The Woodspurge, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Analysis, Summary, Themes

"The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a poignant and introspective poem that captures a moment of stillness and reflection in nature. The speaker describes a scene where the wind has calmed, and they find themselves sitting amidst the quietude. With their forehead between their knees, the speaker remains silent and contemplative. As their eyes wander, they fixate on a woodspurge flower, a delicate blossom with three cups. The poem suggests that from a state of profound grief, there can emerge a simple and enduring truth—the woodspurge's three-cupped flower serves as a symbol of this lasting realization.

The Woodspurge Poem Text

The wind flapp'd loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk'd on at the wind's will,—
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower'd, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

Critical Analysis

"The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a poem that invites critical analysis due to its compact structure and symbolic imagery. Through careful examination of its themes, language, and form, we can uncover deeper layers of meaning and interpret the poet's intentions.

One prominent theme in the poem is the exploration of grief. The speaker's physical posture, with their forehead between their knees and their lips drawn in, suggests a state of sorrow or despair. The stillness of the wind and the detached observation of the surroundings further contribute to a sense of melancholy and introspection. The woodspurge flower, with its three cups in one, serves as a poignant symbol in relation to grief. It may represent the complexity and multiplicity of emotions that can arise from loss or sorrow. The speaker's assertion that wisdom or memory is not necessary in perfect grief suggests that the experience of profound sorrow can transcend intellectual understanding.

Nature also plays a significant role in the poem. The wind, trees, hill, grass, and weeds all contribute to the atmosphere and setting. The wind, initially chaotic and then still, mirrors the speaker's emotional journey and creates a sense of contrast and tension. The observation of the woodspurge among the weeds highlights the beauty and resilience of nature, even in the face of human suffering. This juxtaposition may suggest that finding solace in nature can offer a means of coping with grief or provide a perspective beyond the individual's sorrow.

In terms of form, the poem consists of four quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The regularity of the rhyme scheme and the consistent use of iambic tetrameter contribute to a sense of rhythm and harmony. However, the enjambment and caesuras within lines disrupt the flow and create pauses, enhancing the contemplative tone of the poem. The brevity of the lines and stanzas also contributes to the overall sense of conciseness and intensity, allowing the poet to convey profound emotions and ideas in a compact space.

Rossetti's use of imagery in "The Woodspurge" is particularly noteworthy. The vivid descriptions of the wind, the speaker's physical position, and the woodspurge itself evoke a strong sensory experience for the reader. The imagery effectively captures the speaker's internal state and creates a vivid mental landscape. The repetition of the phrase "three cups in one" emphasizes the uniqueness and significance of the woodspurge, drawing the reader's attention to its symbolic meaning.

"The Woodspurge" is a thought-provoking poem that explores themes of grief, nature, and the power of observation. Through its concise structure, evocative imagery, and careful use of language, the poem invites readers to reflect on the complexities of human emotions and the potential for solace and insight in the natural world. Its open-ended nature allows for multiple interpretations, making it a rich subject for critical analysis and discussion.

Summary of the Woodspurge

  • Persona is in deep depression and describes a surreal world, talking about a rare herb; the woodspurge
  • Setting: Nature/Countryside
  • Part 1: Driven by the Wind

    In the first stanza, the speaker describes being propelled through nature by the wind. The wind is initially loose and chaotic, causing the trees and hills to shake. The speaker walks, seemingly without purpose or direction, allowing the wind to guide their movements. They surrender their agency to the whims of the wind, emphasizing a lack of control and a sense of being at the mercy of external forces.

    Part 2: Physical Position and Emotional State

    In the second stanza, the speaker paints a vivid image of their physical position and emotional state. They sit down and adopt a posture of introspection and despair, with their forehead placed between their knees. This position conveys a sense of surrender and vulnerability, suggesting a deep emotional turmoil or grief. Their lips are drawn in tightly, signifying the suppression of words and a stifling of their inner anguish. The physicality of this stance underscores the intensity of their emotional experience.

    Part 3: Observing Nature's Details

    The third stanza shifts the focus to the speaker's observation of the natural world around them. With their hair lying in the grass, the speaker becomes attuned to their immediate environment. They notice the passing of the day through their naked ears, suggesting a heightened awareness of time and the transient nature of existence. The speaker's wide-open eyes survey the scene, and their gaze settles on a cluster of weeds. Amidst this cluster, the woodspurge flower stands out, capturing their attention. The woodspurge is described as having three cups in one, emphasizing its unique and distinctive nature among the surrounding weeds. This observation becomes a focal point, symbolizing a moment of clarity and significance within the speaker's contemplation.

    Part 4: Enigmatic Revelation

    In the final stanza, the speaker reflects on their experience and the meaning they derive from it. They assert that perfect grief does not necessitate wisdom or memory, suggesting that the depth of their sorrow transcends intellectual understanding. The woodspurge, with its three cups in one, becomes a catalyst for a profound realization or revelation. Although the exact nature of this insight remains enigmatic and open to interpretation, it hints at a deeper truth or faith that defies rational comprehension. The woodspurge, with its symbolic presence, becomes a source of solace or a glimpse into a higher understanding beyond the speaker's immediate circumstances.

    About Poet

  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti: English poet, illustrator, painter, and translator.
  • Founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an influential artistic and literary movement.
  • Known for his sensuality and medieval revivalism in art.
  • Paintings characterized by vibrant colors, intricate details, and depictions of women.
  • Poetic themes include love, beauty, spirituality, and intense emotions.
  • "The Woodspurge" exemplifies Rossetti's style and themes.
  • Poem explores nature, grief, and the significance of simple observations.
  • Vivid imagery and symbolism evoke a contemplative atmosphere.
  • Emphasizes the power of nature to provide solace and insight.
  • Rossetti's work remains influential in the Victorian era and beyond.

    Themes in Woodspurge Poem

    The themes in "The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti include:

    1. Nature: The poem explores the relationship between humans and the natural world. Nature is depicted as a powerful force, guiding the speaker's movements and providing a backdrop for their contemplation. The woodspurge flower serves as a symbol of beauty and resilience within the natural environment.
    2. Grief and Sorrow: The poem delves into themes of grief and sorrow. The speaker's physical position and their silent despair suggest a deep emotional turmoil. The woodspurge, with its three cups in one, may represent the complexity of emotions associated with loss and the search for solace.
    3. Observation and Contemplation: The poem highlights the significance of observation and contemplation in finding meaning and insight. The speaker's attentive gaze and fixation on the woodspurge amidst the weeds symbolize the power of keen observation to uncover beauty and profound truths.
    4. Transcendence: The poem hints at the possibility of transcendence beyond the limitations of rational understanding. The woodspurge's enigmatic presence and the speaker's realization from the encounter suggest a deeper truth or faith that goes beyond intellectual comprehension.
    5. Solitude and Stillness: The poem evokes a sense of solitude and stillness, providing a space for introspection and reflection. The wind's stillness and the speaker's stationary position emphasize a moment of respite and the opportunity for inner contemplation.

    "The Woodspurge" explores themes of nature, grief, introspection, transcendence, and the power of observation. It invites readers to reflect on the complexities of human emotions and the potential for finding solace and meaning within the natural world.

    Stylistic Analysis

    Stylistically, "The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti showcases the poet's mastery of concise yet evocative language. The poem consists of four quatrains with an ABAB rhyme scheme, contributing to its rhythmic flow. Rossetti employs enjambment and caesuras to create pauses and enhance the contemplative tone of the poem. The use of vivid imagery, such as the wind flapping loose, the speaker's physical posture, and the woodspurge flower with its three cups in one, engages the reader's senses and evokes a strong visual and emotional response. The brevity of the lines and stanzas allows for focused and intense expression, conveying profound emotions and ideas within a compact space. Through these stylistic choices, Rossetti creates a poem that is both introspective and visually striking, leaving a lasting impact on the reader.

    Literary Devices in The Woodspurge

    "The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti employs various literary devices to enhance its meaning and create a rich poetic experience. Here are some examples:

    1. Imagery: The poem is filled with vivid imagery that appeals to the reader's senses. For instance, the wind is described as "flapp'd loose" and "shaken out dead," creating a visual and auditory image of its chaotic and then still nature. The speaker's physical position with their "forehead" between their knees and their hair "over in the grass" evokes a sense of despair and surrender. The woodspurge flower, described as having "three cups in one," presents a distinct visual image of its unique form.
    2. Symbolism: The woodspurge flower serves as a powerful symbol in the poem. It represents beauty and resilience amidst the ordinary weeds. The three cups in one can symbolize the complexity of emotions or the multifaceted nature of grief. It becomes a focal point of the speaker's observation, hinting at deeper meanings and insights.
    3. Repetition: The repetition of the phrase "the wind was still" emphasizes the shift in the wind's behavior and creates a sense of calmness and stillness. It also underscores the importance of this moment in the speaker's contemplation.
    4. Enjambment: The use of enjambment, where a sentence or phrase continues from one line to the next without a pause, enhances the flow and rhythm of the poem. For example, "Among those few, out of the sun, / The woodspurge flower'd, three cups in one" demonstrates enjambment, creating a seamless connection between the lines and maintaining the poem's cadence.
    5. Alliteration: The poem includes instances of alliteration, where the repetition of consonant sounds adds emphasis and musicality. For instance, "wind flapp'd loose," "tree and hill," and "drawn in, said not Alas!" all utilize alliteration to create a rhythmic and melodic quality to the lines.

    By skillfully employing these literary devices, Rossetti enhances the poem's imagery, symbolism, rhythm, and overall impact, engaging the reader's imagination and emotions.


  • Very allegorical and many ideas have double meanings
  • Repetition: ‘wind’ – hypnotic effect, represents society?, represents powerlessness of persona
  • Personification: ‘wind’s will’ – persona is driven
  • Repetition: ‘my’ – everything is about him
  • Oxymoron: ‘perfect grief’


  • AAAA rhyme scheme: monotonous and dull – echoes persona’s feelings
  • Caesura at end of each stanza; every sentence sinks in
  • Half rhyme of ‘was’ – breaks monotonous rhyme scheme but then continues


  • Loss of will: persona directed by ‘wind’s will’
  • Deep grief:
    - May be death, ‘shaken out dead’
    - Melodramatic position, forehead between knees – position of sadness
    - Dullness and darkness, monotonous rhyme scheme and ‘out of the sun’
    - Vulnerable: ‘naked ears’, veiled – ‘hair was over in the grass’ – grief/death
  • Faith: ‘three cups in one’, three represents Trinity and cup represents chalice – Holy Grail

    Linking Poems

  • The Cockroach: allegorical – compare life with woodspurge/cockroach
  • Continuum: surreal images
  • A Birthday: medieval images + poetry based on emotion standpoint

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