In the first part of this work, against a background of destruction in history and of history, glowing figures move. The second section contains poems about various art works as durable epiphanies. Poems in the third section work around figures that signify resistance, in large ways and small, to destruction, and endurance through it. Various historical periods are sighted or glimpsed through a lens and in a shifting perspective, those of a person now captive, now free. Each section centres on transformation and metamorphosis, Middleton's perennial theme.
Christina Rossetti was in a sense the first poet of the Pre-Raphelites, her "Goblin Market and Other Poems" (1862) having been - as if by accident - the writing from that group which first caught public attention. It contains many of her best poems. Later work - devotional poems, love lyrics and descriptive pieces - extended the themes and forms of her first remarkable collection. It is remarkable, but in a quiet and intense way, not in the manner of those who seem to have learned from her among her contemporaries. Ford Madox Ford, who had a subtle ear for the unemphatic excellence of the 19th-century writers, called her "the most valuable poet that the Victorian age produced". Her modern admirers are many, especially among the poets. Philip Larkin speaks of her poetry as "unequalled for its objective expression of happiness denied and a certain unfamiliar steely stoicism". In this selection C.H. Sisson presents a wide range of her work and in his biographical and critical introduction suggests fresh perspectives on it. Sisson also includes here Rossetti's long-unavailable "Maude, A Story for Girls", which was written when she was very young and gives some indication of her cast of mind and her skills as a writer of prose fiction. The character of Maude is a severe self-portrait, wry at her own expense. As Sisson says, "with any poet the starting point, social as well as literary, is worth finding out about".