A Birthday; Christina Rosetti – Analysis

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‘A Birthday’ is an upbeat, jubilant poem about love, written by Christina Rossetti in 1861. While many believe that this love she is expressing so effusively is about a man, I believe that it is about her new-found love for God. Rossetti, after all, was a very religious person. The poem, surprisingly, has an exuberant, lively tone, a great contrast to her other works, which almost always give a sense of gloom and bleakness. Rossetti creates a structured arrangement, allowing the images to flow smoothly.

By separating the poem into two octets, containing eight syllables per line, Rossetti creates contrast by first, describing her feelings – her all-consuming happiness, how interchangeably light and heavy her feelings are – then explaining in detail the preparation that must be done to welcome the love that has come to her. Further creating a disparity are the imageries in the octets: the first octet uses imagery of nature, portraying the profusion and fecundity of her love, juxtaposed by the imagery of wealth and value in the latter, showing how much her love is worth.

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The first stanza has a lexical motif, using a series of similes containing natural images, such as “a singing bird”, “an apple tree” and “a rainbow shell” which give connotations of abundance and natural, wholesome love, and symbols of new life, resurgence, and hope. Also, she uses an anaphora of “heart”, which underlines the strength of her love, as if she is scrambling for words to describe her feelings and excitedly looking for ways to explain and express the force of her love.

Furthermore, it has an iambic rhythm which pushes the poem forward, emphasizing her urgency and excitement to express just how her heart feels. It rests on “heart”, reinforcing her love and even resembles a heartbeat. The simile used in the beginning of the poem emphasizes how her love creates a new beginning for her by comparing her heart to “a singing bird. This comparison gives a joyful and excited tone, and implies a fresh start, a new day, and a new life, like a bird singing at dawn.

Also, this suggests rebirth and renaissance as when a bird sings at the start of spring, when winter fades and spring emerges. Moreover, it could also mean that she is trying to tell everyone of this newfound love, similar to a bird announcing the birth of spring through song. The latter of the simile, “whose nest is in a watered shoot”, indicates fertility and how she is full of life because of her passion for this love. Rossetti, again, shows the abundance of her love by comparing her heart to “an apple tree”.

This comparison can be deemed to have a religious connotation – the apple tree in the Garden of Eden, perfect yet untouchable. Furthermore, an “apple” has the characteristics of being juicy and sweet, which may emulate her love as well. Completing this simile with “Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit” extends the context of her heart being full of and weighed down with love, intimating that “fruit” symbolizes her love. The last simile gives the reader an idea on the uniqueness of her love by likening her heart to “a rainbow shell”.

This provides color imagery – multihued and effervescent. The shell, viewed apically may be pictured as a spiral gastropod shell – protective and complex, mirroring the kind of love Rossetti may be feeling. Concluding the simile with the phrase “That paddles in a halcyon sea” gives the reader a serene and calm feeling. The image that this simile makes – one shell, paddling in a vast sea – calms the reader because of the extreme beauty of the picture it presents which is further intensified by the unruffled and tranquil sea.

Through this we can tell that for Rossetti, love clears her mind and makes her feel at peace. Through these series of similes, Rossetti effectively shows the different aspects of her love – abundant, unique, a new beginning. Through similes that create a vivid picture in our mind, Rossetti makes it easy for us to understand. Noteworthy is the fact that in every simile, there is always one object in the shape of a heart – “nest” in the first, “apple” in the second, and “shell” in the third – firmly establishing the imagery of her heart.

The octet is ended with her proclamation “My heart is gladder than all these, // Because my love is come to me”. She cannot think of anything more joyful than the love she has found. The rhyming convention set up by Rossetti facilitates the smooth flow of the poem when read out loud. Rhyming the even numbered verses through the first octet assists the nice roll of words to a lovely ending. The second stanza starts to express and convey her love through actions. This is apparent because of the verbs used in the octet, such as “raise”, “hang”, “carve” and “work”.

These imperatives suggest an authoritative tone, because it is as if she is ordering someone to do these things. Backing that statement up, is the fact that Rossetti changes from an iambic meter to trochaic which allows the recitation to focus on the verbs. This further underlines how she longs to show off her love to the world. One verb that demonstrates the infinite quality of her love is “carve” which, more likely than not, is associated with “carving initials on the trunk of a tree”, usual for young people during Rossetti’s time deeply in love who profess their enduring love to one another.

The bulk of the second octet is comprised of an elaborate description of how Rossetti wants to prepare by using a metaphor of a beautiful, extravagant platform as an expression of her love. In this, she uses repeated images that give a sense of opulence and grandeur to portray how valuable her love truly is. This is evident at the first couplet of the octet, with the use of the words “silk”, “down” and “vair”, all luxurious materials that impress upon us a feeling of extraordinary splendor. The “peacocks with a hundred eyes” carved in the platform symbolize prosperity, elegance, and of renewal.

As peacocks re-grow their feathers yearly, so does Rossetti experience a new beginning through this love. And, as peacocks strut their majestic plume during courtship, so does Rossetti pull out all the stops to impress her love. The use of “a hundred eyes” may represent how she wants visualize her love. The colors used in this octet of “purple”, “gold” and “silver” are colors associated with royalty, affluence, prosperity and permanence. As purple is the color of royalty, gold and silver are the metals of durability and wealth.

The “grapes” used in the fifth line, again, give the implication of abundance. Also, when grapes are put into picture, people usually imagine a classic Greek image, to which the grapes are fed to those in power, again highlighting the use of images of worth. Finally, it may also again demonstrate the idea that it is expensive and extravagant because grapes can be made into wine. There are also a handful of religious connotations in this octet. First, “doves”, aside from being a symbol of peace, is also the symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Second, while “fleur-de-lys” is a representation of royalty and wealth, since it has three petals, it may also denote that it represents the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Lastly, the color “purple” is the color used in Advent. Because Advent is the start of the Catholic calendar, it may bring about how the idea that this love is again, a new chapter in her life. And, like the first octet, the rhyming convention of “dyes” and “eyes” are set up by Rossetti facilitates the smooth development of images from one couplet to the next until a unified picture is produced in the readers’ minds.

Rossetti ends her poem by writing that “Because the birthday of my life // Is come, my love is come to me. ” The use of “birthday of my life” suggests that it is the most awaited event of her life, like a child waiting for his birthday. The last line is an echo from the first octet which shows the love’s significance and impact on her life. The emphasis of the “coming” of her love by the repetition of the words “is come” shows her excitement for her love. Lastly, the alliteration of “life” and “love” and the enjambment in this couplet adds to a satisfying ending to the poem.

The poem shows that religion is an important part of Christina Rossetti’s life and that the day she discovered her love for religion was like her birthday, a rebirth for her. Associating this to the title, the birthday she writes about is a symbol of the effect of her love for religion to her and not literally her birthday. To finally have a reason to live and celebrate a life full of love is a feeling worth sharing – through poem, through imagery, through a happy and well-lived life.

In my opinion, this poem was very captivating and interesting because of the comparisons used and the imagery applied in both octets. It certainly creates a vivid scene of a platform, full of images of wealth and nature. However, what I found particularly effective was the anaphora used in the first stanza. The readers are able to visualize the relationship of her love and the images she likened them to. Also, it allows the reader to understand the different facets to her love and the complexity of it. Hence, ‘A Birthday’ is, without doubt, a poem that I love and would recommend to others.

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A Birthday; Christina Rosetti – Analysis. (2017, Feb 04). Retrieved from


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