Christmas poetry – “Christmastide” by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was a Christian poet during the Victorian age. She was the sister of the pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here is a poem she wrote about Christmas.

By Christina Rossetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

This poem an interesting structure. The pattern of 4/3 feet is very common like, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me.” This poem does the opposite with a 3/4 foot verse structure.

Each stanza has two of these verses sets. The first line of each of these sets is not necessarily rhymed with the first of the next one, but the second of each set is rhymed with the second of the next one. For example, in the last stanza “token” does not rhyme with “men,” but “mine” rhymes with “sign.” Note, in the first stanza the first line is repeated again as the third line. One way the first and third lines are matched each other is in each stanza the first word is the same for each of these; for example, in stanza two both lines one and three start with “Worship.”

This poem also has a different rhythm scheme than previous ones we have put up here. The previous ones have tended to be iambic (De-dum); this one is trochaic (Dum-de); the stress is on the first syllable here. Also, the first and third lines end with a feminine foot (without a stress) while the second and fourth lines of each stanza end with a stress or masculine foot. (This also shortens the second and fourth lines by one stress making the difference them longer by only one stress. This may be a way the poet was able to make this flipped line length work.)

In stanza one, God is called “Love“ and is connected with the double sign of angels and the star at his birth. This fits with the biblical teaching that “God is love“ (I John 4:8) and the signs given in the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke.

In stanza two, we worship God, but what is our sign?

Stanza three answers this question, the double sign of our love of God and all men. The Apostle John wrote that our love for each other shows that the Father has sent Jesus (John 17:21) and that we are his disciples (John 13:35). This is what Francis Schaeffer later wrote about in his little book, “The Mark of a Christian.“ Truth can be proclaimed through both poetry and apologetics.

Again, analysis of a poem is done to better understand it and enjoy it. The poem is the thing.