My Sister's Sleep

Original Text: 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poems (London: Ellis and White, 1881). end R677 A155 1881 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2      At length the long-ungranted shade
3      Of weary eyelids overweigh'd
4The pain nought else might yet relieve.
5Our mother, who had lean'd all day
6      Over the bed from chime to chime,
7      Then rais'd herself for the first time,
8And as she sat her down, did pray.
9Her little work-table was spread
10      With work to finish. For the glare
11      Made by her candle, she had care
12To work some distance from the bed.
13Without, there was a cold moon up,
14      Of winter radiance sheer and thin;
15      The hollow halo it was in
16Was like an icy crystal cup.
17Through the small room, with subtle sound
18      Of flame, by vents the fireshine drove
19      And redden'd. In its dim alcove
20The mirror shed a clearness round.
21I had been sitting up some nights,
22      And my tired mind felt weak and blank;
23      Like a sharp strengthening wine it drank
24The stillness and the broken lights.
25Twelve struck. That sound, by dwindling years
26      Heard in each hour, crept off; and then
27      The ruffled silence spread again,
28Like water that a pebble stirs.
29Our mother rose from where she sat:
30      Her needles, as she laid them down,
31      Met lightly, and her silken gown
32Settled: no other noise than that.
33"Glory unto the Newly Born!"
34      So, as said angels, she did say;
35      Because we were in Christmas Day,
36Though it would still be long till morn.
37Just then in the room over us
38      There was a pushing back of chairs,
39      As some who had sat unawares
40So late, now heard the hour, and rose.
41With anxious softly-stepping haste
42      Our mother went where Margaret lay,
43      Fearing the sounds o'erhead--should they
44Have broken her long watch'd-for rest!
45She stoop'd an instant, calm, and turn'd;
46      But suddenly turn'd back again;
47      And all her features seem'd in pain
48With woe, and her eyes gaz'd and yearn'd.
49For my part, I but hid my face,
50      And held my breath, and spoke no word:
51      There was none spoken; but I heard
52The silence for a little space.
53Our mother bow'd herself and wept:
54      And both my arms fell, and I said,
55      "God knows I knew that she was dead."
56And there, all white, my sister slept.
57Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn
58      A little after twelve o'clock
59      We said, ere the first quarter struck,
60  "Christ's blessing on the newly born!"


1] Written in 1847, expanded for publication in the first issue of the Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ, January 1850, and further revised before the publication of Rossetti's volume, Poems, 1870. The stanza form employed here was made famous by Tennyson's In Memoriam, published four months after "My Sister's Sleep" appeared in The Germ. The poem has no basis in the circumstances of Rossetti's life. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The Germ (Jan. 1850)
RPO poem Editors: 
Margaret Frances (Sister St. Francis) Nims
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.262.