A Student Response to C. Rossetti

This week’s readings by the great Christina Rossetti really stood out to me based upon their stylistic choices and relations to modern day lyricists. ‘Echo’ and ‘Remember’ specifically shine a light on the feelings of love and loss. Similarly, in modern music we have a variety of songwriters that discuss these topics. The one that stood out to me most was Taylor Swift. I know, I know, how could Taylor Swift compare to Rossetti? Well, the ever growing themes of heartbreak whether it be from death, or the loss of a partner are a constant presence in our society and they will not be going anywhere, anytime soon. Though this is a non-conventional take on a comparison, I could not help but draw parallels between the two the first time reading Rossetti’s poems. This is a carefree comparison between the two that I just found interesting.

So, Taylor Swift, the girl who just cannot seem to catch a break. Her songwriting has won her multiple awards such as Grammy and Emmy awards, propelling her to stardom over the last ten years. Whether you like it or not, Taylor Swift is the biggest star of this generation. You may be asking, what does Taylor Swift have to do with any of this? Well, not only is she a songwriter, she is also a poet. In early December 2017, Swift published a piece written for Vogue magazine where even they compared her style to Rossetti. The piece, titled “The Trick to Holding On” continues her narrative of loss and learning to deal with the obstacles life keeps throwing at her. Although the subject matter is not the same between Swift’s piece and ‘Echo,’ their style choices reflect a similar speech. In Rossetti’s ‘Echo,’ she starts the poem off by stating:

Come to me in the silence of the night;

Come in the speaking silence of a dream;

Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright

As sunlight on a stream;

Come back in tears (1-5)

 

The repetition of the word “come” forces the reader to emphasize it when reading aloud, and sets the tone for the poem. Rossetti writes of a lost love, with come being the word chosen to represent her longing for him/her. In Swift’s poem, her first stanza is written almost exactly the same:

Let go of the ones who hurt you,

Let go of the ones you outgrow,

Let go of the words they hurl your way,

As you’re walking out the door. (1-4)

Both writers use repetition in the first few lines to draw the reader in. Though Swift speaks of letting go, and Rossetti of longing the poems form the same sense of self within the reader. Simplistic language and the use of staccato, the rhyme scheme, and the amount of syllables per line are almost too similar. Rossetti uses staccato throughout Echo; it seems rough, but from my perspective it was used in a way to signify a demand rather than begging. Swift also uses this technique to create a more influential statement. Their rhyme schemes are almost exactly the same throughout the entire poems starting with one line, and rhyming it with the third line, second with fourth, and so on. Rossetti uses this pattern frequently and it has become a staple in her pieces, as well as Swift in her poems and her songs.

Swift also draws a lot of influence from Rossetti’s writing styles in her songs. Her song “Come Back… Be Here” from her Red album has strong ties to the patterns and subject matters discussed in ‘Echo.’ Even the title draws influence as it is a direct reference to the line in Echo “Come back, in tears”. Swift stated in an interview that she draws inspiration from many poets and previous songwriters, mentioning Rossetti as one of her many influences. If you needed any more proof that Rossetti has strongly impacted Swift’s writings, “Back to December” a song from her Speak Now album, closely resembles the subject matter of Rossetti’s piece “Remember.” Back to December speaks about the sudden realization that one wants what they have lost, and they are giving the person permission to return to their side. Remember discusses another lost love of Rossetti’s, they were planning a future together but they fell apart. “Remember,” has a line towards the end;

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had.” (9-12)

These lines speak about how all of the good times they once shared are now only a memory. Swift’s has a similar tone in Back to December in the lines,

Maybe this is wishful thinking,

Probably mindless dreaming,

But if we loved again, I swear I’d love you right,

I’d go back in time and change it, but I can’t.” (36-39)

If we notice in both passages the elements of a rhyme scheme are almost forgotten, give or take a few lines. This creates a free verse type of writing. Both writers switch from a consistent rhyme scheme in the first stanza/verse into a free verse style which is unique to their writings. Obviously, Rossetti did it first and Taylor has used her examples to shape her own style.

In conclusion, Rossetti’s personal writing traits and style have translated immensely into modern culture in examples such as Taylor Swift’s songwriting. Her reoccurring themes of love and longing have grown into a standard of today’s culture and Swift represents this at the highest level. Christina Rossetti creates thought provoking imagery and topics in her writings. I wouldn’t have even noticed the similarities if they weren’t so strong the first time reading Rossetti’s poetry. When comparing her to modern day influencers, it is clear that they share similar styles of writing.  Her influence is present in more modern media than you would expect, and she changed the game for female feminist poets and writers throughout the Victorian era.

 

4 thoughts on “A Student Response to C. Rossetti

  1. This is a fascinating comparison! Often modern culture likes to downplay the writing talents of pop stars. It is wonderful that poetry still has an impact in modern life, and learning about Christina Rossetti’s influence on Taylor Swift inspires more of an appreciation for her work than I previously had.

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  2. This is a really interesting comparison that I had not thought of, but now that you mention it I can see the parallel! This is well worded and has a strong argument. Poor Taylor never catches a break and we see this not only though her lyrics but also through some of the audience’s commentary. Like Swift’s, Rossetti’s writing provides an interesting commentary on women what I see as a critique of Victorian gender norms, and I wonder if a Victorian audience had similar opinions about Rossetti’s work as modern audiences do about Swift’s.

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  3. This is a fascinating comparison between Christina Rossetti and Taylor Swift. I agree that Christina Rossetti’s poems are very relatable to a modern audience, especially her poems on loss and death. As the saying goes: the only certain things in life are death and taxes. Death and loss are such universal topics, and Rossetti in particular has a way with words that speaks to the echoing cavern of loss most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. I am not as familiar with Taylor Swift’s music, but it is fascinating how Rossetti has influenced Swift’s lyrics. I am now compelled to check out some of Swift’s music now that I know she has drawn from a poet I have come to admire.
    Thanks for your insights.

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  4. What an incredible comparison! I never would’ve thought about comparing Taylor Swift to Rossetti like this or even made the connection between the two. It’s intriguing to see how much influence Rossetti had on modern artists such as Taylor Swift. It kind of makes me want to figure out if there are more artists that take a similar style or direct influence from Rossetti’s poetry.

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