Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) was a Victorian poet who is known for her simple, lyrical work. She published poems in the feminist periodicals The English Woman’s Journal and Victoria Magazine, as well as in various other anthologies. Today her poetry is regarded as some of the most beautiful and innovative of the period. Critical interest in Rossetti’s poetry was renewed in the last decades of the twentieth century, a resurgence largely generated by the emergence of feminist criticism. Her work strongly influenced the work of writers such as Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Jennings, and Philip Larkin. Critic Basil de Selincourt stated that she was “all but our greatest woman poet…incomparably our greatest craftswoman…probably in the first twelve of the masters of English verse.” Rossetti’s Christmas poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” became widely known after her death when it was set as a Christmas carol, first by Gustav Holst and then by Harold Darke. Her poem “Love Came Down at Christmas” has also been widely arranged as a carol.
“A Christmas Carol”
by Christina Rosetti
The Shepherds had an Angel,
The Wise Men had a star,
But what have I, a little child,
To guide me home from far,
Where glad stars sing together
And singing angels are?
Those Shepherds through the lonely night
Sat watching by their sheep,
Until they saw the heavenly host
Who neither tire nor sleep,
All singing “Glory, glory,”
In festival they keep.
The Wise Men left their country
To journey morn by morn,
With gold and frankincense and myrrh,
Because the Lord was born:
God sent a star to guide them
And sent a dream to warn.
My life is like their journey,
Their star is like God’s book;
I must be like those good Wise Men
With heavenward heart and look:
But shall I give no gifts to God?—
What precious gifts they took!
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What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.