• Mass Times

• Coming Events

• Sacraments

• Ministries

• Parish Staff

• Consultative Bodies

• Photo Gallery

• Virtual Tour

• History

• Contribute


• Bulletin

• In Your Midst

• Pastor's Desk


• Becoming Catholic

• Bookstore

• Faith Formation

• Funerals

• Immigrant Assistance

• Liturgy

• Mental Health

• Music

• Outreach/Advocacy

• Pastoral Care

• Weddings

• Young Adults

• Youth Ministry





Christina Rossetti, “Up-Hill”
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.

Every Christian lives their faith in their own way. For some, faith is tranquil; for others, stormy. Rossetti was definitely one of the latter. Her faith story brings to mind St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12)
Faith did not come easy to Rossetti. She was hyper-conscious of her own flaws and exerted a rigid control over herself even with close friends. A biographer has written that her self-control was so extreme that she “retreated behind a mask of excessive and sometimes offensive politeness,” in an effort to offset what she saw as her besetting flaws of pride and anger.
This poem, written in 1858 when Rossetti was 28 years old, takes the form of a dialogue, questions and answers, between two voices. We don’t really know who either the questioner or the respondent is. But we soon recognize that much lies beneath the surface.
The first questions are simple, almost childlike. Is it all uphill? And how long will it take? We are reminded of the proverbial child’s question, “are we there yet?” The answers to these questions are affirmative. Yes – this journey is uphill all the way, and it’s not short: it will last from morning until night – a lifetime.
The questioner goes on to other questions about the end of the journey. How is one to know the place? What if you get lost? And the answers come, reassuringly. There will be a place to stay – “a roof for when the slow dark hours begin.” And there is no getting lost – “you cannot miss that inn.” Others have done this before, and there will be no waiting: there is room for all, “beds for all who come.”
This poem is full of hope. To every question, there is a reassuring “yes.” And yet, I find the poem quite challenging as well. The responses are certainly hopeful, but they are also vague and sometimes even a bit ominous. When the questioner asks, “shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak,” the response comes: “Of labour you shall find the sum.” Whose labor is being referred to here? It sounds like the “sum” of comfort will depend on the labor of the individual.
In this poem, the uphill journey is, of course, a metaphor for life itself, with all its challenges; and the inn where we rest at the end of the day can be read in a variety of ways. On one level, it speaks of heaven—“in my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places.” The inn can also be read as the grave that awaits us all, the “roof” under which we shelter during the “slow dark hours.”
At another level, we can read “Up Hill” as a poem about anything that is really worth doing. Think of all the uphill journeys in our lives – and in our society. As Rossetti’s poem makes clear, these journeys will take everything we have. The answers to our questions will not come clear and absolute. Little signs of hope are all we are going to get.
In 1865, Rossetti wrote another poem, which is a companion to “Up Hill.” Entitled “Amor Mundi,” or “Love of the World,” it also features two speakers in a dialogue. One invites the other on a journey, this time, a downhill journey: “The downhill path is easy, come with me an it please ye, / We shall escape the uphill by never turning back.” At the end of that poem, we realize where that this downhill path is “hell’s own track.” And the consequences are bleak: “too late for cost-counting: This downhill path is easy, but there’s no turning back.” If it’s easy, Rossetti says, be suspicious of it: everything worth doing is difficult.




Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303