»  Christina Rossetti's "A Birthday"


A Birthday

by Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1830-1894


•  Background

This poem first appeared in 1861, and was included the following year in Christina Rossetti's book Goblin Market. The object of the love so beautifully expressed here is not known. The most probable candidate is pre-Raphaelite painter James Collinson, to whom the poet was engaged until 1850, when she broke with him for religious reasons. She was a rather intense Anglo-Catholic; Collinson left the Anglican church in that year to return to his original Roman Catholicism. These things mattered tremendously at that time. John Newman had been accepted into the Roman Catholic church just five years earlier.


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•  Text of the poem

My heart is like a singing bird
    Whose nest is in a watered shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
    Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
    That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
    Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;
    Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves, and pomegranates,
    And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
    In leaves, and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
    Is come, my love is come to me.