Rossetti's 'The Woodspurge'


In September, 1848, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and others founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, whose artistic goal was a return to simplicity, presenting nature directly, with faithfulness and attention to detail, but with spiritual resonance. They were harking back to a time when the world resonated with spiritual power, before it was split into rational and spiritual dimensions during the Renaissance. Their name was derived from the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael, who personified a departure from this simplicity for the group who desired to return to the bright colours and direct emotional effect visible in pre-Renaissance paintings, though the group wanted to apply the same principle to poetry as well as to painting: poems were to be constructed from a simplicity of imagery, syntax and diction, focusing on sense perception but with an emotional resonance.

Rossetti’s poem, ‘The Woodspurge’, was written in the spring of 1856 when Rossetti was experiencing emotional turmoil regarding relationships with women. But ‘The Woodspurge’ leaves the cause of the poet-narrator’s depression unspecified, thereby broadening its expression of mental and emotional distress.

The Woodspurge

The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,

Shaken out dead from tree and hill:

I had walked on at the wind's will,

I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,

My lips, drawn in said not Alas!

My hair was over in the grass,

My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run

Of some ten weeds to fix upon;

Among those few, out of the sun,

The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.