Poem introduction

This poem has ebullience, a riddle-like quality, a surge of imagery and feeling. It’s full of images of fertility and growth. Her poem suggests an ecstasy, possibly a fragile ecstasy and maybe finally an inward unknowable one. She uses an unusual medieval word; ‘vair’, which is a type of silvery-grey squirrel fur, very rare and costly.

A Birthday

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water'd 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.


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Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti Downloads read by Helen Dunmore

1Cousin Kate


2A Birthday


3Promises like Pie-Crust


4When I am dead, my dearest


5Goblin Market