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Historical Figures, IV

July 12, 2012

Christina Rossetti, poet

Perhaps most famous for her penning of the perennial Christmas favourite, In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rossetti was born in London in 1830 into a literary-artistic family that included her brothers Dante Gabriel (painter and poet), William (writer), and sister Maria (Writer). She became an early champion of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Her religious and devotional life influenced not only her writings but also her personal affairs (she rejected one engagement and two further marriage offers, all on religious grounds: she could bring herself to marry neither Roman Catholics nor agnostics) and her devotion to charity work (advocacy for anti-animal cruelty and abolition of American slavery, and support of and work with refuge homes for former prostitues).

Under the (let us NOT forget) Trial-Use collection-expansion of ECUSA’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts, the unfortunately-named Holy Women, Holy Men, we find a commemoration for April 27 that not only seems Meet and Right, but also includes a Collect which (1) is actually a Collect, and (2) is not only Decently Writ, but also puts the focus where it is due1:

O God, whom heaven cannot hold, who didst inspire Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poetry: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Rossetti served as the model for a number of her brother Dante Gabriel’s paintings, including this one of the Annunciation.

I HAVE no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
 (A Better Resurrection, 1862)

1. i.e., it is a prayer to God, not a hagiography-in-miniature of the person in question.  It acknowledges the commemorated’s “holiness” as flowing from God, and invokes God’s aid in similarly inspiring us to that selfsame holiness.

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