The Duality of It All

(No, shockingly this isn’t about Jekyll and Hyde)

Christina Rossetti’s The World encapsulates the push and pull of ones mentality from good to evil and restraint to desire. We feel this specific duality expressed through Rossetti’s choice of words and structure of the poem. It begins with “By day she woos me” the phrase ‘by day’ repeats three times and is met with a contradicting ‘but’ twice.  

“By day she woos me, soft, exceeding fair:
   But all night as the moon so changeth she;” 

“By day she wooes me to the outer air,
   Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety:
   But through the night, a beast she grins at me,” 

This allows us to recognize a clear temporal difference between the subjects state of being in the night versus the day, while also implying that this change of persona happens multiple times. The “ripe fruits” and “sweet flowers” sound appealing on their own but when met with language like “A very monster void of love and prayer” it’s clear that these kinder adjectives are used to mask an ugly truth that hides behind life’s temptations.  

“By day she stands a lie: by night she stands
   In all the naked horror of the truth” 

The sweetness is the lie, and the truth is something dark within us all whether it is a wanting or craving for more out of life or a desire for something perhaps…taboo. Yet no matter how appealing this beast is, it is not something to be met with or yearned for. Which is clear in these two lines: 

“Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy
And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.” 

The serpents in the hair call upon the imagery of Medusa who will turn onlookers into stone when stared in the eye. This mysterious monsterous woman described in Rossetti’s poem seems to be unattainable, desired, rejected and feared all at once, truly capturing divisions of the mind and possible fears of ourselves.  

2 thoughts on “The Duality of It All”

  1. As you mentioned at the very beginning, The World is the perfect poem to compare to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It recognizes the duality of the world, how it can be beautiful but ugly. The world is essentially a metaphor for us humans and how duality is a part of human nature to want to be normal but also free from societal norms. However, the difference here is that while Rossetti acknowledges that “the beast” is not to be yearned for, Dr. Jekyll goes against avoiding “the beast” and lets it become a part of him, not understanding the severity of his consequence.

  2. ]This is a fantastic poem that connects back to the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Like the novella, this poem has two sides: one presented as sweet and one more darker side. The World and Jekyll and Hyde are a cautionary tale of the monstrously of human duality. As humans, we are not just one thing, but we are multi-faceted, and this poem strives to warn us of the consequences of allowing this. After all, Jekyll becomes so afraid and ashamed of his duality that he kills himself to kill off that deviant part of himself and preserve some of his life.

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