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The Woodspurge. By Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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the woodspurge

The Woodspurge

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti

dante gabriel rossetti
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (12 May 1828 – 9 April 1882) was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. He was born in London to parents of Italian descent, the scholar Gabriel Rossetti and Frances Polidori. Originally named Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, he changed the order of his name to stress his kinship with the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri. He was the brother of the poet Christina Rossetti (who’s poem ‘The Birthday’ we will be studying this year), the critic William Michael Rossetti and the author Maria Francesca Rossetti.

rossetti s grief
Rossetti’s Grief

‘The Woodspurge’ was written in 1856 when Rossetti was 28. It is a sixteen-line poem divided into four stanzas of rhyming quatrains. Each line haseight syllables (iambic tetrameter).

The poem describes a grief-stricken narrator in an outdoor setting. Rossetti’s wife, Elizabeth Siddal, had died from overdose of laudanum (a type of opiate) whilst she was pregnant. In his depressed state, the narrator emotionally observes the details of the woodspurge.

john everett millais ophelia
John Everett Millais’ ‘Ophelia’

The model used for ‘Ophelia’ was

Elizabeth Siddal, Rossetti’s wife.

why woodspurge
Why Woodspurge?

Woodspurgeis considered a weed. It is native to woodland areas in Europe.

Despite the beauty of its

three-part blossom,

woodspurge is actually

poisonous, causing skin

irritation in many people.

the woodspurge1
The Woodspurge

The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,Shaken out dead from tree and hill:I had walked on at the wind's will, - I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was, - My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!My hair was over in the grass,My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the runOf some ten weeds to fix upon;Among those few, out of the sun,The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not beWisdom or even memory:One thing then learnt remains to me, - The woodspurge has a cup of three.



1: Who do you think is the narrator?

2: Is the poem actually about a woodspurge?

3: What do you notice about Rossetti’s use of diction?

4: What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?

5: Read the poem aloud and examine: what effect do the rhyme scheme, meter and punctuation have on the pace of ‘The Woodspurge’.

6: What is your initial impression regarding the tone of this poem?


Stanza One:

7: How is the wind described in the first stanza?

8: What language features can you find and what effect do they create?

Stanza Two:

9: What is the posture of the narrator in Stanza 2 and what might his position symbolise?

10: Look at the use of personal pronouns in this stanza; what effect do they have on the meaning and tone of the poem?

11:How long was the narrator sitting on the grass?


Stanza Three:

12. Why do you think the narrator’s eyes were ‘wide open’?

13. What are weeds like? Where do they grow?

14. What can weeds be likened to in this poem?

15: Comment on the impact of ‘flowered’. Compare it to the narrator’s feelings at this point.

Stanza Four:

16: What do you think woodspurge is a metaphor for?

17: If Rossetti were to continue to believe this metaphor , do you think it would help him to heal from his loss or grow bitter?


Create a PowerPoint marrying the words of Rossetti’s ‘The Woodspurge’ to collected images, exploring the vivid imagery of the poem.