Dante Gabriel Rossetti

(12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882 / London / England)

Broken Music

The mother will not turn, who thinks she hears
Her nursling's speech first grow articulate;
But breathless with averted eyes elate
She sits, with open lips and open ears,
That it may call her twice. 'Mid doubts and fears
Thus oft my soul has hearkened; till the song,
A central moan for days, at length found tongue,
And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears.

But now, whatever while the soul is fain
To list that wonted murmur, as it were
The speech-bound sea-shell's low importunate strain, -
No breath of song, thy voice alone is there,
O bitterly beloved! and all her gain
Is but the pang of unpermitted prayer.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003


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  • Rookie - 58 Points Brian Jani (6/19/2014 1:30:00 PM)

    Any person can find meaning and can relate to this poem, well penned indeed Mr Rossetti (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 10,094 Points * Sunprincess * (3/15/2014 7:50:00 AM)

    Thus oft my soul has hearkened; till the song,
    A central moan for days, at length found tongue,
    And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Carlos Echeverria (3/15/2012 11:07:00 AM)

    DGR shares his sorrow, grief, emptiness without a touch of self-pity...but only that his heart no longer sings. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Terence George Craddock (3/15/2010 9:50:00 AM)

    Thank you Fiona, that makes sense to me and I like your reasoning, suicide is considered one of the seven deadly sins, resulting in purgatory or hell, according to circumstances traditionally in the Roman Catholic Church. I am not sure how insanity effects that, an argument has been put forward that an insane mind is not guilty of suicide because of not being in a sane rational state of mind. I will seek expert advice on this, however I do believe in a merciful God, and many questions, will be answered soon enough. Rossetti himself suffered from mental strain following the harsh criticism of his paintings and later for exhuming his wife’s body, to retrieve the only complete copy of his poetry, which he originally had buried with her. A wonderfully intriguing poem, with deep possibilities of meaning. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (3/15/2010 6:51:00 AM)

    The charm of the first verse is in the way the mother does not turn to the child when it first speaks because she longs to hear it speak again.
    How is this echoed in the second verse? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Gone Away (3/15/2010 5:16:00 AM)

    Rossetti begins by desribing the elation felt by a mother when her infant's babble becomes articulate. 'Thus oft...' refers I think to the process the poet goes through when composing, conceiving the idea for a poem and turning it into 'sweet music', comparing this to a mother's love for their creation, their child. But now the only voice he hears is that of his bitterly beloved and so his music is broken. Rossetti wrote this poem after the death of his wife by laudanum overdose and a year previously the death of their still born daughter. Death by suicide was condemned by the church perhaps refering to the pang of unpermitted prayer? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 18 Points Joseph Poewhit (3/15/2010 4:23:00 AM)

    Deep poem, with a subtile message of birth calling to a higher power. From a mother with child, to mankind calling to GOD. All seem to seek the security of a higher security. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Terence George Craddock (3/15/2010 3:10:00 AM)

    Interesting comments, but they do not tell me anything about the meaning of the poem, and I am eager to learn your reading of the piece? ‘Very good once I deciphered the subtle message’, means it was not good until this clarity became obvious? And what is the subtle meaning? Maybe I missed it? To me, and other critics are free to disagree, the meaning seems to be...
    The sonnet ‘Broken Music’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti clearly and cleverly plays upon two different types of broken music within the poem. The octave is a happy broken music of exuberant expectation. The universal mother awaiting with excited expectations, the first articulate sounds of her baby is clearly expressed in the opening lines with ‘The mother will not turn, who thinks she hears/ Her nursling's speech first grow articulate; ’.The normal wondrous parenthood and family breathless, elated, waiting with open lips and ears are expressed accurately, and the secret fear 'Mid doubts and fears/ Thus oft my soul has hearkened’. The nagging worrying that something may be wrong, until the proof that all is well ‘till the song’ of normal healthy, developing speech sounds are heard.
    ‘And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears’ is the joy of the blessing of a healthy child, despite days crying when wanting to be fed. We agree funeral music, a dirge, is not sweet; and therefore the octave is joyful broken music.
    The sestet contrasts the turn with ‘But now’, leading to ‘The speech-bound sea-shell's low importunate strain, implying a metaphor for immediate attention and importunate requests for medical aid and the strain of a fatal illness? The seashell has no voice of its own, a metaphorical echo of sounds once heard is that is perhaps suggested. A ghost echo of expectations and a babies voice lost? ‘No breath of song’ appears symbolic of death, ‘thy voice alone is there’ suggests the mother with a stillborn birth, cot death or early infant death. ‘O bitterly beloved! and all her gain/ Is but the pang of unpermitted prayer’ reminds with the words ‘unpermitted prayer’ some beliefs that a stillborn baby never breathed and therefore never lived, thus the heart wrenching concept that the baby had no immortal soul. A dated belief of centuries past and still current in some sections of society. Child mortality in pregnancy and birth, and within a new days was far more common in this era as anyone checking death records will know. Or is it a heart broken parent who cannot pray? Other reading? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 459 Points Ramesh T A (3/15/2010 1:41:00 AM)

    In a ready posture mother sits to hear the nurslings voice, but is no more to receive the prayer! A most insightful poem to read! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie ... ... (12/12/2007 7:03:00 AM)

    I adore Dante's poems and arts, big fan of his works. He is the prince of the Pre-raphaelite botherhood. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Nicola burkett (3/15/2007 10:07:00 AM)

    Broken music sings to me.....Another fantastic gem from D.G........Thank you for being such an inspiration
    With love and respect R.I.P
    Nickie xx xx (Report) Reply

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