Up-Hill to Dream Land – Christina Rosetti

by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

While I’ve been on vacation, I’ve had the luxury of reading through some of my favorite poems.  Because I have a thing for jump rope rhymes, nursery rhymes and children’s poetry in general, I’ve always loved Christina Rosetti’s work (especially “Goblin Market.”) Like Yeats’ “The Stolen Child”, Rosetti’s “Up-hill” has a dark subtext overlaid with a cheerful, musical language. The A/B/A/B rhyming pattern – the A being a question and the B an answer – creates a sort of dueling melody that also implies a conversation between two people. Rosetti use of negative space – that we never see the speakers – makes the two voices seem other worldly. (For a great example of this, read Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners.”) One speaker asks “Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?” and the other speaker (B) answers “Those who have gone before.”

By this point in the poem I (the reader) perceives a metaphor is at work – the “inn” lies beyond the land of the living. Rosetti uses particular words – “resting place,” “wayfarers,” “travel-sore and weak” that suggest the travelers are coming alone, in the dark and on their own two feet, or, life’s final journey. The last line of the poem, “Yea, beds for all who come,” carries the metaphor to the very end.  Also, I like the tight formality of “Up-hill” – four stanzas, four lines, A/B/A/B rhyme scheme, etc. Like jump rope rhymes, the child-like musical rhythm conceals the darker subtext of the poem. Although, this is more the case in “Goblin Market.”)

Another poem I love of Rosetti’s is “Dream Land.” In fact I loved this poem so much when I first read it, I wrote a “found poem” based on it (with allusions to “Goblin Market”) called “Queen of the Rubbish Heap.”

Dream Land
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Where sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep,
She sleeps a charmèd sleep:
Awake her not.
Led by a single star,
She came from very far
To seek where shadows are
Her pleasant lot.
She left the rosy morn,
She left the fields of corn,
For twilight cold and lorn
And water springs.
Through sleep, as through a veil,
She sees the sky look pale,
And hears the nightingale
That sadly sings.
Rest, rest, a perfect rest
Shed over brow and breast;
Her face is toward the west,
The purple land.
She cannot see the grain
Ripening on hill and plain;
She cannot feel the rain
Upon her hand.
Rest, rest, for evermore
Upon a mossy shore;
Rest, rest at the heart’s core
Till time shall cease:
Sleep that no pain shall wake;
Night that no morn shall break
Till joy shall overtake
Her perfect peace.

by Lisa Summers

Once I was Queen of the Rubbish Heap.
I found the words sunless rivers weep
Their waves into the deep
Etched on wave-worn seagreen glass,
Lost in blades of dry brown grass
Where she’d slept a secret charméd sleep

Now I am here in her rosy morn;
Among her fields of planted corn
I hear footsteps of her phantom feet
Along forgotten lanes of mossy peat

That led the way through barb and thorn
Tho Sadness was her sweet nightingale
Joy was passing through her veil
And Quietness was her purple land
Where she’d written with her snow-white hand
To all the Goblin Market men: We here are not for sale.

(based on Christina Rossetti’s poems “Dreamland” and “Goblin Market”)


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