This poem, ‘A Dirge’, is not one of Christina Rossetti’s absolute classics, but a phrase from it has had a new lease of life in the last few years: J. K. Rowling borrowed ‘the cuckoo’s calling’ from the poem and used it as the title for one of her novels. As its title suggests, ‘A Dirge’ is a poem of mourning about a loved one who has died.
Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying.
Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
You should have died at the apples’ dropping,
When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
And all winds go sighing
For sweet things dying.
If you liked ‘A Dirge’, you can discover more of Christina Rossetti’s poetry here. For more about her life, we recommend our short and interesting biography of Christina Rossetti.