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Christina Rossetti

My secret

Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet speaks about her secret. Perhaps she has a secret which nobody can see, perhaps she doesn't. Either way, she is not going to tell.

Secrets are like articles of clothing, she says, or the door of a house. Clothing and doors serve a purpose: to protect the person from the wind, rain and snow. So do secrets protect one. Perhaps she may eventually allow a guess, although she may still not reveal the secret.


Christina Rossetti was born in London in 1830, one of four children of Italian parents. Her father was the poet Gabriele Rossetti while her brother was Dante Gabriel Rossetti who is famous as one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists.

Christina was the youngest of the siblings and had a lively intellectual mind, dictating her first story to her mother before she had even learned to write.

She was educated at home and studied religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. She was surrounded at a very early age by the work of the great scholars and artists and, with her father being both a revolutionary and a poet (he was a political exile from Italy), she met many of the visiting Italian scholars, artists and revolutionaries.

In the 1840s, her family faced a severe financial crisis because of her father's deteriorating physical and mental health. In 1843, he was diagnosed with persistent bronchitis (possibly tuberculosis) and also faced going blind. He gave up his teaching at King's College and, though he lived another 11 years, he suffered from depression and was never physically well again.

Christina's mother began teaching in order to keep the family out of poverty. Her siblings were also forced to leave home to find work, leaving the teenaged Christina to a life of increasing isolation.

She suffered from nervous stress at age 14, and then depression followed afterwards. It was during this period that religious devotion came to play a major role in her life. She had three offers of marriage from distinguished artists while she was in her late teens but turned them all down on religious grounds.

Christina sat as the model for several of her brother's most famous paintings, e.g. as the Virgin Mary in The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and again in his depiction of the Annunciation in Ecce Ancilla Domini ("Behold, the handmaid of the Lord").

Her early poems were mostly imitations of her favourite poets but in her late teens she began experimenting with verse forms, while drawing narratives from the Bible, from folk tales and from the lives of the saints.

Her early pieces often featured meditations on death and loss. Her first two poems ("Death's Chill Between" and "Heart's Chill Between"), were published when she was 18.

When she was about 20, she contributed seven poems to the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ under the pseudonym "Ellen Alleyne".

Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862 when she was 31. It received widespread critical praise, establishing her as the main female poet of her time.

In the later part of her life, Christina suffered from Graves Disease which is a thyroid disorder. In 1893 she also developed breast cancer and, though the tumour was removed, she suffered a recurrence in 1894. She died in December that year. She was 64 years of age.

Christina Rossetti is increasingly being reconsidered a major Victorian poet, compared to the great American poet Emily Dickinson.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Would you like to comment on the structure of this poem? (10)

[Need help?]

"I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you're too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only my secret's mine, and I won't tell."
  • If you were to read this verse out loud, what tone of voice would you use? Why? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Will the poet ever divulge her secret? (2)

[Need help?]

  • The poet gives two reasons why she will not reveal her secret. What are they? (4)

[Need help?]

"Or, after all, perhaps there's none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun"
  • What point is the poet making in these three lines? (4)

[Need help?]

"Today's a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro' my hall"
  • What does the poet mean when she says "Today's a nipping day, a biting day; | In which one wants a shawl, | A veil, a cloak, and other wraps"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What do "shawl", "veil" and "cloak" have in common? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What would the difference be between a "nipping day" and a "biting day" day? (4)

[Need help?]

  • The poet uses a different image when she says, "I cannot ope to everyone who taps". Explain what this is. (4)

[Need help?]

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