Despised and Rejected

Despised and Rejected
Overview
As the title suggests, Rossetti is feeling pretty miserable in this poem as if she is not a part of anything and cannot find acceptance or happiness anywhere. I take this to be a comment on her earthly role, never finding fulfilment or realising her ambitions. However, faith, here personified as Christ, is always there, calling for her, loving her and waiting for her to find the light and recognise the route to happiness and fulfilment.

Click the tabs on the left to view each stanza.

Stanza 1Stanza 2Stanza 3Stanza 4Stanza 5Stanza 6Stanza 7
My sun has set, I dwell
In Darkness as a dead man out of sight;
And none remains, not one, that I should tell
To him mine evil plight
This bitter night,
I will make fast my door
That hollow friends may trouble me no more.
 
‘Friend, open to Me.’ Who is this that calls?
Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:
Cease crying, for I will not hear
Thy cry of hope or fear.
Others were dear,
Others forsook me: what art thou indeed
That I should heed
Thy lamentable need?
Hungry should feed,
Or stranger lodge thee here?
 
‘Friend, My Feet bleed.
Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.’
I will not open, trouble me no more.
Go on thy way footsore,
I will not rise and open unto thee.
‘Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see
Who stands to plead with thee.
Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou
One day entreat My Face
And howl for grace,
And I be deaf as thou art now.
Open to Me.’
 
Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace:
Fear not that I should crave
Aught thou mayst have.
Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,
Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.
What, shall I not be let
Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?
 
But all night long that voice spake urgently:
‘Open to Me.’
Still harping in mine ears:
‘Rise, let Me in.’
Pleading with tears:
‘Open to Me that I may come to thee.’
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
‘My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.’
 
So till the break of day:
Then died away
That voice, in silence as of sorrow;
Then footsteps echoing like a sigh
Passed me by,
Lingering footsteps slow to pass.
On the morrow
I saw upon the grass
Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door
The mark of blood for evermore.
 

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

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

This poem was published in 1866 as part of ‘The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems’. It was included in the section of devotional poems and thus we need to be aware that it would have been intended for a religious audience. Many of these devotional poems were meant to carry a message about faith rather than explore her own deepest and darkest worries.

However, if you do see any autobiography in the poem then you could relate it to the death of her father ten years earlier and her rejection of Cayley’s marriage proposal in the same year, which may have left her feeling that she was destined never to fulfill her womanly role on earth or empty and miserable.

 Themes

Two major ones here: lack of self worth and devotion to faith alongside praising the Lord.

Content

Another cheerful poem from Rossetti (sarcasm!). What happened to the Rossetti from A Birthday?

Okay so you probably got quite a negative vibe from the title. Both these words are huge emotive: ‘despised’ is the antithesis of love and shares the same intensity of passion; while ‘rejected’ conjures feelings of depression and failure and this positions our poetic voice at the start of the poem – they seem to have failed life and withdrawn completely.

The opening stanza confirms this. She compares herself to a dead person in the respect that her life on earth is over. She is locking herself away from the world as she feels it and her friends have only let her down and disappointed her.

However, she is not allowed peace and quiet for long as someone comes to call. Notice the capitalisation of ‘Me’ which should tell you immediately that this is meant to be Christ. Although he claims to be a friend, we can see the distrust in our poetic voice as she is ‘deaf’ to his knock and makes the point that she has trusted others before, let them into her house/heart and then been let down. She questions why she should show such charity and warmth again for this caller.

Christ, this guy just doesn’t get the message and continues trying to convince her to open her heart to him. His reason that she should let him in is that his ‘Feet bleed’ – which sounds like a lame reason to me. This is a clear reference to the suffering of Christ and the fact he died for our sins. However, he is still not welcomed in.

The fourth stanza sounds a bit threatening. Christ says that if she doesn’t open up then she might later regret it and he may be deaf at the gates of heaven. Thus he is asking her to begin her devotion to him now otherwise she will not have a shot at redemption and eternal salvation.  He doesn’t sound particularly nice to me here, but maybe I have had the wrong idea; I always thought God was the tough cookie, while Christ was a chilled out hippy type.

Anyway, Rossetti is still pretty insistent that he should bugger off. She even threatens to open the door and ‘chase’ him away. She wants to be left alone to wallow in her misery and lack of self-worth.

Things start to change in the sixth stanza as we see the persistence of faith as Christ stays with her all night and pleads for her to allow herself redemption. When he finally leaves her in final stanza there is an overwhelming sense of regret from both Christ and the poetic voice. She mentions the ‘silence as of sorrow’ and says footsteps ‘linger’ as if Christ is still desperate to save her soul and hasn’t disappeared completely and continues to suffer so she can be saved.

Language and techniques

There is loads to deal with here, so excuse me if this is not an exhaustive list.

The first thing I’d mention is the various imagery and suggestion about how our poetic voice has reached this position of feeling ‘despised and rejected’.

We open with some imagery and pathetic fallacy in the form the ‘sun has set’ which positions us at the end of her life, with no light or life left and just awaiting the ‘bitter night’ and thus a miserable descent towards death. Indeed Rossetti associates this feeling with being ‘a dead man’, which implies that there is nothing left worth living for.

I also really like some of the language choices used to describe her existence. Our poetic voice ‘dwell[s]’ which implies a home of some squalor in her metaphorical home presented in this poem. I usually think about animals dwelling in caves or holes, rather than humans. Maybe this is just me, but I think the word has been chosen with deliberation. She also talks about being ‘in Darkness’. Notice the capitalisation again, if this is used to demonstrate the caller is Christ, who might be represented by this capital? I think the Darkness must represent the devil and her submission to  misery, hate and loneliness as well as being a common metaphorical reference to being unhappy. This is further evidence by her use of the phrase ‘evil plight’, which is at once associated with the antithesis of heaven. The word ‘plight’ also implies that her fate is not her fault or choice, but it is an unfortunate situation that she has found herself in as if tempted to it by the devil.

So, the devil has got to her and made her a bit grumpy and dramatic, but how has he done this literally? What on earth has caused this? Well, I think references to ‘hollow friends’ and those that were ‘dear’, but ‘forsook’ her, make it pretty clear. If someone is ‘hollow’ they are empty and their friendship clearly means nothing and is not worthy of the name. ‘Forsook’ also gives this impression of being let down by loved ones who have abandoned her in her time of need. I don’t think you should speculate as to the specifics of this as there isn’t enough in the poem to be clear about it…. but I can speculate as I don’t have to sit the exam! This could be a lover that has left her or broken her heart and made her think the world is cruel; alternatively it could be the friends she refers to in At Home who barely recognise her passing.

I’ve already mentioned the capitalisation representing Christ as being the person at the door, but let’s explore the whole analogy. The fact she ‘make[s] fast [her] door’ should not be taken literally, but should be seen to represent her heart. She is locking is and blocking out the rest of the world as she has clearly been hurt in the past by being too emotionally exposed. Thus when Christ calls he is trying to convince her of the virtue of charity, love and faith. His repetition of the imperative ‘open to me’ is more about her letting religion into her life, to give it meaning, than about Christ actually wanting a foot spa. The repetition here is used to demonstrate on the insistence of faith and the fact that one can convert and dedicate their life to Christ at any stage and still be welcomed, but also positions Christ as someone who cares deeply about our salvation.

Notice that Rossetti’s initial response is to completely ignore these pleas, as she is ‘deaf as are my walls’ meaning that the message has no chance of getting through. She is also aggressive in the form of two rhetorical questions at the end of the second stanza that effectively say ‘Who are you?’. These questions demonstrate the complete opposite values that are taught by Christ in the Bible (I won’t go into my views on whether these are really his values or the people who put the Bible together with their own aims in mind) as she is refusing to help someone in need or to lodge a cold stranger – if you read the story about the good samaritan you should see how her attitude is contradictory.

Despite this initially deafness, the end of the poem sees our protagonist mellow to the message. Gone is the aggression, in stanza six, and she seems to impressed with the insistence and dedication to her well being from Christ as the stanza begins with a ‘But’. This repositions her, she is signalling a change in her attitude to this stranger. In the final stanza there is some ambiguity about whether it is Christ or our poetic voice left wanting the other. She is certainly no longer aggressive and seems to inspect the message he leaves in the form of bloody footprints.

Leaving such a mess might sound like a bit of gitty thing to do, but this is a direct Biblical reference relating to the story of Moses. The ‘mark of blood’ was meant to keep a family safe from God’s wrath with all those plagues and frogs he sent to Egypt. This indicates that even those who do not acknowledge God immediately are still in his heart and have a chance for salvation.

Bloody hell, I’m still rattling on and have a huge amount of things to comment on! I’m going to try to be more concise from now on – I promise!

Let’s talk about the fourth stanza as it is noticeably different from the rest. The whole stanza is Christ speaking to her. A couple of important things to comment on: firstly notice how he refers to himself as ‘plead[ing]’ with her. This is an example of Christ’s humility, which is emphasised throughout with links to his suffering, the fact he speaks ‘urgently’ to her and his waiting through the night for her and even continuing to ‘linger’ as if he is completely focused on saving her and really values her.

Secondly, this stanza shows a darker side of religion. There is a threat in his suggestion that one day she may come and ‘howl for grace’ and find Christ ‘deaf’. This indicates that redemption is not guaranteed and that she will eventually want it, but unless she lets him into her heart and welcomes faith then she may be deprived and destined to eternal misery. The word ‘howl’ is an extremely emotional form of crying – almost at the breaking point, filled with desperation – and is meant to serve as a warning about what our fate would be if we were not destined for heaven.

Phew! That’ll do, I think.

Oh, one more idea. Notice the repetition of ‘rise’ and ‘arise’ across the poem. Most of the time this seems relatively insignificant, but this is often used to described born again Christians, rising like Christ after his crucifixion. At first she rejects the notion of being born again and rising as a Christian, with meaning and worth, but in stanza five she is tempted to ‘arise’ and Christ continues to insist she ‘Rise[s]’ in the sixth stanza. She seems to be edging towards letting faith into her heart.

Structure

I’ve been going on forever, so let’s keep this short.

The seven stanzas are all irregular: different number of lines, no fixed or repeating rhyme scheme and irregular syllable counts. This seems to reflect the uncertainty of her existence and her emotions. There are odd moments of clarity where the rhyme seems to come together, but only the final stanza has anything approaching regularity (AABCCDBDEE).

An even cooler point is the punctuation of speech. Notice how Christ has speech marks, but our protagonist doesn’t. This is because this whole narrative is really taking place in her heart and mind. She is battling between the desire to allow her misery to consume her and allowing faith to come into her life and give her purpose again. Neat!

Tone

It switches a few times as the poem progresses. We start with utter despair and misery, but shift to anger and bitterness when someone offers to help her and love her. Towards the conclusion of the poem this anger seems to give way to curiosity and a consideration of finding meaning in life through faith.

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 “Despised and Rejected”

    1. Hi A,

      Sorry it gets confusing, if I was to do stanza by stanza with some of these great big poems I doubt I’d ever get anything else done. With Rossetti my approach has been to make sure you understand the whole thing rather than necessarily every last line, but obviously sometimes this gets a bit messy when I am jumping around for ideas.

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

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