Study Guide

A Birthday Stanza 2

By Christina Rossetti

Stanza 2

Lines 9-12

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;

  • Well, if you were hoping to learn more about the beloved's identity, you're just going to have to hurry up and wait.
  • Instead of revealing the beloved's identity, this new stanza starts off with a bunch of commands being made by our speaker.
  • It's not really clear for whom these commands are meant, but what is clear is that our speaker's got some things she wants done around here.
  • Well, really she just wants one thing done, but it's a pretty involved job.
  • The first step is to build the speaker a "dais" (a short platform where a throne or altar might sit) and decorate it with silk and bird feathers ("down").
  • Got it so far? Good, because when that's done, whoever's working on this project needs to cover the dais with "vair," which is a type of fur (actually squirrel fur—ew) that was used to trim old fancy clothes. Also, it needs to be decorated with purple color.
  • Purple is a color that's typically associated with royalty. This speaker wants this thing tricked out.
  • And she's still not done. To top it all off, the speaker wants the platform decorated with carvings of doves, pomegranates, and hundred-eyed peacocks.
  • It sounds pretty swanky, but what's up with that last request? If you think it sounds like a bunch of random choices, get ready for a giant slice of symbolism.
  • The dove, you might know, was a sign to Noah in the Bible that the great flood was receding. It's since become both a symbol of peace and a sign of God's love for humanity.
  • The other bird here is the peacock. If you've ever checked one out, you probably know that it doesn't literally have one hundred eyes. That's just a figurative way to describe its tail, which is decorated with spots that do kind of look like eyes.
  • This resemblance was not lost on early Christians, who built upon the legend that said a peacock's flesh would never decay. As such, the peacock became a symbol of immortality, everlasting life, and Jesus's resurrection. Its tail, meanwhile, came to represent God's all-knowing, all-seeing power.
  • For these reasons, the peacock was a popular decoration on Christian tombs and the like.
  • Finally, the decorations of pomegranates sound a lot like the carvings on the pillars of the palace of King Solomon, at least according to the description in the biblical Book of Kings. Is this a coincidence? Probably not—it's likely got more to do with the fact that red color of the pomegranate is symbolic of Jesus's death and sacrifice for humanity.
  • Given these decorating choices, then, we have a thought or two about who the speaker's "love" might be.
  • Before we dive in, though, let's see if the rest of the poem gives any more hints…

Lines 13-16

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.

  • We get more instructions in these final lines.
  • The speaker's not done decorating, it turns out. She wants silver and gold grapes to cover the dais, as well as "fleurs-de-lys."
  • She wants these things stamped into silver and gold "leaves." She's not talking about trees here. A "leaf," in decorative terms, is a thin sheet of precious metal, like gold or silver—something you'd use to cover a dais.
  • Again, our symbolism alarm is going off. In Christianity, grapes (and wine, which is made from grapes) is used to symbolize the blood of Christ and His sacrifice for humanity.
  • By the same token, a "fleur-de-lys" is a sign meant to represent a lily flower, which is associated with purity and the Virgin Mary.
  • This dais is one symbolic work of art—and with some pretty religious overtones.
  • The speaker wraps things up with a refrain that reminds us that her love has arrived.
  • Just before she does, though, she lets us know that her love is also "the birthday" of her life. A-ha—so that explains the poem's title (as does "What's Up with the Title?").
  • This last note seems to confirm what we've been suspecting all along: the speaker's beloved is none other than G-O-D.
  • After all, in religious terms, God is the force and purpose behind all life. In that way, He's responsible for every birthday ever.
  • The speaker seems to be recognizing this when—amid all the Christian symbolism—she describes the arrival of her own "birthday."
  • Put the cake and candles away, y'all. The speaker's not getting a year older here. She's welcoming the presence of God into her life. (And, for the record, that's "presence," not "presents.")