Sunday, September 8, 2013

No future hope, no fear for evermore - Rossetti's "Prince's Progress" and more

“The Prince’s Progress,” the long narrative poem that leads off Christina Rossetti’s The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, begins (and continues, more or less) like this:

Till all sweet gums and juices flow,
Till the blossom of blossoms blow,
The long hours go and come and go,
    The bride she sleepeth, waketh, sleepeth,
Waiting for one whose coming is slow:–
        Hark! the bride weepeth.

Which is pretty good, even if I am not sure what the “blossom of blossoms” might be or why it would “blow,” aside from the alliteration.  The one who is slow is the Prince, whose Progress is not as steady as that of the Pilgrim.  He is caught up in the various distractions and sins that lay between him and his bride.  Being a Rossetti poem, the Prince is too late:

“You should have wept her yesterday,
    Wasting upon her bed:
But wherefore should you weep today
    That she is dead?”

The poem has some fine descriptions of the bizarre landscape the Prince must cross:

Some old volcanic upset must
Have rent the crust and blackened the crust;
Wrenched and ribbed it beneath its dust
    Above earth’s molten centre at seethe,
Heaved and heaped it by huge upthrust
        Of fire beneath.

Some bold word choices here, including the double “crust,” mirroring the “blossoms” of the first stanza.  The disadvantage of Rossetti’s landscape and the Prince’s quest is that it evokes Robert Browning’s strange and ambiguous “’Childe Roland to the Great Tower Came,’” one of the Greatest Poems in the Language.  Not the subject but the language evokes one of the other GpitLs, Rossetti’s own “Goblin Market,” published four years earlier:

She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.”

A children’s poem, this was for decades thought of as merely a charming children’s poem.

Rossetti had written a sonnet that strips off the fairy tale but otherwise seems to contain almost everything valuable about “The Prince’s Progress,” fourteen pages compressed into fourteen lines.  The poem dates from 1854 but for some reason was only published posthumously. 


It is a land with neither night nor day,
    Nor heat nor cold, nor any wind, nor rain,
    Nor hills nor valleys: but one even plain
Stretches through long unbroken miles away,
While through the sluggish air a twilight grey
    Broodeth: no moons or seasons wax and wane,
    No ebb and flow are there among the main,
No bud-time, no leaf-falling, there for aye:–
No ripple on the sea, no shifting sand,
    No beat of wings to stir the stagnant space:
No pulse of life through all the loveless land
And loveless sea; no trace of days before,
    No guarded home, no time-worn resting-place
No future hope, no fear for evermore.

I do not understand the title.  Maybe the Prince, or poet, is actually wandering around on a giant cobweb.  Rossetti might have made a fine fantasy novelist.


  1. You're not serious about not getting "Cobwebs?" The land described is clearly no-land, death, nothingness. The inside of a crypt, maybe. There is nothing there, nothing but cobwebs.

  2. Oh. Then the cobwebs are just Halloween stuff. Yeah, that is probably right. I am not sure if I was being too literal or not literal enough.

  3. Just found this and thought I'd give my insight. "Cobwebs" was written to describe perfect nothingness - "stagnant space" which cobwebs need in order to form. Beyond that if you couple it with her personal life, she was unable to bear children, which in the context and imagery of the poem lend to describe a barren womb. "Broodeth: no moons or seasons wax and wane" very feminine, paired with the last three lines, a sensation of lament is prominent.
    This is just my perspective, but prose tends to be abstract feelings one cannot always speak so bluntly.

  4. Thanks for the Rossetti interpretation. I realized I know almost nothing about Rossetti's personal life. I should read something.