Analysis of ‘A Birthday’, by Christina Rossetti:
In marked contrast to her other love poems, A Birthday by Christina Rossetti, is an exuberant poem that celebrates a fulfilled love that brings great joy. In a series of brilliant and densely beautiful comparisons, the poet says that her heart is full. It is like a singing bird, an apple bough laden with fruit, a rainbow that bridges the sky. Nay, her heart is “gladder than all these”. It is as though she has run out of similes. In the second stanza, she demands that she be made a dais richly decorated with “silk and down”, with carvings of “doves and pomegranates” (all symbols of romance and luxury) worked with images of peacocks and silver fleur-de-lys or lilies, that symbol of purity, because this day she is reborn as her love is coming to her.
The main subject of the poem is the unadulterated joy the poet feels as her true love is coming to her. She feels that she is coming alive once again; so this is a birthday – her second birth:
“Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.”
The purpose of this poem is to celebrate the pure joy the poet feels; her heart is brimming with happiness that is knows no bounds. Her love is coming to her and she compares her heart to several symbols of nature, like a singing bird, a bough dense with ripening fruit and a perfect rainbow that bridges two ends of the sky.
This is a poem that is surcharged with emotions. There is an ecstatic outpouring of joy at the coming of the poet’s love. The poet considers this emotional fulfilment a rebirth. That is why it is referred to as her birthday. Through a series of comparisons, the poet declares that she is suffused with happiness.
“My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;”
Technique / Craftsmanship
There is a sense of suspense created by the poet by reserving the lines on the birthday till the very last line. The poem moves away in the second stanza from descriptions of nature which though bountiful are all mutable. The descriptions in the second stanza are of more permanent structures. There is debate on the words “Raise me”. It could mean “resurrect” or “build”.
This poem consists of two octaves of 8 lines each. The first one talks about the joy she feels at this emotional fulfillment. The whole of the first octave is set outdoors. The second octave is about the ceremonial stage that she wants made to celebrate this love. These two symmetrically structured stanzas create perfect unity.
The poem, A Birthday stands out from the other love poems that Christina Rossetti wrote by the exuberant joy they depict. Here Rossetti chooses words that are so intensely lyrical that they produce musical tones. By repeating the words “My heart is like” several times, she is emphasizing the almost unbelievable joy that she seems to be experiencing.
The whole poem is a string of images capturing beauty, fullness and fulfillment seen in nature. In the second stanza, similes turn into metaphors and more complicated images. The work of art she describes is elaborately wrought with images of “doves and pomegranates, peacocks with a hundred eyes, gold and silver grapes, leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys”.
Movement / Rhythm
The rhyme scheme goes thus – the second and fourth lines of both stanzas rhyme, the same with the sixth and eighth lines. The poet employs iambs where the second syllable of the two syllable pairs is stressed. This has such natural rhythm that when read, the poem feels propelled forward in a rush of speed. This is perfect for the highly excited tone of this poem.
There is innate music in the words used to construct A Birthday. The rhyme scheme used and the iambs used rushes the reader along a breathless merry-go round of emotion. Unlike the rest of Rossetti’s poems, there are only highs here. The images are so cheerful suggesting fullness and joy.
Figures of Speech
The poet starts off using similes, one after the other. The first octave has identical beginnings, but there the similarity ends. The poet runs from one simile to another in one breathless movement. The second stanza deals in a series of metaphors “And peacocks with a hundred eyes” referring to the patterns on the tail feathers, but the biggest metaphor of all is “the birthday of my life” referring to the rebirth on the day the love comes to visit.