My Sister's Sleep

From The Germ, Vol.1, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1850

[Editor’s note: My Sister’s Sleep was composed by Dante Gabrield Rossetti, and included the first volume of the Germ, a short-lived periodical published by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Dante’s brother, William, notes in the foreward to the Germ reprint that this poem was composed long before the founding of the Pre Raphaelites, and was viewed in hindsight “with some distaste” by Dante.]

She fell asleep on Christmas Eve.
Upon her eyes’ most patient calms
The lids were shut; her uplaid arms
Covered her bosom, I believe.

Our mother, who had leaned all day
Over the bed from chime to chime,
Then raised herself for the first time,
And as she sat her down, did pray.

Her little work-table was spread
With work to finish. For the glare
Made by her candle, she had care
To work some distance from the bed.

Without, there was a good moon up,
Which left its shadows far within;
The depth of light that it was in
Seemed hollow like an altar-cup.

Through the small room, with subtle sound
Of flame, by vents the fireshine drove
And reddened. In its dim alcove
The mirror shed a clearness round.

I had been sitting up some nights,
And my tir'd mind felt weak and blank;
Like a sharp strengthening wine, it drank
The stillness and the broken lights.

Silence was speaking at my side
With an exceedingly clear voice:
I knew the calm as of a choice
Made in God for me, to abide.

I said, “Full knowledge does not grieve:
This which upon my spirit dwells
Perhaps would have been sorrow else:
But I am glad ‘tis Christmas Eve.”

Twelve struck. That sound, which all the years
Hear in each hour, crept off; and then
The ruffled silence spread again,
Like water that a pebble stirs.

Our mother rose from where she sat.
Her needles, as she laid them down,
Met lightly, and her silken gown
Settled: no other noise than that.

“Glory unto the Newly Born!”
So, as said angels, she did say;
Because we were in Christmas-day,
Though it would still be long till dawn.

She stood a moment with her hands
Kept in each other, praying much;
A moment that the soul may touch
But the heart only understands.

Almost unwittingly, my mind
Repeated her words after her;
Perhaps tho’ my lips did not stir;
It was scarce thought, or cause assign'd.

Just then in the room over us
There was a pushing back of chairs,
As some who had sat unawares
So late, now heard the hour, and rose.

Anxious, with softly stepping haste,
Our mother went where Margaret lay,
Fearing the sounds o'erhead—should they
Have broken her long-watched for rest!

She stooped an instant, calm, and turned;
But suddenly turned back again;
And all her features seemed in pain
With woe, and her eyes gazed and yearned.

For my part, I but hid my face,
And held my breath, and spake no word:
There was none spoken; but I heard
The silence for a little space.

My mother bowed herself and wept.
And both my arms fell, and I said:
“God knows I knew that she was dead.”
And there, all white, my sister slept.

Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn
A little after twelve o'clock
We said, ere the first quarter struck,
“Christ’s blessing on the newly born!”
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