“The World”, a sonnet by Christina Rossetti, features, what seems to be, a clear statement about how a person is “wooed” by a female character. This sonnet features the comparison between a woman during the day and during the night, but as the poem reads on the speaker seems to slowly accuse the woman of showing erotic desire. This can be seen in lines five and seven of the sonnet, where the speaker states, “By day she wooes me to the outer air…but through the night, a beast she grins at me…”(Rossetti 45). Going from line five to line seven, there is a drastic shift in the diction that the speaker chooses to use. This shift draws attention to the comparison between the woman at day and at night. More importantly it draws greater attention to the way that the woman presents herself in the public eye compared to the way she is when the two are alone. It is suggested that in the outer air the woman simply shows a playful love, however at night the speaker sees the “beast” that resides within her. Normally the thought of a beast would spark the image of a ugly, unwanted being, however, in this scenario the speaker is not describing a being but desire. Further into the poem – lines nine and ten – the speaker seems to make an even stronger accusation of irrational erotic desire by stating, “By day she stands a lie: by night she stands in all naked horror of the truth…”(Rossetti 45). Likewise with the other lines, the speaker starts off by talking about the female character in the day as now being a liar. By utilizing “lie” as a descriptor of the woman the speaker leads a reader to view their temptress as a monster in a pretty dress, but at night this dress metaphorically slips off. Furthermore, the speaker goes on to describe the women as revealing the “naked horror of the truth”, which once again is the comparison to the person the woman is by day. By the time that these lines are utilized, what is seemingly a comparison turns into the same thing as the woman is actually a monster by day and night. What is being said here by the speaker describes the way that women in this time period could be viewed by society.
Rossetti’s sonnet at face value describes the stigma that surrounds the sexual desires of a woman and how her partner views these desires. This translates to the time period that this novel was written (1862) as it quite possibly could be how Rossetti herself viewed the world around her. It is no shock that this time period caused women all over to jump through hoops and tip toe by taboo topics that would cause the public to frown upon her. This sonnet not only describes the judgmental gaze of a sexual partner but describes the struggle to differentiate between normal sexual desire and sin. This sonnet exists simply because of how women were made to feel watched in their sexual lives. Evidently, society at this time oftentimes tried to pry the door open to expose the normal desires that lurked in the depths of the minds of women. Despite the fact that this poem is a reflection of Rossetti’s time period, it can also be applied to society now. Many people would like to agree that nowadays we do not give an unwelcoming glance to those who we deem to lack steady morals with their sexual choices, however, still today women feel this everlasting gaze peering over their shoulders. What I am really trying to get at here is the comparison between women at day and night is simply a way to describe the struggle of women in society when sexual desire is the topic. Rossetti captures this message through the voice of a speaker who gradually makes this comparison until eventually it ends up not being a comparison at all and instead a statement.
Christina Georgina Rossetti. Goblin Market and Other Poems (1865). 1865. Whitefish, Mont., Kessinger Publishing, 2009, p. 45.