by Christina Rossetti
Stanza 4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
- Our question here is pretty self-explanatory. At the end of such a long journey, Speaker #1 wants to know if this inn will offer rest and relaxation for his weary body.
- The answer, on the other hand, is anything but self explanatory. Speaker #2 promises that Speaker #1 will find the sum of labour, but what in the wide world of sports does that mean exactly?
- The wording may be complicated, but the message is probably a familiar one. Has your teacher ever caught you slacking on a homework assignment and said something to the effect of "you get out of school what you put into it"? This essentially means that homework doesn't do your brain any good if you're not actively engaged in and thinking about the assignment. Copying someone else's homework might save you from getting a bad grade for the day, but you didn't actually learn or absorb any skills or real knowledge.
- Line 14 is kind of like that. In a literal interpretation of the poem, it suggests that the inn will be as comforting as you need it to be, which seems weird but actually makes sense; if you've just finished running a marathon, you're probably so tired that the least comfortable chair in the world is going to seem like the bed in the Presidential suite of a fancy hotel. Similarly, if you're used to sleeping in a bed that's already fairly comfortable, that same fancy hotel bed is still going to feel nice, but the difference will be less noticeable because it's only marginally better than the bed you had before.
- The real bite of this line is theological, though. What Speaker #2 is saying is that you will find in Heaven the sum of your work while on Earth. If you expend lots of energy doing good things on your journey up the mountain, the Presidential suite is waiting for you in Heaven. If you complain a lot, steal from other travelers, and never throw away any of your trash, you're still going to have a room if you want one, but it might not be as nice as the others.
- Be careful here, Shmoopsters, because this is not implying that being a little cranky on the trip up the mountain will keep you from getting into the inn; according to the Protestants, faith in God's grace—not good works—is what decides whether or not you get a bed. The kind of work you do on Earth merely determines how comfortable a bed it's going to be. (We wonder if they have those sleep number thingies.)
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
- The poem ends with one last Q&A and, in a moment of spontaneous and unprecedented unselfishness, it's the only question asked that isn't exclusively relevant to Speaker #1. In line 15, Speaker #1 asks whether he will have a bed at this inn, but he also wants to know whether there will be room for others who might come, too.
- In one of the few direct answers in this poem, Speaker #2 responds that yes, everyone who comes to the inn gets a bed—no exceptions.
- As far as the Christian reading of this poem goes, this means that anyone who seeks salvation will be given salvation. It's an incredibly comforting and inspiring end to a poem that's basically about a really hard and difficult journey.
- In a secular interpretation, though, it's a little darker. If you don't believe in an after-life, the idea of "beds for all who come" is more just like a creepy reminder that death is inevitable for everyone. Misery loves company, sure, but still probably not what you want to hear at the end of such a difficult climb.
- Finally, it's important to remember when reading "Up-Hill" that, although we've offered up a pretty Christian-centric interpretation of the poem's symbolism and messages, part of the genius built into the poem is that the images are so generic that they could stand for a huge range of things. Rossetti was an incredibly religious woman, so a Protestant reading seems very likely as far as how she wanted the poem to be read, but that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't see it in a different context, too. So think about what we've said here, but don't be afraid to disagree, either. Rossetti was complex (maybe even a little bit cray-cray), so let's not assume that one interpretation of her poem is the only one that's worth writing about.
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