Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) came from a well known literary and artistic family. Her father, Gabriele Rossetti, in political exile in England, was a professor of Italian at King’s College in London. Her brothers Dante Gabriel and William Michael were among the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which gave birth to the 19th Century English art movement of the same name. The Pre-Raphaelites, for whom Christina was a frequent model, also included Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown, John Everett Millais, William Morris, John Ruskin and James McNeill Whistler.
Rossetti’s Christmas poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” became widely known after her death when set as a Christmas carol first by Gustav Holst, and then by Harold Darke. Her poem “Love Came Down at Christmas” (1885) has also been widely arranged as a carol.
In the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.
Our God, heav’n cannot hold him nor earth sustain;
Heav’n and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter a stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty Jesus Christ.
Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him whom angels fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air:
But only his mother in her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved with a kiss.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him – give him my heart.