It amazes me that after all these years I can open The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Volume 2) and quickly find the poem I remember so well. This is ‘A Birthday’ by Christina Rossetti. It is, like so much of her output, full of memorable phrases. It’s the one that starts off…
“My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered shoot:”
…and ends with…
“Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.”
I always wondered about Christina. She had three male suitors and married none of them. It has been suggested this was because of her religious views. However, I wonder if there wasn’t something else at play here. Her brother’s illustration for the cover of one her most famous poems, Goblin Market, shows two women intimately entwined. In the poem, the women are sisters, but is there a subtext? Why did he choose this image to illustrate the cover?
Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti