Lines given with a Penwiper

I have compassion on the carpeting,
   And on your back I have compassion too.
The splendid Brussels web is suffering
   In the dimmed lustre of each glowing hue;
And you the everlasting altering
   Of your position with strange aches must rue.
Behold, I come the carpet to preserve,
And save your spine from a continual curve.

by Christina Rossett

Listen to the Poetry Centre’s Dr Dinah Roe read and discuss this poem.

This week’s poem by Christina Rossetti marks the beginning of ‘The Fiery Antidote’: our semester-long celebration both of Rossetti and of our colleague Dr Dinah Roe’s research about her and the Pre-Raphaelite movement in art and writing. 

We invite you to join us! Our first event is an online discussion group this Thursday (28 October) from 12-12.45pm when we’ll be looking at Rossetti’s poem ‘Shut Out’. You can sign up for the group and find out more about our events via this link. Everyone is very welcome to attend – all you need to do beforehand is read the poem, which you can find here.

Also this week we launch a new Poetry Centre initiative: monthly Instagram poetry prompts! Curated by Poetry Centre Interns Maleeha and Rhiannon, they are designed to spark inspiration. Write a poem in response to one or more of these prompts, which you can find on our Instagram page from 12pm today (Monday), and e-mail them to us ( by the end of the week. We’ll select the best and post them on Instagram next week!

‘Lines given with a Penwiper’ was composed on 20 November 1847, when Rossetti was a teenager and caring for her father. It was not published during Rossetti’s lifetime and is in the public domain. You can hear Dinah read the poem and discuss it here.

Born in London in 1830, Christina Rossetti was one of four children (her siblings included the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti). Some of her earliest poems were printed privately, but she also published in the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ. (You can find out more about the Pre-Raphaelites in Dinah’s essay on the British Library website and hear her discuss them in this video about a recent Ashmolean Museum exhibition.)

One of Rossetti’s most famous poems is ‘Goblin Market’, a long fairy tale-like piece that was first published in Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1862, the collection which made her name (despite critiques from figures like John Ruskin, who called the poet’s ‘irregular measures’ a ‘calamity of modern poetry’). You can read a commentary about ‘Goblin Market’ by Dinah on the British Library website.

Often inspired by her Christian faith, Rossetti’s subsequent work (in collections such as A Pageant and Other Poems and Verses) established her as a leading Victorian poet and also a poet for children (Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book).

After her death from cancer in 1894, her brother William Michael Rossetti collected many of her poems in The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti in 1904, but her complete poems were not published until Rebecca Crump published The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti (Louisiana State University Press, 1979-1990). Dinah is currently editing a new three-volume edition of The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti (Longman Annotated English Poets), due for publication in 2025.

Find out more about Dinah’s research on ‘The Fiery Antidote’ page.

Of the shortest day

What has survived is the belief
that water tastes best today;
the moon offers help through the dark. 

What has survived is the memory,
pullut-rice rolled between palms,
ballcakes in pandan-ginger syrup.

What has survived is the custom,
serving girls even pairs,
adding strength to their futures.

What has survived is the altar,
table lit by red candles,
joss paper burning in the iron pot.

What has survived is together
tasted on the tongue
as ancestors’ faces fade in frames.

by L. Kiew

This week we feature the last of three poems by poets who have appeared in the exciting online festival Poetics of Home – a Chinese Diaspora Poetry Festival which concludes tomorrow (5 October). The festival is co-ordinated by our Brookes colleague Dr Jennifer Wong, and is designed to connect and showcase the diverse works by established and emerging Anglophone poets writing across the Chinese diaspora. The final event, entitled ‘Women Who Write’, features Belle Ling, Tammy Ho, Cynthia Miller, and the Poetry Centre’s own Claire Cox. It is moderated by Jennifer Wong and takes place tomorrow (Tuesday 5 October), from 1-3pm BST. Although tickets are no longer available via Eventbrite, you can contact the organisers for more details of the Zoom link by visiting the Poetics of Home site.The festival is presented in collaboration with Wasafiri and the Institute of English Studies, with the support of the Lottery Fund from Arts Council England. For more details about the festival and to sign up for the events, visit the festival website.

‘Of the shortest day’ is copyright © L. Kiew, 2021. The poem first appeared in The Rialto, issue 95.L. Kiew is a Chinese-Malaysian living in London. She earns her living as an accountant. She holds a MSc in Creative Writing and Literary Studies from Edinburgh University. In 2017, L. Kiew took part in the Poetry School/London Parks and Gardens Trusts Mixed Borders Poets Residency Scheme and the Toast Poetry mentoring programme. She was shortlisted for the 2017 Primers mentoring and publication scheme and was a 2019/20 participant in the London Library Emerging Writers Programme.Her poems have been published in Butcher’s DogInk Sweat and TearsLighthouseObsessed with PipeworkTears in the FenceThe Scores and The North among other magazines and websites.L. Kiew’s collaboration with Michael Weston is included in Battalion, available from Sidekick Books. Her debut pamphlet The Unquiet was published by Offord Road Books in 2019. Find out more about L. Kiew’s work from her website and follow her on Twitter.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.