Sister Maude Analysis by Christina Rossetti

This article is an analysis of the poem Sister Maude by Christina Rossetti.

Summary of Sister Maude:

This confusing poem deals with a relationship between two sisters that have gone wrong. The speaker in the poem blames her sister, called Maude, for the death of her lover, although how far Maude is actually responsible remains unclear. What is clear is that Maude has betrayed the speaker by telling their parents about the relationship, and this has to lead to the speaker in the poem cursing Maude.

Analysis of Sister Maude:

Stanza 1
Who told my mother of my shame,
Who told my father of my dear?
Oh who but Maude, my sister Maude,
Who lurked to spy and peer.
Repetition of ‘who' at the start shows the poem opens with a question.

We are made aware that the speaker has done something wrong.

Repetition of Maude’s name in a negative way also establishes their relationship.

These negative words highlight the speaker’s resentment towards her sister for betraying the secret of her lover to their parents.

Stanza 2
Cold he lies, as cold as stone,
With his clotted curls about his face:
The comeliest corpse in all the world
And worthy of a queen's embrace.
Repetition and the use of the simile show the speaker’s lover is dead.

The alliteration here provides a strange description where the speaker suggests that the dead corpse is still attractive.

The word 'clotted' suggest blood and a violent death. The 'curls' in his hair suggests he was quite young.

Stanza 3
You might have spared his soul, sister,
Have spared my soul, your own soul too:
Though I had not been born at all,
He'd never have looked at you.
The speaker is now speaking directly to Maude, her sister. This leads to an accusing and angry tone in this stanza.

The sibilance suggests a hatred from the speaker to her sister for betraying the secret.

The repetition of ‘spared' and 'soul' emphasize death and the fact that all three (the speaker, the dead lover, and Maude) have committed some kind of sin.

The speaker ends this stanza with an insult to Maude, implying that she is unattractive and the lover would never have looked at her in that way even if Maude wanted him to.

Stanza 4
My father may sleep in Paradise,
My mother at Heaven-gate:
But sister Maude shall get no sleep
Either early or late.
These words show us that the speaker's parents are now dead.

There are two meanings to ‘get no sleep'. The first that Maude will not be able to sleep at night because of her guilt, the second that when she dies she will not be at peace or be able to go to heaven of the sin she has committed.

Stanza 5
My father may wear a golden gown,
My mother a crown may win;
If my dear and I knocked at Heaven-gate
Perhaps they'd let us in:
But sister Maude, oh sister Maude,
Bide you with death and sin.
Repetition of ’my’ showing possession and perhaps affection for the dead parents.

These images suggest that the parents lived good lives and are now in heaven, unlike their daughters.

The speaker still calls him ‘dear’ showing affection even though he is dead.

The word ‘perhaps' shows that the speaker has also done something wrong so might not be let into heaven.

Repetition of Maude's name again emphasizes their sibling relationship and the fact that this poem is angrily directed at Maude.

sister-maude-analysis


The poem ends with the speaker cursing her sister for what she has done, although the reader is left guessing about what Maude's crime actually was.

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