POETICAL EXCURSION #6
“Uphill”, by Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894).
Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow, dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you waiting at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
:: This poem, seemingly a series of questions by a traveler and the answers by one who has traveled, is a lovely and moving meditation on death and its relation to life. Each answer given by the secondary speaker builds on the sense of inevitability that the young traveler must reach this particular destination — in fact, he cannot avoid it: You cannot miss that inn. More interesting, though, than this sense of the inevitability of death is the sense that death is not to be feared; we are instead to find comfort and solace in death. Rossetti employs imagery throughout the poem implying that death is a welcome refuge after a long, hard journey. It is the world that is to be feared and turned from, in the end. Death will provide a roof and an inn, and there will be comradery in the welcome we find by Those who have gone before. Life, Rossetti tells us, is a long journey, lasting From morn to night, and death is not an end to be feared but a rest to be earned and welcomed. The juxtaposition of fatalism and optimism fascinates.
Another interesting question about this work is: Who is the second speaker, the person giving the answers? At first glance, we suspect someone old and weary at life, precisely the kind of person who would welcome death. But there are another possibilities: that the Answerer is actually himself one of the dead, who is telling someone soon to die not to be fearful. Or perhaps it is even God, seeking to reassure a fearful worshipper.
(NOTE: I’ve added permalinks at left to the other Poetical Excursions, and I am planning to do these more than once per month. The composer Robert Schumann once wrote that young musicians should “read industriously from the poets”; this is something that I am trying to do. Reading poetry shows us what wonders are possible in language.)