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.