The Lowest Place

The Lowest Place
Overview

This was published as a devotional poem and thus is deeply religious in tone. Rossetti begs God to grant her a spot in heaven, but she is self-depreciating and suggests she is only worthy of an insignificant place in heaven.

The Lowest Place

Give me the lowest place: not that I dare
  Ask for that lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share
  Thy glory by Thy side.

Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.

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

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Again, I’m not going to give you a background about Rossetti here, but just set this poem in the context of her life.

The first thing to recognise is that this is a devotional piece. When Rossetti published her collections of poetry around a third of each selection were purely dedicated to her religious beliefs and ideas. This one was composed in 1863 and then published in 1866 in The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems. I don’t think there was anything particularly significant happening in her life that we need to be aware of to understand this poem.

 Themes

If I said that religion and devotion was a theme I wouldn’t really be helping you much. I would suggest that this is focused on Rossetti’s obsessive self-doubt about her worth and worthiness for salvation.

 Content

The title is the first thing to deal with. The use of superlative asking for the ‘lowest’ place gives us an impression of Rossetti’s sense of self-worth in the eyes of God. She doesn’t think she deserves to be by God’s side, but rather hanging on to a place in heaven. The phrase is a biblical reference to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus talks about not taking the place of distinction at a feast or celebration as those that do often find themselves having to move down the order of importance  (in seat terms) rather than up. Asking for the lowest place thus may eventually see her honour recognised and respects, but she should not assume her own worth, but be judged by those in heaven.

Rossetti demonstrates the necessary reverence for God as she acknowledges his Almighty, powerful status in her attitude. She opens with an imperative almost seeming as if she is demanding a place in heaven, albeit it at the bottom of the pack. However, she quickly back tracks and seems scared of causing offence, instead claiming that she wouldn’t dare to presume or ask for this honour if God/Jesus had not died for her sins and to give her hope of salvation in heaven.

The second stanza does much the same. Her grovelling is even more extreme as she claims she would be happier with a position lower than the lowest place, but again conveys a sense of desperation for salvation. She claims this is because she simply wants to love and serve her Lord.

 Language and techniques

I’ve mentioned the use of superlative in ‘lowest place’. This is repeated four times in the poem and emphasises her humility in front of God. However, it is possible to also interpret a sense of right and expectancy by the way the poem opens with an imperative or demand of God.

It almost feels like Rossetti is following form in being self-doubting and trembling down to God’s magnificence and her own insignificance as the poem is quite confidently making the demand or request.

I’d also comment about the way Rossetti highlights the two aspects of a good relationship with God – fear and love. The fact she talks about not ‘dar[ing’ to ask for salvation indicates that she recognises God’s unlimited power and that she should not challenge him. In addition, she recognises her insignificance through self-depreciation of her worth suggesting the ‘lowest place [may be] too high’. However, she does ask as a result of the fact he has demonstrated his desire for mankind to achieve salvation through his sacrifice on the cross (crucifixion) and recognises his love by using elevated praise mentioning ‘Thy glory’. She is thus dreaming of a time when she can share Christ/God’s glory for eternity.

 Structure

Two quatrains with a very simple ABAB rhyme scheme. The whole poem is constructed simply, which I feel reflects the modesty and humility of her request/desire to be saved and achieve salvation upon her death.

 Tone

Reverential. This poem is read almost like a humble request with the only touch of high emotion coming when the poem invokes emotive language in relation to God such as ‘glory’ and ‘love’.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *