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"Three Nuns" by Christina Rossetti

The following is the complete text of Christina Rossetti's "Three Nuns." Be sure and visit our collection of short poems and sonnets by Christina Rossetti. To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"Three Nuns" by Christina Rossetti




"Sospira questo core
E non so dir perche."

Shadow, shadow on the wall
Spread thy shelter over me;
Wrap me with a heavy pall,
With the dark that none may see.
Fold thyself around me; come:
Shut out all the troublesome
Noise of life; I would be dumb.

Shadow thou hast reached my feet,
Rise and cover up my head;
Be my stainless winding sheet,
Buried before I am dead.
Lay thy cool upon my breast:
Once I thought that joy was best,
Now I only care for rest.

By the grating of my cell
Sings a solitary bird;
Sweeter than the vesper bell,
Sweetest song was ever heard. *
Sing upon thy living tree:
Happy echoes answer thee,
Happy songster, sing to me.

When my yellow hair was curled
Though men saw and called me fair,
I was weary in the world
Full of vanity and care.
Gold was left behind, curls shorn
When I came here; that same morn
Made a bride no gems adorn.

Here wrapped in my spotless veil,
Curtained from intruding eyes,
I whom prayers and fasts turn pale
Wait the flush of Paradise.
But the vigil is so long
My heart sickens:--sing thy song,
Blithe bird that canst do no wrong.

Sing on, making me forget
Present sorrow and past sin.
Sing a little longer yet:
Soon the matins will begin;
And I must turn back again
To that aching worse than pain
I must bear and not complain.

Sing, that in thy song I may
Dream myself once more a child
In the green woods far away
Plucking clematis and wild
Hyacinths, till pleasure grew
Tired, yet so was pleasure too,
Resting with no work to do.

In the thickest of the wood,
I remember, long ago
How a stately oak tree stood,
With a sluggish pool below
Almost shadowed out of sight.
On the waters dark as night,
Water-lilies lay like light.

There, while yet a child, I thought
I could live as in a dream,
Secret, neither found nor sought:
Till the lilies on the stream,
Pure as virgin purity,
Would seem scarce too pure for me:--
Ah, but that can never be.


"Sospirera d'amore,
Ma non lo dice a me."

I loved him, yes, where was the sin?
I loved him with my heart and soul.
But I pressed forward to no goal,
There was no prize I strove to win.
Show me my sin that I may see:--
Throw the first stone, thou Pharisee.

I loved him, but I never sought
That he should know that I was fair.
I prayed for him; was my sin prayer?
I sacrificed, he never bought.
He nothing gave, he nothing took;
We never bartered look for look.

My voice rose in the sacred choir,
The choir of Nuns; do you condemn
Even if, when kneeling among them,
Faith, zeal and love kindled a fire
And I prayed for his happiness
Who knew not? was my error this?

I only prayed that in the end
His trust and hope may not be vain.
I prayed not we may meet again:
I would not let our names ascend,
No, not to Heaven, in the same breath;
Nor will I join the two in death.

Oh sweet is death; for I am weak
And weary, and it giveth rest.
The Crucifix lies on my breast,
And all night long it seems to speak
Of rest; I hear it through my sleep,
And the great comfort makes me weep.

Oh sweet is death that bindeth up
The broken and the bleeding heart.
The draught chilled, but a cordial part
Lurked at the bottom of the cup;
And for my patience will my Lord
Give an exceeding great reward.

Yea, the reward is almost won,
A crown of glory and a palm.
Soon I shall sing the unknown psalm;
Soon gaze on light, not on the sun;
And soon, with surer faith, shall pray
For him, and cease not night nor day.

My life is breaking like a cloud;
God judgeth not as man doth judge.--
Nay, bear with me; you need not grudge
This peace; the vows that I have vowed
Have all been kept: Eternal Strength
Holds me, though mine own fails at length.

Bury me in the Convent ground
Among the flowers that are so sweet;
And lay a green turf at my feet,
Where thick trees cast a gloom around.
At my head let a Cross be, white
Through the long blackness of the night.

Now kneel and pray beside my bed
That I may sleep being free from pain:
And pray that I may wake again
After His Likeness, Who hath said
(Faithful is He Who promiseth,)
We shall be satisfied Therewith.


"Rispondimi, cor mio,
Perche sospiri tu?
Risponde: Voglio Iddio,
Sospiro per Gesu."

My heart is as a freeborn bird
Caged in my cruel breast,
That flutters, flutters evermore,
Nor sings, nor is at rest.
But beats against the prison bars,
As knowing its own nest
Far off beyond the clouded West.

My soul is as a hidden fount
Shut in by clammy clay,
That struggles with an upward moan;
Striving to force its way
Up through the turf, over the grass,
Up, up into the day,
Where twilight no more turneth grey.

Oh for the grapes of the True Vine
Growing in Paradise,
Whose tendrils join the Tree of Life
To that which maketh wise.
Growing beside the Living Well
Whose sweetest waters rise
Where tears are wiped from tearful eyes.

Oh for the waters of that Well
Round which the Angels stand.
Oh for the Shadow of the Rock
On my heart's weary land.
Oh for the Voice to guide me when
I turn to either hand,
Guiding me till I reach Heaven's strand.

Thou World from which I am come out,
Keep all thy gems and gold;
Keep thy delights and precious things,
Thou that art waxing old.
My heart shall beat with a new life,
When thine is dead and cold:
When thou dost fear I shall be bold.

When Earth shall pass away with all
Her pride and pomp of sin,
The City builded without hands
Shall safely shut me in.
All the rest is but vanity
Which others strive to win:
Where their hopes end my joys begin.

I will not look upon a rose
Though it is fair to see:
The flowers planted in Paradise
Are budding now for me.
Red roses like love visible
Are blowing on their tree,
Or white like virgin purity.

I will not look unto the sun
Which setteth night by night:
In the untrodden courts of Heaven
My crown shall be more bright.
Lo, in the New Jerusalem
Founded and built aright
My very feet shall tread on light.

With foolish riches of this World
I have bought treasure, where
Nought perisheth: for this white veil
I gave my golden hair;
I gave the beauty of my face
For vigils, fasts and prayer;
I gave all for this Cross I bear.

My heart trembled when first I took
The vows which must be kept;
At first it was a weariness
To watch when once I slept.
The path was rough and sharp with thorns;
My feet bled as I stepped;
The Cross was heavy and I wept.

While still the names rang in mine ears
Of daughter, sister, wife;
The outside world still looked so fair
To my weak eyes, and rife
With beauty; my heart almost failed;
Then in the desperate strife
I prayed, as one who prays for life,

Until I grew to love what once
Had been so burdensome.
So now when I am faint, because
Hope deferred seems to numb
My heart, I yet can plead; and say
Although my lips are dumb:
"The Spirit and the Bride say, Come."

* "Sweetest eyes were ever seen." E. B. Browning.

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