“Tread softly! All the earth is holy ground.”
Every Christmas, I listen to In the Bleak Mid-Winter, never realizing the connection to Art Nouveau and the Pre-Raphaelites. That is, until recently. Dante Rossetti’s kid sister, Christina, wrote the poem which was set as a Christmas carol by Gustav Holst and then by Harold Darke.
Christina arrived on December 5, 1830 to parents connected to the art world. Her father, Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, born in Vasto, Abruzzo, Italy, was a poet who immigrated to England as a political refugee because of his support for the Italian revolutionary nationalism. Her mother, Frances Polidori was the sister of John William Polidori, the friend and physician of Lord Byron. The Rossetti union produced four children: Dante, the poet and artist, William and Maria, the writers, and Christina the poet.
The Rossetti children were rather unusual by any standard. Their educational background and connection with visiting Italian scholars, artists and revolutionaries, allowed them to explore fresh ideas and integrate them within their artistic accomplishments. Christina’s studies included visits the London Zoo and Madam Tussuads as well as a rigorous academic schedule that included the works of:
- John Keats (Romantic poet along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley),
- Sir Walter Scott, (Scottish historical novelist who wrote Ivanhoe)
- Ann Radcliff (the pioneer of Gothic novel)
- Matthew Gregory Lewis (nicknamed “Monk” after his classic Gothic novel, The Monk).
- Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy)
Christina’s gift for poetry was encouraged by the works of those that came before. She repaid this legacy by inspiring others that came after. She influenced the writings of Virginia Woolf, Gerard Hopkins, Philip Larkin and Elizabeth Jennings.
There is more to the story…but that comes later…
“Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their head,
The wind is passing by.”