Episode 23: Dinah Roe

Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice - Study of Dante holding the Hand of Love
Image of 'Dante's Dream at the Time of the Death of Beatrice - Study of Dante holding the Hand of Love' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust, licensed under CC0.

This latest episode marks something of a departure for the Poetry Centre podcast. If you’re a regular or just occasional listener to this podcast, you’ll know that it normally features a poet in conversation about two or three of their poems. This episode is the first of a series in which Niall Munro talks with colleagues at Oxford Brookes University and showcases some of the very exciting research that they have been doing into poets and poetry.

As well as the work we do with our poetry press, our international poetry competition, workshops, and our Weekly Poem, one of the remits of the Poetry Centre is to share some of the research happening at the university more widely, and there is some terrific work being done here, work that challenges our understanding of well-known poets and poetic movements but also draws attention to both neglected and new work that compels our attention.

We encourage you to take a look at our research pages on the Brookes website and see what we’re all exploring right now. My colleagues and I often give talks about our research at academic conferences but also at public talks, on TV and radio, and you can track many of us down on social media, especially Twitter, where you can find us individually and follow our English Twitter account: @BrookesEnglish

In this podcast, Niall Munro talks with Dr Dinah Roe, Reader in Nineteenth-Century Literature here at Oxford Brookes. Dinah is an expert on Christina Rossetti, Victorian poetry, and the Pre-Raphaelites. During this past semester Dinah has run discussion groups and contributed an introduction to a Weekly Poem featuring Rossetti’s work that you can still find on our website, and we’re releasing this podcast on Sunday 5 December - Christina Rossetti’s birthday.

In Niall's discussion with Dinah, we focus on three poems by Rossetti: 'The heart knoweth its own bitterness', 'Love understands the mystery', and ‘Goblin Market’ and explore how Dinah came to be interested in Rossetti, the poet’s reputation, and the place of religion in Rossetti’s work. We also consider how Dinah’s view of Rossetti has changed during her time working with her poetry and prose and in the course of writing a book about her family, and how Rossetti’s experience as a carer affected her writing.

Dinah received her BA from Vassar College and a PhD in English Literature from University College London. She is the author of Christina Rossetti's Faithful Imagination: The Devotional Poetry and Prose (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) and The Rossettis in Wonderland: A Victorian Family History (Haus, 2011), and the editor of Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 2008) and The Pre-Raphaelites: From Rossetti to Ruskin (Penguin Classics, 2010).

Dinah has appeared on various television and radio programmes to discuss Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites, and has collaborated with museums and galleries, such as in her discussion of 'The Lady of Shalott' for the National Gallery Exhibition, Reflections, and in her entries on 'Goblin Market' and The Pre-Raphaelites on the British Library's Discovering Literature website. Recently, Dinah discussed the Pre-Raphaelite artists in a film about the Ashmolean Museum Exhibition Pre-Raphaelite Drawings and Watercolours. During the pandemic lockdown in the UK, Dinah invited listeners to read along with her as she discussed Christina Rossetti's 1885 book Time Flies: A Reading Diary, and you can listen to the series via SoundCloud. In 2019, she appeared on Lucy Worsley’s Christmas Carol Odyssey to talk about Rossetti’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (or better known now as ‘In the bleak mid-winter’), which you can watch again on BBC4 on 13 December.

Dinah is currently writing a monograph on the interactions of literary and visual arts in Pre-Raphaelite art, taking into account the influence of nineteenth-century literature on book illustration, painting and the decorative arts from 1848 to the turn of the century. She is also editing a three-volume edition of The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti (Longman Annotated English Poets), due for publication in 2025. You can find out more about Dinah's work on her profile page on the Brookes website, and follow her on Twitter.

I hope you enjoy the podcast - do get in touch if you have questions or want to let us know what you think. You can e-mail me directly from the Poetry Centre website or find the Poetry Centre on social media - Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram - we’re @brookespoetry Thank you for listening!

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.

'The heart knoweth its own bitterness'

When all the over-work of life
   Is finished once, and fast asleep
We swerve no more beneath the knife
   But taste that silence cool and deep;
Forgetful of the highways rough,
   Forgetful of the thorny scourge,
   Forgetful of the tossing surge,
Then shall we find it is enough?

How can we say "enough" on earth; 
   "Enough" with such a craving heart: 
I have not found it since my birth,
   But still have bartered part for part.
I have not held and hugged the whole,
   But paid the old to gain the new; 
   Much have I paid, yet much is due,
Till I am beggared sense and soul.

I used to labour, used to strive
   For pleasure with a restless will:
Now if I save my soul alive
   All else what matters, good or ill?
I used to dream alone, to plan
   Unspoken hopes and days to come:--
   Of all my past this is the sum: 
I will not lean on child of man.

To give, to give, not to receive, 
   I long to pour myself, my soul. 
Not to keep back or count or leave,
   But king with king to give the whole: 
I long for one to stir my deep--
   I have had enough of help and gift--
   I long for one to search and sift
Myself, to take myself and keep.

You scratch my surface with your pin; 
   You stroke me smooth with hushing breath;--
Nay pierce, nay probe, nay dig within,
   Probe my quick core and sound my depth.
You call me with a puny call,
   You talk, you smile, you nothing do; 
   How should I spend my heart on you,
My heart that so outweighs you all?

Your vessels are by much too strait; 
   Were I to pour, you could not hold, 
Bear with me: I must bear to wait,
   A fountain sealed through heat and cold.
Bear with me days or months or years; 
   Deep must call deep until the end
   When friend shall no more envy friend
Nor vex his friend at unawares.

Not in this world of hope deferred,
   This world of perishable stuff;--
Eye hath not seen nor ear hath heard,
   Nor heart conceived that full "enough":
Here moans the separating sea,
   Here harvests fail, here breaks the heart; 
   There God shall join and no man part,
I full of Christ and Christ of me.

'Judge nothing before the time'

Love understands the mystery, whereof
   We can but spell a surface history:
Love knows, remembers: let us trust in Love:
   Love understands the mystery.

   Love weighs the event, the long pre-history,
Measures the depth beneath, the height above,
   The mystery, with the ante-mystery.

To love and to be grieved befits a dove
   Silently telling her bead-history:
Trust all to Love, be patient and approve:
   Love understands the mystery.