I'm afraid I don't get the last two lines in At Last by Christina Rossetti:

Many have sung of love a root of bane:
While to my mind a root of balm it is,
For love at length breeds love; sufficient bliss
For life and death and rising up again.
Surely when light of Heaven makes all things plain,
Love will grow plain with all its mysteries;
Nor shall we need to fetch from over seas
Wisdom or wealth or pleasure safe from pain.
Love in our borders, love within our heart,
Love all in all, we then shall bide at rest,
Ended for ever life's unending quest,
Ended for ever effort, change and fear:
Love all in all;--no more that better part
Purchased, but at the cost of all things here.

Love is no more a "better part that is purchased by someone"? The whole sentence kind of fails to dovetail together for me. Why is there this "but-clause"?

I don't need literary interpretation, just a basic lowdown on "who did what". For instance, is "purchased" used as an adjective here, describing "better part"? Or is "better part" the agent of the verb "purchase"?

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    I believe the but clause introduces a contrast. We may have obtained love in all in all but it will have been at the cost of (=it cost us) all things here (on earth). Perhaps in more modern parlance: The "purchasing price of love all in all is all things here". But the language and the phrase are a bit difficult.
    – user20792
    Nov 29, 2015 at 12:21
  • @NES - thank you! I suspected the same meaning for "at the cost of all things here", but the meaning of "no more that better part purchased" remains cryptic. Love is "the better part" of life. Once we're in heaven, love will no longer have to be purchased(?). Why then mention "the cost"? Is it because we've "purchased" total love by one transaction: our death? I wonder if this sentence looks clumsy or cryptic to a native speaker.. Nov 29, 2015 at 12:25
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    I don't think "our literal death" is the big cost she is taking about (although that is involved) but our love of "all things here". We will have to let go of all those things to attain the highest, which she terms 'love all in all'. But it's poetry, open to interpretation, and--beyond determining the purpose of the punctuation and meaning of specific words--probably beyond the scope of this site, because, you know, it's a question that brings about "messy answers".)
    – user20792
    Nov 29, 2015 at 12:36
  • "That better part purchased" is cryptic to me.
    – user20792
    Nov 29, 2015 at 12:40

1 Answer 1


I think we can understand the extended metaphor in the final lines in the context of the cost of fetching things from overseas.

Nor shall we need to fetch from over seas  
Wisdom or wealth or pleasure safe from pain.  
Love in our borders ...

At the cost of = to the detriment of.

"No more will those better things be purchased (overseas) to the detriment of all things domestic."

We should not devalue all things here at home because we believe better things are to be found outside our borders "overseas".

Whether this analogy is also in play:

Things to be had here at home : Things found abroad :: This Life : The Afterlife

is probably beyond the scope of this site.

On "but" compare:

We won the battle but at great cost to our ranks.

  • Thank you, TRomano! It was a hard thing to undo this knot! (0: Nov 30, 2015 at 18:36
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    In religious texts, where there is a corruptible body/immortal soul division at play, the "better part" often refers to the eternal soul. So that phrase here alludes to this religious commonplace while also participating in the extended metaphor of things of supposedly superior quality being fetched from overseas. Knotty is right :)
    – TimR
    Nov 30, 2015 at 19:14

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