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Up-Hill - The Poem by Christina Rossetti: Summary, Analysis and Exercise

Up-Hill 

Summary

The poem is an exchange of questions and answers that compares life to a journey. The journey is up-hill all the way, but at the end is an inn, a resting place, that cannot be missed and which has room for everyone.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way? 

Yes, to the very end. 

Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? 

From morn to night, my friend. 

But is there for the night a resting-place? 

A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. 

May not the darkness hide it from my face? 

You cannot miss that inn. 

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? 

Those who have gone before. 

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? 

They will not keep you standing at that door. 

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? 

Of labour you shall find the sum. 

Will there be beds for me and all who seek? 

Yea, beds for all who come. 

-Christina Rossetti 

A. Match the words in column ‘A’ with their meanings in column ‘B’. 


Column ‘A’

Column ‘B’

a. wind

i. person who usually travels on foot

b. morn 

ii. a small hotel, usually in the country 

c. inn

iii. to have many bends and twists

d. wayfarer 

iv. look for 

e. seek

v. morning


B. Complete the summary of the poem with suitable word/ phrases given below.

 the road ahead up-hill someone a place a journey in the affirmative on the way everyone fellow travellers an inn 

The speaker is making ……………. with her guide. She asks the guide eight different questions about …………. The first question is if the road is all ……………. and if the journey will take all day. The guide replies …………….. Next, she asks if there is ……………. to rest for the night. The guide informs the speaker that there is ……………. which she won’t miss. The speaker’s fifth question is, whether she will meet the other travellers …………….. At the inn, the speaker asks if she should knock or call the …………….. The guide replies that……………. will open the door. Lastly, the speaker asks if there will be a bed for her. The guide tells her that there are beds for……………. 

C. Answer the following questions. 

a. How far is the road up-hill, according to the guide? 

b. What does the speaker doubt about the place to rest? 

c. Who has travelled the road before? 

d. What is the speaker’s seventh question? 

e. Who, do you think, opens the door? 

D. Write a short description of a road that you have recently travelled through.

Summary:

Over the course of a journey, the narrator asks her guide eight questions about the road ahead. The narrator asks if the roads are all up-hill and if the journey will take all day. The guide replies in the affirmative. Next, the narrator asks if there is a place to rest for the night and if the darkness will obscure said resting-place from their view. The guide assures the narrator that there is an inn and they will not be able to miss it. The narrator's fifth question is about which other travelers will be on the road. At the inn, the narrator asks if the other travelers would prefer for her to knock or call out. The guide tells the narrator that someone will open the door. Lastly, the narrator asks if there will be a bed for her. The guide tells her that there are beds for everyone.

Analysis:

The question and answer form is common in devotional writing because it encourages the reader to contemplate his or her own response to the question. The guide addresses the narrator as “my friend," which is also what Christ called his disciples. The poem is comprised of four stanzas with four lines each, following the ABAB rhyme scheme.

In this way, the rhyme scheme separates the traveller from the guide, and the simplicity alleviates the pressure of the difficult topic. The meter starts with a trochee and shifts into alternating iambic pentameter and trimeter. The pace is consistent, just like the narrator's steady up-hill climb.

The journey is the prominent symbol in this poem, and is open to a few different interpretations. The first interpretation is that the poem symbolizes the journey from birth to death. The darkening sky foreshadows the end of life, and the inn represents the final resting place.

Considering Rossetti’s religious background, this final resting place could be interpreted as Heaven. The act of knocking on the door represents the Christian confession of sin and the need for forgiveness before admittance into Heaven. When describing this moment, Rossetti chooses to use a nearly verbatim quote from the Gospel of Matthew. Rossetti frames death as a form of respite after the tiring journey of life.

There is a slight possible variation on the interpretation that the road represents the journey of life. Already careworn, the weary traveler wonders if life grows easier as she grows older. However, the guide tells her that the road that remains is up-hill and arduous. This interpretation does not resolve the symbolism behind the inn. It is possible that the inn could represent death, which also provides an opportunity for rest at the end of the road.

A third reading seems less likely because of Rossetti’s religious views, but it is worth examining. This school of thought considers the journey to represent Christian purgatory. In this case, the inn would also represent Heaven, just like in the first interpretation.

“Up-hill” is a classic example of Rossetti’s devotional literature, which dealt with doubt as well as eternal assurance. The road takes on several meanings, each revealing a facet of Rossetti's contemplation of life and its hardships.

About the poem Up-Hill and Poet

Poems that depict struggle are, generally speaking, poems that are universal. Everyone struggles in some capacity or the other, and this is hardly something that the average person needs a particular art form to tell them. Christina Rossetti was no stranger to struggle in life, and her poem, Up-hill, seems to call up her perspective on the concept. It imagines a conversation told in such a way that the reader can easily hear one side or the other coming out of their own thought process, and relating to it one way or the other. “An uphill battle” is a common expression that likely informed the title of Rossetti’s work, so it is no surprise that both the expression and the poem are still very relevant today.

Analysis

Up-hill is written in a common style for poetry; it consists of four verses with four lines each. Notably, Up-hill is written from the perspective of two distinct narrators, one who asks questions, and one who provides answers. These narrators are kept easily separate from one another by the simple rhyming pattern of the piece.

It is rhymed in an ABAB style, where every “A” (which is to say the first and third line of each verse) rhyme is spoken by one narrator, and every “B” line the other. To further simplify this, the lines also alternate between asking questions and giving answers. In this way,

Rossetti is able to craft a poetic conversation between two people without complicating her work in any way — normally a fairly difficult thing to do. Between the rhyming and the narration pattern, this is an easy poem to read and follow, and flows nicely, despite the somewhat erratic syllable count for each verse.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?

   Yes, to the very end.

Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?

   From morn to night, my friend.

In the first verse, the author seems to be drawing on the common “uphill battle” metaphor to inform the title of the poem. The first speaker asks about “the road,” and whether or not it is uphill for its entire length, as well as whether or not the time it will take to walk the road will mean the entire day.

The description of the “whole long day” is an unusual choice — especially since without the word “long,” this line would match the first one for syllables. Its addition is meaningful in showing the reader that the speaking asking questions is tired. Their uphill journey has clearly taken some time up to this point, and they are anxious for its conclusion.

It is also possible that the “long day,” in contrast to simply “the day” refers to a twenty-four hour period. This seems likely based on the answer they receive — that their journey will not be over before sundown. The second narrator’s lines are much shorter than the first one’s; they are succinct. The only aspect of their character of particular note is that they refer to the other speaker as their friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?

   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.

May not the darkness hide it from my face?

   You cannot miss that inn.

The questions and answers continue with the second verse, where an atmosphere begins to become noticeable. The two characters portrayed here are clearly very different in their perspectives on the uphill journey. The first speaker is unsure and lacks confidence; here they ask if there is a place they can stay for the night, since their journey will take so long.

As soon as they are told that such a place exists, they worry that they’ll miss seeing it. The second speaker, by contrast, is certain not only that there is an inn for shelter against the dark, but that they will undoubtedly find it before it is too dark to see. It is an odd experience as a reader to alternate between fear and confidence in every line of the work; Rossetti has chosen to portray one journey through two opposite viewpoints, and yet it remains easy to follow and understand.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?

   Those who have gone before.

Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?

   They will not keep you standing at that door.

In the third (and second-to-last) verse, the questioning narrator wonders about the inn they are to find, and whether or not they will be welcome there. This is a strange line of thought — the idea of an inn, after all, is for anyone to find shelter, and an inn is constructed with nomads in mind.

And yet, the speaker here is concerned that they will be unwelcome, despite assurances from their companion that they will be welcomed by the “other wayfarers.” The first speaker hopes to find friends in their same predicament, and are told that they will. The anxieties of the initial speaker and the confidence of the second one continue to be the prominent theme of the work, though the identities of both remain concealed.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?

   Of labour you shall find the sum.

Will there be beds for me and all who seek?

   Yea, beds for all who come.

The idea of two friends walking up a hill for a full day is a rather unlikely scenario in the literal sense. The expression from which Up-hill likely was inspired refers to situations and scenarios that require harder work than usual to overcome — walking down a pathway versus walking up a hill.

In a figurative sense, the speaker asking questions in this work is attempting to overcome an obstacle, and liken it to trying to walk uphill for a full day. The second speaker could be a friend encouraging them along the way, or it could be another aspect of their own personality, their sense of optimism, or determination to finish what they have started.

The idea of an inn along the way, in which lies comfort equal to the work put in (“Of labour, you shall find the sum”), as well as other people climbing the same hill, is a likely metaphor for friends and family. It is difficult — to put it lightly — to attempt to cross over any kind of obstacle without some kind of support.

If it was easy to do, after all, it wouldn’t be much of an obstacle. So the speaker draws on their own sense of self and imagines that at the end of the day, there will be a roof over their head. Perhaps they are going home to their family, or perhaps the inn is a bar where they can meet up with friends and forget about the hardships of the day.

The amazing thing about Up-hill is that any of the above interpretations are plausible when the entire poem is read in a metaphorical context. At its core, the poem is about two voices, one struggling and seeking rest, and another encouraging them and telling them they will find it. Nearly everyone should be able to relate to this in some way because the poem is intentionally written to stand on the fine line between vague and relatable.

What exactly the speakers are doing in trying to ascend this climb is unspecified, because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that second voice that encourages them, assures them, and helps them to find rest? A friend, a family member, or an internal voice — to every reader, it will be someone different. The important thing, however, is that it will be someone.

Some Important Question Answers Related to the Poem

1. What is the main theme of the poem uphill by Christina Rossetti?

As in many of Christina Rossetti’s poems, a prominent theme of “Up-Hill” is the idea of life and death, with a particular focus on the worry about what happens at the end of life. Some have suggested Rossetti’s Anabaptist background contributed to her fascination with life after death.

2. Does the road wind uphill all the way meaning?

Meaning: This poem is paralleled with life. The poet writes “Does the road wind uphill all the way?…… Yes, to the very end” (lines 1-2). The poet is saying that life is always hard and ever-changing. Again using night for death the poet asks is there a heaven and the poet answers that there is a heaven.

3. What kind of poem is uphill?

Up-hill Analysis. Up-hill is written in a common style for poetry; it consists of four verses with four lines each. Notably, Up-hill is written from the perspective of two distinct narrators, one who asks questions, and one who provides answers.

4. Does the road wind uphill all the way yes to the very end?

Does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend.

5. Who are the two speakers in the poem uphill?

Expert Answers Hover for more information. The two speakers in the poem are a traveller asking for directions along their road to come and some local person who knows the way and is willing to share it.

6. How long does the uphill journey take?

The answer to the question of how long the journey will take depends on the interpretation of the poem. When the question is asked, the response is that the journey will take “from morn till night.” Taken literally, this means that the journey along the uphill road will take an entire day.

7. What does the poem uphill compare life to?

The poem is an exchange of questions and answers that compares life to a journey. The journey is uphill all the way, but at the end is an inn, a resting place, that cannot be missed and which has room for everyone.

8. How is the journey that happens during the journey in the poem uphill?

Christina Rossetti’s poem “UpHill” consists of four stanzas, each containing four lines, in which a traveller poses questions about a journey and is answered by an unknown voice. The poem, then, is more about death than the journey to get there. The journey is hard, long, and uphill all the way.

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