but a day.

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

ContextThemesContentStructureTone

Context

Composed in 1858 and published in Goblin Market and Other Poems.

Possibly an element of biography in it as again it falls in that period where she begins to consider whether to dedicate herself to earth or heaven and also the friends in this poem could be some reflection of her limited friendship group, many of whom would really be considered to be her brother’s friends who she just sort of inherited.

 Themes

A few things going on here. On the face meaning of the poem, I’d perceive a lack of self-worth related to how quickly she is forgotten and how unimportant she thinks herself to be in the lives of others. However, we have also got a strong suggestion of the struggle between faith and earthly fulfillment in terms of the way each are prevented.

Finally, I think the poem also preaches at us to consider our souls and make sure that we prepare ourselves for salvation today, rather than put it off for tomorrow.

Content

The opening stanza completely shatters the ideas we should associate with the title. A ‘home’ is warm, secure, comfortable and loving, but she is forgotten as her friends really enjoy themselves. Hopefully you’ll recognise the descriptions of their feast as being similar to the descriptions in Goblin Market and I would argue that it represents their earthly sinning.

Again her insignificance is emphasised in stanza two by their focus on ‘to-morrow’ rather than the past. Could their ideas about the future – suggestions of peace, tranquility and ascension – be representative of their hopes of reaching heaven and eventually enjoying its fruits? I can only read it this way, they are sinning today, but tomorrow they are going to repent and focus on salvation – notice the similarity between the ‘featureless sands’ and Rossetti’s land described in ‘Cobwebs’ – dull, boring and full of nothing, representing the emptiness of earth once looking up. I take this stanza to be her friends almost saying ‘I’m enjoying life now, but I will show faith later and make sure I do enough to get into heaven.’ The ‘hope’ of the third stanza backs up this idea.

We again return to the loneliness and isolation of Rossetti, which could be related to her decision to renounce earthly joys. Thus her misery and loneliness is her state on earth and dead only in the eyes of others as she has abandoned her earthly focus.

Language and techniques

Start with mentioning the initial connotations of ‘home’ – warmth, comfort, security and love. However, these connotations are dismissed immediately as ‘home’ transformed to a ‘much frequented house’, which is much less personal and doesn’t have the same positive connotations. The description of this place as being full of mirth and joy, which is inappropriate given Rossetti’s death, makes the place seem actually quite horrible. Perhaps the ‘home’ of the title actually refers to where she is focused on getting to now: heaven.

Make sure you also explore the description of her friends. The verb choices are all grossly inappropriate considering Rossetti is no more, they are ‘feasting’, ‘sucked’, ‘sang’, ‘jested’, ‘laughed’. It sounds like a great party and celebration, but the words also scream excess and gluttony and I would associate them with earthly sin. They are reveling in all the joys of earth. Notice the consonance of the hard ‘s’ and ‘p’ sounds and the occasional alliteration that makes you read this section with the same force and enthusiasm as they are showing towards their banquet. Again, I’d recommend you check out Goblin Market to see the same sort of thing, Rossetti likes to use fruit and food as a symbol.

One more thing you might like to mention in relation to this stanza. Notice that they feast ‘beneath green orange boughs’. If you haven’t been to England, let me tell you it is a miserable place weather-wise and certainly not the place for orange trees even at the best of times, let alone in someone’s dining room. Research tells me this might be a reference to interior design of the age, but whatever, it gives the whole feast an artificial feel and suggests that something is not quite right about what is going on. Why would Rossetti suggest this? Perhaps because this type of enjoyment and lust for life should not find a place on earth as it is a temporary home for us while we prove ourselves worthy, while in heaven this enjoyment would prove to be eternal.

What about the repetition of ‘to-morrow’? I see this as representing the fact that they are putting off their repentance and necessary devotion to God for a time in the future. Don’t take it as a literal tomorrow, but rather a tomorrow that represents the future. In the opening stanza they demonstrate sinful behaviour, but think it will be okay because in the future they are going to sort their act out. In the third stanza they are described as ‘strong of hope’, which may initially appear positive, but actually suggests deep uncertainty and a reliance on luck rather than their own actions. In addition, their lack of focus on ‘yesterday’ represents a group denial that their previous actions and sins could have any impact upon their salvation.

They talk about ‘achiev[ing] the eyrie-seat’ (an eyrie is an eagle’s nest high up in the mountains), which implies they want to make it to heaven as they recognise it will be ‘much more sweet’ than their current pleasure on earth. I read the lines about ‘featureless sands’ and ‘plod plod’ to represent a change in attitude where they will abandon sin and focus on salvation – as these are dull and absent of pleasure or excess. In addition, the feeling they will do this ‘before the turn of tide’ suggests that they think they are going to repent before it is too late. However, I think the whole poem is a suggestion that Rossetti thinks they should be focusing on this a hell of a lot earlier.

Alongside this commentary on earthly excess vs desire for salvation, we have Rossetti’s personal struggle with being devout. We see her state of misery in the opening stanza through the fact she is forgotten and there is a certain amount of jealousy that rears its head towards the end of the poem when she ‘tarrieth’ as if she doesn’t want to leave this feast and earthly pleasure. She wants to be able to enjoy earthly life as she finds her decision to renounce it leaves her as ‘I, only, I’ and alone with ‘no one’ joining her. In addition, she uses imagery of winter to further convey her isolation and empty feelings as she ‘shivered comfortless’, ‘shivered’ and ‘cast no chill’ (okay, not actually cold, but able to make it chilly and thus she becomes a winter wind or some such) . Clearly she is finding it difficult to make this decision and doesn’t feel good about not being able to enjoy the earth, but the title is her focus – she wants to reach ‘home’ which is heaven and thus achieve all the positives we mentioned above. She feels ‘all-forgotten’ while they feel loved, which could suggest a lack of self-worth and self-pity, but I think it more clearly represents this state of statis she has entered on earth after choosing to renounce pleasure and wait for the good stuff in heaven.

Why does she ‘cast no chill’? This places Rossetti as a ghost at their table and her decision not to haunt them relates to the fact that she is sorely tempted to join them and can understand earthly temptations, even if she has made a decision to avoid them – a decision that is a bit tricky for her.

Structure

Okay, so we have four regular stanzas in octaves, but that’s not very interesting.

However, the complete rhyme scheme with only the even lines rhyming could be a suggestion that the merriment and song of the party is not quite right. This could reflect the idea mentioned above that this celebration is artificial and should be saved for life in heaven.

Tone

I think melancholy would be the best way to describe this. She is upset that she can’t be a part of this, but will not be tempted back into life. She knows her situation is unalterable and only subtly preaches to us about the reasons she has decided to renounce earthly pleasures.

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.

2 thoughts on “At Home”

  1. This site has been helpful to my IGCSE students. Thanks for the poetry work. Wish you can add something about prose.

    1. Yeah, me too, but simply not got the time to fit it in. Feel free to contribute any resources or ideas yourself and I will get them up on the site to help people out.

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