Jessie Cameron Synopsis
The poem tells the story of two young people, Jessie Cameron and her spurned lover. Whilst they stand on a beach at dusk, he begs for her love and she continues to reject his pleas. Eventually the tide comes in and traps them. The second half of the poem is based on the suspicions and thoughts of neighbours as they account for their disappearance and suspected death at sea.
Rossetti composed Jessie Cameron in 1864. In 1866, she included it in her second volume of verse, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems.
The entire second half of Jessie Cameron is built upon on the hear-say and gossip of the neighbours. Following the use of the phrase ‘Some say’ three times in the fifth stanza, the fate of Jessie and her lover is narrated through what the neighbours think they hear and what they think they see. Whilst ‘none will ever know’ (line 104) any details regarding the last conversations or movements of the lovers, the poem suggests that speculation will never cease, with people reflecting on what they may have heard or what they may have seen.
Many of the poems included in the first, non-devotional, half of The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, reflect upon the urgency of taking action and the difficulties that loitering presents. Jessie Cameron is the third poem of the volume. It follows:
Along with Jessie Cameron, both The Prince’s Progress and Maiden-Song highlight the dangers of loitering whilst on a journey. In Jessie Cameron, it is because they remain out on the beach, when they should have ‘hastened to begone’ (line 63), that Jessie and her lover are caught in the breakers of the sea.
- The long narrative poem, The Prince’s Progress, which tells of a prince who lingers too long on his journey and arrives at the palace of his bride too late. The prince’s story ends in tragedy because he ‘loitered on the road too long’ and ‘trifled at the gate’ (line 483-4)
- The ballad, Maiden-Song, which tells of three sisters who all find love in different ways. Meggan and May, after ‘loiter[ing] long’ and ‘late’ (lines 156, 160), rush to find husbands. In their haste, they condemn Margaret, whom they suspect loiters at home. In fact, she is patiently waiting for the king of the country to arrive and propose.
Whilst Jessie’s full name is used as the title of the poem and repeatedly referred to throughout, the name of her lover is not once mentioned. Instead, Jessie calls him ‘neighbour’s son’ (lines 3, 11) avoiding any more intimate communication. By constantly speaking of the girl as ‘Jessie Cameron’, the poem distinguishes her from the other girls she recommends to her lover -Madge, Cis, or Kate (lines 33-4)- and highlights her individuality. Whereas she wants to go her ‘own free way’ (line 24), it is suggested that most girls want the protection of a man, so would not dare to refuse an offer of marriage. By drawing on her surname, the poem reflects its permanence - like Jessie herself, it will not be changed for the sake of a man.
Investigating Jessie Cameron
Think about the representation of Jessie throughout the poem
- How is she perceived by the narrator?
- How is she perceived by her neighbours?
- What are her main characteristics?
- How does the presentation of Jessie differ from the presentation of her lover?