“I loved you first” – A poem by Christina Rosetti

Context:  Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems. Her brother was the famous pre-rapahel painter Dante Rosetti. Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father, who had her study religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and would have a deep impact on Rossetti’s later writing.

Themes: Love and becoming one with the one you love despite any other problem. The narrator isn’t foolish. Pay attention to the lines: “I loved and guessed at you, you construed me And loved me for what might or might not be – Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong. For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’” Take time to notice the words “free love” in the poem. What do you think it means? Pay attention to Rosetti’s own time and society. Her literary circle are the pre-Raphaelites. Who were they? And how did they define love? 

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I  loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.

Sonnet 43 – A poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Context: E.B Browning (1806-1861) was a poet within the Romantic tradition. She was born in England, but her poetry became famous in both England and the US. This poem was published in Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and published first during 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets. This poem was written in 1845 and is one of her most wellknown poems. As a person she was very shy and needed her husband to convince her publish them. She also thought her verse was too private. Elizabeth’s work had a major influence on prominent writers of the day, including the American poets Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. 

Themes: Love is the major theme. Much of Barrett Browning’s work carries a religious theme. She had read and studied such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.


“Last Lines”- A Poem by Emily Brontë

Context: Emily Brontë (1818-1848) was a writer and poet and known for her novel Wuthering Heights which has been regarded as one of the finest novels in British literature. She wrote under the pseudonym Ellis Bell – the very first letter of Ellis corresponded to the first letter in her own name. All Brontë-sisters used male pseudonyms as their works went published. Emily is one of the more mysterious sisters and we don’t know much about her life. She was the second child born to clergyman Patrick and Maria Brontë in Western Yorkshire.

The deaths of their mother (cancer), and then of their two older sisters marked the siblings profoundly and influenced their writing, as did the relative isolation in which they were raised. After the death of the mother the oldest children including Emily was sent to Clergy Daughters’ School and they became abused in the English Schoolssytem there and exposed to unsanitary conditions which destroyed their health. When a typhoid epidemic swept the school, Maria and Elizabeth caught it. Maria, who may actually have had tuberculosis, was sent home, where she died.

Most of the siblings likely caught TB from each other. Charlotte Brontë would incorporate most of the siblings experiences at Clergy Daughters School in her novel Jane Eyre. The father eventually took the children out of the school. The three remaining sisters and their brother Patrick Branwell were thereafter educated at home by their father and aunt. Despite the lack of formal education, Emily and her sisters had access to a wide range of published material; favourites included Sir Walter Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Blackwood’s Magazine. Together with her sister Anne Brontë she developed a shared fantasy life and wrote stories about a place called Gondal; a fictionalized island. Wuthering Heights (1847)1 was her only novel and she died a year after its publication. She was 30.

As an adult Emily Brontë was shy and not very social. She perfered the company of animals instead of people. She didn’t travel much and as the rest of her family she was plagued by ill health. Her poetry was likely composed to fit in her novellistic saga Gondal which she developed together with one of the other sisters. “Last Lines” is mentioned by literary-critic Harold Bloom as one of the best poems ever written in the English language.2 It was written in 1837 and consists of four stanzas. Death is the major theme in this poem.

Themes:Death, sorrow, departure, nature, time, love

I die but when the grave shall press
The heart so long endeared to thee
When earthly cares no more distress
And earthly joys are nought to me

Weep not, but think that I have past
Before thee o’er a sea of gloom
Have anchored safe and rest at last
Where tears and mourning cannot come

‘Tis I should weep to leave thee here
On the dark Ocean sailing drear
With storms around and fears before
And no kind light to point the shore

But long or short though life may be
‘Tis nothing to eternity
We part below to meet on high
Where blissful ages never die

Sources

wikipedia.org

Emily_Brontë_by_Patrick_Branwell_Brontë_restored
Emily Brontë, a paining by her brother Branwell (source: wikipedia).

  1. Wuthering Heights’s violence and passion led the Victorian public and many early reviewers to think that it had been written by a man. Although a letter from her publisher indicates that Emily had begun to write a second novel, the manuscript has never been found. Perhaps Emily, or a member of her family, eventually destroyed the manuscript, if it existed, when she was prevented by illness from completing it. (wikipedia.org) 
  2. I credit the blog “The Floating Library” for providing a comprehensive list of poetry which has been analyzed by Harold Bloom.