The Greatest of these is Charity

A moon impoverished amid stars curtailed,
      A sun of its exuberant lustre shorn,
      A transient morning that is scarcely morn,
A lingering night in double dimness veiled.—

Our hands are slackened and our strength has failed;
      We born to darkness, wherefore were we born?
      No ripening more for olive, grape, or corn ;
Faith faints, hope faints, even love himself has paled.

Nay ! love lifts up a face like any rose
      Flushing and sweet above a thorny stem,
Softly protesting that the way he knows;
      And as for faith and hope, will carry them
      Safe to the gate of New Jerusalem,
Where light shines full and where the palm-tree blows.

Christina Georgina Rossetti. Before 1893.

It’s poems like this one by Miss Rossetti, full of equations of the dark with material existence, and equations of light with release from it, that nearly have me categorize this post (and others) as “Esoterica.” The dualism is noticeable, and appears often in her poetry, and betrays also a certain apocalypticism, the latter of which comes to fruition in her devotional commentary on the Apocalypse, The Face of the Deep. In addition, the strikingly personal ways in which she describes her Saviour and his saving likewise recall the long tradition of western European medieval mysticism with its strong focus on exactly that kind of personal relationship. With her being a staunch Anglican, though quite obviously a high church one, this connection or allusion to the Catholic past is somewhat surprising. I do wonder how familiar she was with works representative of that earlier mystical tradition. I’ll have to look into that.


  1. That would be way too cool for me.

    All I know of is Gustav Holst’s moving setting for her “In the bleak mid-winter.” Chanticleer has a beautiful rendition on their Sing We Christmas CD. I can’t imagine that much of her poetry is all that intriguing to modern musicians, though, as it’s thoroughly Christian, and of too severe a piety to even be attractive to “CCM” bands.

    I my book, anything Pre-Raphaelite outranks anything rock, anyway. So she rocks, and it’s rock musicians that aspire to that rockitude.

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