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A BirthdayBy Christina Rossetti

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Halcyon – idyllic, calm
Dais – platform
Down – soft feathers
Vair – squirrel fur
Eyes – i.e. the circles in a peacock’s tail
Fleurs-de-lys – three-petalled flowers

Introductory Activity
As this is a sensory poem, copy the poem onto a blank document and choose a suitable fonts and colours for it. Illustrate it with pictures and materials to convey the tactile nature of the poem.

Questions to guide reading of the poem
  • Why does Rossetti refer to her ‘heart’ in the first stanza and not herself (I)?
  • Explore the comparisons (similes) Rossetti makes with her heart in the first stanza (see similes sheet):
Comments on effect created
Singing bird / Whose nest in is a watered shoot

Apple tree / Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit

Rainbow shell / that paddles in a halcyon sea

  • Rossetti then states that her heart is ‘gladder than all these’. What does this comparative tell you about the strength of her feelings?
  • Sketch the dais of the second stanza and label it. What do you think Rossetti is suggesting about her feelings towards her ‘love’?
  • What do all of the images she uses in her poem have in common? Do they have any symbolic value? How might this be relevant to the poem?
  • How does the tone of the second stanza change? How is this achieved?
  • Find and highlight examples of anaphora. On post-it notes, explain the use Rossetti makes of anaphora in the poem.
  • Find examples of rhyme. On post-its, explain the use Rossetti makes of rhyme in the poem.
  • What comments can you make about the use of punctuation?
  • Why do you think Rossetti describe her love’s coming as a ‘birthday’?
  • Who or what could her love be?

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Biography of Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)
  • An important 19th century female poet (romantic, devotional and children’s poems)
  • Wrote the words to the Christmas carol In the Bleak Midwinter
  • Educated at home
  • Sister of poet / painter Dante Gabriel
  • A secluded life; punctuated by periods of illness
  • Devout Christian; she broke off a relationship with Charles Cayley when she ‘found he was not Christian’; She even gave up chess when she found she enjoyed winning!
  • Died unmarried

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