Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and Painting for Good Friday

The Shadow of Death by William Holman Hunt

The Shadow of Death by William Holman Hunt


Christina Rossetti is one of my favorite poets.  Her poetry exudes a mixture of piety, sadness, feminism and philosophy.  Without trying to sound like a martyr, I relate to her renunciatory mentality:  that selflessness may not be an enjoyable state on Earth, but could help ensure a greater reward after death.   I felt this essay about her poem “Good Friday” is befitting of the day. Besides, I like scholastic articles and the Pre-Raphaelites.
From: The Victorian Web:

In Chapter I, Section I of “Typological Interpretation in the Victorian Period,” George P. Landow states that the Evangelical branch of English Protestantism sought to attain an emotional, imaginative connection with Christ. Such a connection allowed the believer to “recognize his own innate depravity and then both project himself imaginatively into his Saviour’s agonies and feel their saving effect upon himself.” The sympathetic projection of the reader onto a character in literature seems akin to that of believer onto the object of his belief in Evangelical practice. A desired end product, in both religious and literary sympathetic projection, is catharsis — transporting the reader or believer into a vicarious experience that then directs the emotions to attain a more pure truth.

Interestingly, the High Church Christina Rossetti, who was definitely not an Evangelical, laments her inability to forge such a rich experience with Christ in “Good Friday.” She first sets up a double image that reflects the contradictions of her emotional limitations:

Am I a stone and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop
Thy blood’s slow loss And yet not weep?

She then demonstrates (in both form and content) how her coldness separates her from the deep grief of biblical and cosmological forces:

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in the starless sky,v A horror of great darkness at broad noon — I, only I.

The final stanza gives a hopeful foreshadowing of future emotional break-through. Rossetti elucidates the initial contradiction between sheep and rock by referencing two methods of representing Christ. He is present as a symbol — the shepherd of the flock — and a type — Moses, who made water spring from rock during the Israelites journey out of Egypt.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more,
And smite a rock.


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