What Would I Give
By Christina Rossetti
What would I give for a heart of flesh to warm me through,
Instead of this heart of stone ice–cold whatever I do!
Hard and cold and small, of all hearts the worst of all.
What would I give for words, if only words would come!
But now in my misery my spirit has fallen dumb.
O merry friends, go your own way, I have never a word to say.
What would I give for tears! Not smiles but scalding tears,
To wash the black mark clean, and to thaw the frost of years,
To wash the stain ingrain, and to make me clean again.
Christina Rossetti is the Queen of Melancholia; she suffered from lifelong illness of one form or another, which can sometimes lead one to think that she was either psychologically consumed by that virulent Victorian ailment which we now term “Yuppie Flu” or Chronic Fatigue Symptom, or was indeed the victim of interminable sickness. In short, one of life`s medical martyrs who poured her emotional and sexual frustrations into poetry of the most incredible individual uniqueness and quality. It is said that Florence Nightingale once took to her bed and stayed there for the remaining, long duration of her life, holding court, distributing advice and pearls of wisdom to her visiting admirers. Such was the Victorian way of things; it was not deemed unusual for a genteel lady of means to become suddenly too weak to sustain the interminable, tiresome daily round and hurly burly of pressing the flesh and circulating amongst the community of one`s peers.
Whatever Christina`s circumstances, she stayed in the place where she had been educated and brought up, the warm, safe and loving bosom of her family home, surrounded by relatives and friends who came to visit, and cluck and coo over her young, tender and fragile beauty. It was a very good way of gaining some much needed attention for herself instead of it being syphoned off by other famous members of the family; and any future husband`s loss, turned out to be our great, and priceless gain, because she channeled her angst and melancholia into some of the most sublime poetry ever written in the English language.
Christina became enamored of the Tractarian religious tradition in the 1840`s, so fashionable among the Victorian chattering classes, but retained her Anglican evangelical seriousness; and much of her work reflects a calm, controlled liturgical environment. Her religious beliefs reflected a perverse psychological element; not only did she give up chess because she enjoyed winning too much, I`m almost surprised she didn`t give up breathing because it gave her life. But it doesn`t matter what God you worship, or how He is worshipped to bear witness to the deep spirituality which flows like a turbulent, golden river of simple, but profound and righteous devotion through her words.
She is always looking for redemption of one kind or another; never feeling herself truly worthy of love – or of finding anyone truly worthy of her love…..“To wash the black mark clean…….to make me clean again.” She writes from the heart; a heart which looks upon life with unrequited love, for did not God give her a strong and passionate heart within a body too weak to sustain it? Christina died of cancer on December 29th, 1894 after a life of passing acquaintance with angina and possibly T.B., and this that and the other.
Her flesh was ultimately found too weak to warm her troubled heart.
“What would I give for a heart of flesh to warm me through…..”