‘Decayed Branches from a Strong Stem’: Rossetti’s Keatsian Heritage

  • Dinah Roe


William Michael Rossetti writes of his younger sister, ‘In poetry she was (need I say it?) capable of appreciating what is really good; and yet her affections, if not her perceptions, in poetry, were severely restricted’ (Memoir lxix). For Christina Rossetti, the effect of ‘what is really good’ in Romantic poetry was allowed to germinate before the Pre-Raphaelite influence, and, arguably, before the Tractarian influence. Although Rossetti’s religious feeling restricted her affections for certain poems, William Michael notes that her ‘perceptions’, that is, her critical faculties, remained intact. In other words, Rossetti was, despite her religious restrictions, capable of critically separating, to an extent, the issue of morality from artistic merit, as her response to the Romantics illustrates. The young Rossetti’s discovery of Romantic poetry runs alongside her developing Anglo-Catholicism, while her writerly experiments take place within the nascent Pre-Raphaelite movement. Her work of this period struggles to extract a Tractarian ‘subtle virtue’ from a Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite ‘cup of curious dyes’. Rossetti effects this alchemy by reading the Romantics through the Tractarians, whose poetry reworked the Romantic sense of nature’s relationship to the human imagination to imbue it with transcendent, explicitly Christian meaning.1 What Rossetti learned from the Romantics concerns the power of the imagination, its relationship to the self, and a sense of the vital and organic importance of poetry.


Male Figure Decayed Branch Romantic Poet Poetical Work Withered Leaf 
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    For a discussion of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s role in the artistic and commercial rehabilitation of Keats in nineteenth-century art, see Sarah Wooton’s essay, ‘Ghastly Visualities: Keats and Victorian Art,’ in The Influence and Anxiety of the British Romantics, ed. Sharon Ruston (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999), pp. 159–80.Google Scholar
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© Dinah Roe 2007

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  • Dinah Roe

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