My Sister's Sleep

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882
She fell asleep on Christmas Eve:
         At length the long-ungranted shade
         Of weary eyelids overweigh'd
The pain nought else might yet relieve.

Our mother, who had lean'd all day
         Over the bed from chime to chime,
         Then rais'd herself for the first time,
And as she sat her down, did pray.

Her little work-table was spread
         With work to finish. For the glare
         Made by her candle, she had care
To work some distance from the bed.

Without, there was a cold moon up,
         Of winter radiance sheer and thin;
         The hollow halo it was in
Was like an icy crystal cup.

Through the small room, with subtle sound
         Of flame, by vents the fireshine drove
         And redden'd. In its dim alcove
The mirror shed a clearness round.

I had been sitting up some nights,
         And my tired mind felt weak and blank;
         Like a sharp strengthening wine it drank
The stillness and the broken lights.

Twelve struck. That sound, by dwindling years
         Heard in each hour, crept off; and then
         The ruffled silence spread again,
Like water that a pebble stirs.

Our mother rose from where she sat:
         Her needles, as she laid them down,
         Met lightly, and her silken gown
Settled: no other noise than that.

"Glory unto the Newly Born!"
         So, as said angels, she did say;
         Because we were in Christmas Day,
Though it would still be long till morn.

Just then in the room over us
         There was a pushing back of chairs,
         As some who had sat unawares
So late, now heard the hour, and rose.

With anxious softly-stepping haste
         Our mother went where Margaret lay,
         Fearing the sounds o'erhead—should they
Have broken her long watch'd-for rest!

She stoop'd an instant, calm, and turn'd;
         But suddenly turn'd back again;
         And all her features seem'd in pain
With woe, and her eyes gaz'd and yearn'd.

For my part, I but hid my face,
         And held my breath, and spoke no word:
         There was none spoken; but I heard
The silence for a little space.

Our mother bow'd herself and wept:
         And both my arms fell, and I said,
         "God knows I knew that she was dead."
And there, all white, my sister slept.

Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn
         A little after twelve o'clock
         We said, ere the first quarter struck,
   "Christ's blessing on the newly born!"

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Poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828–1882

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Religion, Living, Nature, Relationships, Winter, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Imagery

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Biography

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born 12 May 1828 in London, the second child and eldest son of Italian expatriates. His father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a Dante scholar, who had been exiled from Naples for writing poetry in support of the Neapolitan Constitution of 1819. Rossetti’s mother had trained as a governess and supervised her children's early education. Few Victorian families were as gifted as the Rossettis: the oldest child, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Religion, Living, Nature, Relationships, Winter, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Imagery

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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