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Who Has Seen The Wind?
by Christina Rossetti
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
This poem by Christina Rossetti is eight lines without a consistent meter. The rhyme scheme is ABCBADED.
The first line of the poem asks a question. There are two ways to interpret the question – both correct. The first is to interpret the question literally. The second is to treat wind as a metaphor for existence beyond the human eye. It is likely that Rossetti is considering God in this question.
John 3:8: 8 “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
After her initial question, Line 2 quickly provides an answer and thus helps to establish the poem’s pacing. She continues in lines 3 and 4 with an explanation for how all people know the wind is present even though it cannot be seen.
The Speaker uses word choices in lines 3 and 4 which personify objects. In line 3, the leaves are “trembling” and in line 4, the wind is “passing through.” Keeping in mind then a potential intent to use wind as a metaphor for God, this makes sense. If the leaves are like humanity, we approach God with fear and trembling.
Psalms 2:11: Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Philippians 2:12: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Ephesians 6:5: Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
“Passing through” in Line 4 creates a sense of sentience with wind that we know it does not possess. This could be poetic description but it also hearkens to the verse from John 3:8 above as well.
In Line 5 and Line 6, the same question and answer are repeated about the wind as we saw in Lines 1 and 2, except that Line 6 changes the answer from “you nor I” to “I nor you.”
Line 7 move overtly personifies the trees than the “trembling” over the leaves in Line 3. Here there is less question that the personification intends to treat the trees as human in the presence of a divine wind. Leaves might be described as trembling for wont of a better word but one is unlikely to describe trees who “bow their heads” unless the Speaker is making a religious point. As we have established, though, that is what Rossetti is likely doing.
Keeping the focus on the comparison between Lines 3 and 7, we notes that the leaves only “tremble” at the wind in the first instance and that the tree “bows” in the second instance. With respect to a description of a literal wind, these two descriptions paint the picture of first a weak wind and then secondly a profoundly powerful wind. It should not be lost though that these two lines reflect perhaps different reactions to an encounter with God. Religious texts describe encounters with God as producing fear and trembling, however, they also are said to spur worship. The trees here seem to be worshipping the wind by bowing their heads.
Lines 4 and 8 are also interesting because while each is proceeded by lines that reflect wildly different reactions to wind, neither 4 nor 8 describe the wind as greatly distinctive from each other.
Line 4: The wind is passing through.
Line 8: The wind is passing by.
If the reactions to the wind are different, but the wind seems to be the same each time, then the difference lies with the one encountering the wind, does it not?
I enjoy this poem – and Rossetti’s work generally – because it creates in me a great depth of thought with brevity and relatable nature and beauty.