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Published: 25-09-2019

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An Understanding of Rossetti’s Methods and Concerns in “Promises Like Piecrust”

“Promises like Piecrust” by Christina Rossetti relates a narrative among a speaker and beloved in regards to the other’s romantic attraction towards the speaker. The title of the poem is taken from the expression ‘Promises are like pie crust, they are made to be broken’, likening the difficulty of keeping a guarantee to the fragility of pie crusts, a point that is easily broken. The title captures, in essence, the operating theme throughout this Rossetti poem, that promises, and perhaps individuals, are fragile and fleeting.

Rossetti structures the poem in an argumentative fashion, acting as a plea to the addressee of the poem. The steady seven-syllable meter reflecting the speaker’s stable emotional and mental state when presenting her argument against her beloved, painting the speaker as affordable and unencumbered by emotion. The alternating rhyme (ABAB/CDCD) is suggestive of a lack of mutuality among the two parties, with neither of them getting able to meet the other in terms of their wants in the connection. It suggests a sense of wavering in the speaker, who possibly is not as certain as she appears.The paradoxical opening line in the initial stanza of ‘Promise me no promises’ and the following line ‘So will I not promise you’ suggests the speaker wanting a non-committal partnership between the two parties, with the speaker somehow finding safety in the lack of safety due to the absence of promises between each and every other. The line ‘Keep we each our liberties,’ implies a higher require for independence on portion of the speaker who does not want to be bound to the beloved, which is some thing of an oddity in the Victorian era where marriage for a lady was a gateway towards economic safety, hence the speaker could be read as breaking free of charge of her patriarchal bonds as well. Alternatively it could also be study as the speaker setting the beloved cost-free from possible commitment to her, suggesting a feeling of unworthiness or inferiority, which is supported by the line ‘free to come and free to go’, with the repetition of the word free additional highlighting the speaker’s need for freedom from attachment, or freedom in common. The antithesis of ‘false’ and ‘true’ is coloured by the prefix of ‘never’, the negation representing the inability of either celebration to be in a position to emotionally affect the other if the beloved requires heed to the speaker’s earlier request in the first two lines. Additionally, the ‘die’ is symbolic of possibility, as a result of the danger that requirements to be undertaken in order any outcome in their connection, with the word ‘uncast’ shows that the speaker is unwilling to take that threat. The final two lines of the stanza start to create the theme of the unknowable previous of each the speaker and her beloved, for the line ‘for I can not know your past’ suggests that the beloved may be harbouring past secrets from the speaker. A common method of Rossetti would be her usage of rhetorical questions, which she makes use of to shroud her poems with a sense of intrigue and mystery, an instance of which would be in her poem ‘Winter: My Secret’. The usage of a rhetorical question in the final line (‘And of mine what can you know?’) would attain a comparable impact, drawing in readers to speculate on answers not freely provided. On the other hand, it could also be read as the speaker taunting the beloved, implying that he is unable to completely comprehend the speaker,

The second stanza is further development on the pasts of each the speaker and the beloved. An accusatory tone is levied against the beloved in the first line, especially if 1 were to read phrase ‘so warm’ as sarcastic. There is a trace of jealousy in the speaker in the line ‘warmer towards yet another one’, impliedly stating that the beloved was far more attentive and loving in a past partnership, therefore her jealous disposition possibly arising from a lack of clarity about her beloved’s faithfulness. Nonetheless, the usage of the word ‘may’ adds a degree of speculation towards the speaker’s recount of her beloved is passed, could possibly be indicative of some type of paranoia, possibly stemming from a sense of insecurity on the speaker’s component. Rossetti seems to further intensify the speculative aspect further in the stanza with the rhetorical query of ‘Who shall show us if it was/Thus certainly in time of old’, indicating the speaker herself is uncertain how the past relationships unfolded. Structurally, the very first and third line of the stanza is almost identical with the exact same rhythm and caesura placement, forming a mutual bond among the speaker and the beloved. Additionally. the antithesis of ‘You’ and ‘I’, as nicely as ‘warm’ and ‘cold’, can be inferred as the intrinsic, irreconcilable differences amongst the two, or their present emotional disposition towards every other. Offered the context, ‘Sunlight’ can be taken as a metaphor for a previous partnership of the speaker, although ‘felt the sun’ could be study as the speaker becoming a lot more passionate in the past compared to her ‘coldness’ in the present. Other than that, the repetition of ‘once have’ is representative of the speaker’s clear fixation on the previous, indicative of the speaker being unable to move on and perhaps is in a state of emotional limbo, as a result getting unable to appropriately commit herself to a new partnership. A juxtaposition of the previous and present adds credence to the speaker’s argument that the two parties should not be involved in a relationship with each and every other, for impliedly their previous relationships both ended even though they were apparently (according to the speaker) warmer and much more loving back then. Therefore, it is affordable to assume that if they were to enter a partnership with each other in their current states, it would be bound to finish in failure. The stanza ends with fading imagery, suggesting the unattainability of their relationship or the unpredictability of the future if they have been to involve themselves in one particular. Critic Jens Kiefer offers some intriguing insight on the usage of metaphorical imagery in the stanza, stating ‘Her approach of representing the previous as one thing that can be reconstructed only in the kind of allusions, for that reason looks suspiciously like an attempt to divert focus from her genuine cause for declining to enter into a romantic partnership: fear’. Alternatively, the usage of allusion could be representative the speaker clinging as well fondly to the past, getting unable to describe it in its entirety for fear of dragging old memories back to the surface.

The final stanza reintroduces the notion of promises and personal liberty, acting as a continuation of the theme from the 1st stanza. An antithesis of ‘you’ and ‘I’ echoes the earlier stanza, involving a parallel structure. Whilst the antithesis was earlier utilized to describe their emotional states in their previous relationships, here it serves as a warning from the speaker of the dangers if they were to ‘promise’ each and every other, which is euphemistic for the consequences emotional commitment towards every other. Commitment is in truth highly negatively slanted by the speaker, claiming that the beloved ‘might grieve for lost liberty’, with the alliteration seemingly emphasising her point, while the usage of the word ‘again’ could be referencing his previous connection, exactly where he in fact did express negativity towards his former commitment. The speaker also slants herself as becoming unable to commit, likening a connection to a ’chain’, as if treating it as a kind of imprisonment on her behalf. A reasonable argument is created by the speaker, taking into account the consequences a connection would have on the beloved and herself. It could also, even so, be deemed as irrational or overly pessimistic, as the speaker clearly focuses on the negatives of a connection and has small mention of the positives.

Rossetti’s poetry frequently paints love in a bleak nature, possibly stemming from her personal rejection of romantic advances, usually arising from religious variations among herself and the suitor, such as with the case of Charles Bagot Cayley, who she rejected due to agnostic beliefs. Nevertheless, remained lifelong friends. The thought of friendship is the driving force behind the final half of the final stanza, where reverting to this former state of their partnership (‘Let us be the close friends we have been,’) would let them to stay away from the sufferance of heartbreak. The line ‘Nothing far more but absolutely nothing less’ is structurally balanced due to the antithesis of ‘more’ and ‘less’, as a result friendship can be interpreted as a happy medium or compromise for the speaker and the beloved. A moralizing dimension is added to the final two lines of the poem The antithesis of ‘thrive’ and ‘perish’ as effectively as, and in connection to ‘frugal’ and ‘excess’ suggests that the speaker is speaking of a universal truth regarding the effects of adore on friendship, which is that it would lead to friendship to ‘perish’. Conversely, the speaker may well be generating one desperate, final plea towards the beloved in order to convince him at the frailty of an attempted relationship, or possibly even to convince herself.

“Promises like Piecrust” is a poem in which relationships are slanted as usually doomed to failure, with the continuous mention of liberty and an inability to uphold promises as probably indicative of a fear of providing up as well considerably in order to acquire seemingly marginal rewards. The difficult dance in between enjoy and friendship is as frequent now as it was then. On the basis of Rossetti’s verses, continual friendship is far better than a slice of short-term perfection.
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