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Woodspurge Analysis Essay

“The Woodspurge” is a sixteen-line poem divided into four-line stanzas that describe a grief-stricken narrator in an outdoor setting. In his depressed state, the narrator emotionally observes the details of the woodspurge, a species of weed that has a three-part blossom. The poem’s first stanza presents a countryside and begins to suggest the narrators’s state of mind. The narrator is not walking toward a specific destination; he moves in the direction the wind is blowing and once the wind ceases, he stops and sits in the grass. The fact that his walking and stopping are guided merely by the wind indicates aimlessness and passivity The narrator’s posture in the second stanza indicates that he feels exceedingly depressed. Sitting on the grass he is hunched over with his head between his knees. This shows that he is insecure.

His depression is so severe that he cannot even groan aloud or speak a word of grief. His head is cast down, as is his soul – so much that his hair is touching the grass. He remains in this position for an unknown length of time but long enough that he “heard the day pass”. In the third stanza, “My eyes, wide open, had the run” let the readers know about the sudden changes in his attitude. He finally accepts what had happened and knows that he has to move on. From his seated position, he says there are “ten weeds” that his eyes can “fix upon”. This reflect that he sees his problem and becomes aware of it. He realises that the “weeds” (his problem) are in his way and the hardiness of the “weeds” tells that the problem that he faced are hard to be rid of.

Out of that group, a flowering woodspurge captures his complete attention and he is dramatically impressed by the detail that it flowers as “three cups in one”. The narrator attributes his depressed state to “perfect grief” in the final stanza. He then comments that grief may not function to bring wisdom and may not even be remembered. He implies that he himself learned nothing from his grief that day and can no longer remember its cause. However, “One thing then learnt remains to me”: He had been visually overwhelmed by the shape of the woodspurge and consequently, its image and the fact that “The woodspurge has a cup of three” have been vividly burned into his memory forever.

Themes and Meanings

Although the cause of the narrator’s sorrow is never specified, the poem was written in the spring of 1856 when Rossetti was in an anguished state. He
was experiencing intense strife with Elizabeth Siddal over the issue of her desire for marriage. Rossetti was also tormented at that time about relationships with other women and what he perceived as lost of artistic opportunities. However, nothing in the poem points to these specific issues. By leaving the cause of the narrator’s depression unspecified, Rossetti gives universal expression to the psychological phenomenon of acute mental awareness and heightened sensation simultaneously with mental and emotional distress.

Although “The Woodspurge” has a plant’s name as its title, the poem does not have nature, or even the woodspurge itself, as its subject. Nature does play an indirect role in the poem, but it is not the focus here or in other works by Rossetti. Both in his painting and poetry, the function of nature is to act as a background for the presentation of human action and emotion. The depiction of details from nature is not meant to draw attention to nature itself but to mirror an inner experience. In conclusion, “The Woodspurge” is about the narrator’s grief and that an insignificant detail or image can remain vivid after emotional pain is forgotten. It concentrates on creating emotional effect, accuracy of detail and the use of nature as a framework for the expression of the mental and emotional state of the narrator.


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