By Dinah Roe (auth.)
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Extra resources for Christina Rossetti’s Faithful Imagination: The Devotional Poetry and Prose
Real Things Unseen’: The Tractarian Influence 27 In the third stanza, the poet returns to the Matthew and Luke’s lilies. Consider The lilies that do neither spin nor toil, Yet are most fair: — What profits all this care And all this coil? (11–15) The lilies are here returned to the redemptive aspect of their New Testament context, where they are a symbol of God’s care for his people. Rossetti reiterates the New Testament philosophy of trust in a benevolent God; lines 14 and 15 are a rephrasing of Luke 12:29: ‘And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind’.
The stanza reconsiders the lilies through the perspective of the Old Testament, emphasizing not so much that they are looked after by God, but that they will die. The tone here echoes Ecclesiastes’ somber musings on the inevitability of death, only hinting at Matthew and Luke’s promise of salvation through Christ. It is as if Rossetti has sown the New Testament lilies in Old Testament ground, in a poetic re-imagining of a world not yet touched by the redemptive hand of Christ. Her allusion to Isaiah has to do with the same kind of typological reading that allows the stanza to shuttle back and forth between the Old and New Testament understanding of mortality.
Chapter 9 comes to a similar conclusion as ‘“Consider the Lilies of the Field”’ about the connection of all living things to God: For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them. (9: 1, emphasis mine) Once Ecclesiastes uses the wisdom of his heart, he begins to understand better the workings of the divine and his place within the divine plan.