Rossetti’s “At Home” (1858) was originally titled “After the Picnic.” Her brother Dante Rossetti thought picnics were frivolous and insisted a change. Ms. Rossetti complied.
It’s known Rossetti composed the poem after attending a real June picnic with her friends, the Bell Scotts in Newcastle. It was not a happy one because she imagines a sad situation in which a woman is invisible to friends. Whatever the title, “At Home” shows Rossetti feeling isolated, unsure, and unloved.
On the other hand, Jan Marsh, a Rossetti biographer, thinks the poem “has nothing to do with picnics.” Georgina Battiscombe, whose English Picnics (1949) is a go-to book of its kind, omits mention of Rossetti’s poem, as does her biography Christina Rossetti: A Divided Life (1981). Florence Harrison’s illustration omits the picnic under the green orange tree boughs, too.
Featured Image: Florence Susan Harrison’s “At Home.” https://archive.org/stream/poemsrosse00ross#page/n347/mode/2up
See Christina Rossetti. Goblin Market and Other Poems (Macmillan: London 1862); Florence Harrison. Poems of Christina Rossetti. Blackie and Son: London, 1910; https://archive.org/stream/poemsrosse00ross#page/n347/mode/2up; Jan Marsh. Christina Rossetti: A Literary Biography. (London: Faber & Faber, 1994); Georgina Battiscombe. Christina Rossetti: A Divided Life. (New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1981); https://archive.org/stream/poemsrosse00ross#page/n347/mode/2up
When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house:
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange boughs;
From hand to hand they pushed the wine,
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach;
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
For each was loved of each.
I listened to their honest chat:
Said one: ‘To-morrow we shall be
Plod plod along the featureless sands,
And coasting miles and miles of sea.’
Said one: ‘Before the turn of tide
We will achieve the eyrie-seat.’
Said one: ‘To-morrow shall be like
To-day, but much more sweet.’
‘To-morrow,’ said they, strong with hope,
And dwelt upon the pleasant way:
‘To-morrow,’ cried they, one and all,
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon;
I, only I, had passed away:
‘To-morrow and to-day,’ they cried;
I was of yesterday.
I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the tablecloth;
I, all-forgotten, shivered, sad
To stay, and yet to part how loth:
I passed from the familiar room,
I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day.