Like her brother, the painter Dante Gabriel, Christina was fascinated by medieval tales and imagery. But while it is tempting on a superficial reading to see this work as a straightforward love poem (albeit with rather fanciful language), there is another way to look at it.
Christina Rossetti was a woman of great faith, which combines with her love of the middle ages here. The poem recalls the mysterious language of the Corpus Christi Carol where Christ is portrayed as a wounded knight on a bed with rich hangings. Colour is important in both poems. And it is Christ who leads us in calm places of refreshment, who makes us fruitful, who brings us peace. It is in Christ that we are born again. The moment when we first become fully aware of Christ’s presence can indeed be described as the Birthday of our life.
My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a dais of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.