Text of the Poem

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.

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.

Footnotes

  1. The word “seek” frames the questioner’s path as a spiritual journey: a quest for salvation, for a bed at road’s end. To “seek” implies a high degree of intention. The guide’s reply is cryptic. There are “beds for all who come.” Whether “all” refers solely to seekers or encompasses non-seekers as well is unclear. This lack of clarity is part of the poem’s purpose. There are no simple answers to spiritual questions.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. This line introduces an intriguing complication to the poem’s concept of the afterlife. When reworded, the line’s logic can be understood in a different way: in the afterlife, one receives comfort equal to the amount of labour done during one’s life. The precise nature of the labour is not clear, but one assumes it carries a sense of religious morality and thus is tied to good deeds.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The word “wayfarer” comes from Germanic roots: “way” means “road”; “farer” means “goer” or “traveller.” In archaic use, the verb “to fare” was used to signal a departure from life. This meaning is highly relevant to Rossetti’s poem, in which the wayfarers are travellers along a metaphorical road through life into death.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Rossetti uses alternating meters for the voices of the traveller and guide. The traveller’s questions all fall into lines of iambic pentameter. The guide usually replies in trimeter, though on several occasions speaks in tetrameter and pentameter. The trimeter lines, with their three swift beats, are particularly suited for conveying the tonal differences between the characters. The traveller is desperate and searching, filling long lines with questions. The guide is sure and cryptic, dealing out appropriately short lines.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. In most literary uses, the duality of light and darkness serves one of two metaphorical purposes. Light and darkness signal good and evil, as well as knowledge and ignorance. In this line and the next, “darkness” may draw on both metaphors. The questioner wonders whether wickedness or ignorance will hide the resting-place at the end of the road from sight. The reply—“You cannot miss that inn”—indicates that we all eventually reach the road’s end.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The use of the verb “begins” contrasts the “end” mentioned in the second line. The suggestion is that the resting-place marks the end of the road and yet the beginning of something else. Thus the “slow dark hours” are a metaphor for the afterlife or the transition into it.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The relationship between the two speakers is never made entirely explicit. Aspects of their rapport seem to be modelled after the well-known duo of Dante and Virgil, the central characters of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Dante is a pilgrim on a spiritual quest with his friend, guide, and fellow poet Virgil offering him advice and information along the way. Similarly, the questioner in this poem is set on a spiritual road and receives information by a guide who characterizes the relationship as a kind of friendship.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. This line reveals one of the poem’s other primary conceits: the course of a day as a lifetime. The journey on the road lasts “from morn to night,” so that the arrival of darkness signals the nearing of the end of life.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Rossetti uses a call-and-response format in “Uphill.” The poem is narrated by two voices, who speak in alternating lines. The first voice is the questioner, the traveller who wishes to understand the road ahead. The second voice is the guide who knows more of the journey and shares wisdom about it one piece at a time.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The language Rossetti uses to describe the road directs our attention to the poem’s central conceit: the road is the path of life. Like our lives, the road “wind[s]” in the sense that its twists and turns are unpredictable. It is “uphill” in the sense that it requires of us ongoing struggle and toil.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. “Resting-place” in this line holds a double meaning. On one level, the speaker is literally looking for a place to rest for the night before continuing their great journey the next day. On another level, “resting-place” can also be read as a final or eternal “resting-place,” like a grave.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff