Christina Rossetti's Christmas Poetry

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Posted 16th January 2019

Christina Rossetti's Christmas Poetry

Salma Sams

I have always loved the carol, 'In the Bleak Midwinter', adapted from a poem written by the extraordinary Victorian poet, Christina Rossetti (1830-94), whose connection with visual art is currently celebrated in the exhibition, Christina Rossetti: Vision and Verse, at Watts Gallery - Artists' Village until 17th March 2019.

The exhibition draws together paintings, illustrations, works on paper and photography. Previously, I must admit that I was only vaguely aware that Rossetti had written 'In the Bleak Midwinter', which I must have sung many times. My focus is always to get the music right! I believe that this year, with Rossetti's poetry enthralling me, I saw 'In the Bleak' with new eyes. Two musical arrangements were created, one by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and the other by Harold Darke (1888-1976). I sang Darke's version with our church choir at the Candlelight Service and beautiful it was too. The words correlate perfectly with both musical arrangements but, secretly, I prefer Darke's version. Absorb the words carefully as they highlight how the whole Christmas story was staged by ordinary people and how we, as mere mortals, can relate to the themes.

In the end, Rossetti followed me around this Christmas as I also sang the carol lullaby, 'Love Came Down at Christmas' with the Surrey Heath Singers, all 70 strong of us, based in Camberley. We have been going for 35 years and give three - four concerts a year, plus engage in much outreach work. 'Love Came Down', with music by Gordon Lawson, was more complicated than we first envisaged but so warm and poignant, continuing Rossetti's theme of the true meaning of Christmas. I will never forget who wrote these wonderful carols for us all to enjoy for evermore.

I hesitate to add that I even heard Christina Rossetti's poetry mentioned in one of the Vicar of Dibley repeats during the Christmas schedule!

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Christina Rossetti: Vision & Verse

An exploration of the celebrated Victorian poet's significant connection with visual art


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