Alive (After Christina Rossetti’s “Sleeping At Last”)

One of the last poems that Christina Rossetti wrote (possibly her last; her brother, William Michael, is unclear about this) was the touchingly simple “Sleeping At Last”. Taking the subject of death, which has fascinated many poets from Donne to Dickinson, Rossetti presents death as sleep, a peaceful rest ending pain and beyond which lies great hope. That Rossetti would finish her career with such a poem is particularly poignant. It also happens to be one of my favourite poems of hers (and the inspiration for the name of one of my favourite musical artists) and so I am finishing my month of looking at her poetry with a response to a truly beautiful poem. Here it is, with Rossetti’s original poem included beneath.

Alive (After “Sleeping At Last”)
 
Alive: true life bursting from the tomb, forever
     Alive, the faithful, purified by faith, revived;
Green as day, fire as bright as life; come whatever:
               Finally alive.
 
     Old garments now new-woven with the thread of life,
A thread that death’s worst boasting cannot sever;
     Alive: bound fast, engrafted branches now will thrive.
 
Awake, alive: death’s sting a long-ago feather,
     Fading into soft memory as the dawn arrives.
Death’s rags gone, into the day they step, forever,
               Finally, alive.
 
 
Sleeping At Last – Christina Rossetti
 
Sleeping at last, the trouble and tumult over,
     Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past,
Cold and white, out of sight of friend and of lover,
               Sleeping at last.
 
     No more a tired heart downcast or overcast,
No more pangs that wring or shifting fears that hover,
     Sleeping at last in a dreamless sleep locked fast.
 
Fast asleep. Singing birds in their leafy cover
     Cannot wake her, nor shake her the gusty blast.
Under the purple thyme and the purple clover,
               Sleeping at last. 
 

4 thoughts on “Alive (After Christina Rossetti’s “Sleeping At Last”)

  1. Very good, and a very positive response to CGR poem; her form strikes me as being languid – appropriate to her poem. This is a bit of a constraint on yours, as your living subject seems to be infected by some of that languor still.
    Fascinating project.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, it can be challenging to translate the style and form of older poetry into new contexts. I personally find “Sleeping At Last” to be one of CGR’s least languid poems. The roundel form has always made it feel quite hopeful and light to me. Thanks for stopping by!

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