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A Short Analysis of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Sonnets Are Full of Love’

A little-known poem about a mother’s love

Christina Rossetti (1830-94) wrote many sonnets, so it should come as little surprise that, like Keats and Wordsworth before her, she wrote what we might call a ‘meta-sonnet’, about the virtues and values of the sonnet. Here, Rossetti focuses on the ‘first Love’ in her life, her mother.

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honoured name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

Rossetti’s poem is a variation on the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet, in that its second quatrain is not an enclosed rhyme (abba) but instead offers alternate rhymes (baba). The sonnet, in full, rhymes abbababacdeecd. This variation frees the sonnet from its shackles of courtly love – and occurs, incidentally, at the point in the sonnet when the focus becomes clear: this is not a poem about sexual desire or unconsummated longing, but the unconditional, reciprocated love of a mother for her daughter, and vice versa: ‘And so because you love me, and because / I love you, Mother…’

We’ve remarked elsewhere that Rossetti’s poetry often utilises repetition – almost flat, redundant repetition – which has an almost deliberately anticlimactic effect on the poem. She puts this to good use here, as the first quatrain brings us back to sonnets, love, and the heart several times:

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home

‘Sonnets are full of love’ is sentimental even by Rossetti’s standards (although elsewhere she avoids lapsing into out-and-out sentimentality), but it’s a poem which celebrates the ever-giving love of the mother for her child, so it’s difficult to see how it could avoid being so in the hands of Victorian poetry’s greatest poet of sentiment.

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Posted on February 17, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I love these lines:
     I have woven a wreath
    Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honoured name:
    Mothers are our first love…

  2. The more I read of her work, the bigger the fan I become. Christina Rossetti is a fine poet and like Eliz Bishop, she’s a great influence.

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