A Last Confession

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1849
Rhyme: blank verse
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: dramatic monologue


◦ Bullen, The Pre-Raphaelite Body (1998), 110-125

◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 134.

◦ Howard, The Dark Glass, 91-100.

◦ Masefield, Thanks Before Going, 10-11.

◦ Peterson, “Rossetti's ‘A Last Confession’” (1973) .

◦ Rees, DGR Revisted, 98-103.

◦ Riede, Poetry of DGR, 105-106.

◦ Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 321-325.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The monologue is the dying confession of an Italian patriot mortally wounded during the 1848 uprising against Austrian rule of the kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. It is difficult not to read it as (in one respect) a critical commentary on the condition of Italy in the aftermath of 1848. DGR's disillusionment was, in its own way, not unlike his father's. But DGR explicitly generalized his attitudes into the kind of mordant critique apparent in poems like “On Refusal of Aid Between Nations” , which dates from the period of this monologue. In DGR's monologue, the psychological critique of the Italian characters generates an allegorical reflection on social conditions.

This rhetoric of allegory has another important interpretive consequence: it opens a poem like “A Last Confession” to strictly “English” applications. (As in Browning's comparable texts, the “Italy” of this work is in a crucial sense a projection of “English” views, and hence as much a comment on English cultural politics as on current Italian events.)

These several interpretive procedures are further reinforced by a stylistic tendency that characterizes nearly all of DGR's work. It is a stylistic procedure that gets reinforced through the deployment of the dramatic monologue genre. So one wants to see that even when DGR wrote socially self-conscious poems, he typically approached his materials from an “inner standing point”. Consequently, the critical insights developed in a poem like “A Last Confession” are structurally congruent with poems like “Jenny” and “The Burden of Nineveh” as well as with “On Refusal of Aid Between Nations”.

When DGR revised the poem in October 1869 he told Swinburne that he had come to think it “the best of all my doings . . . I really do believe in the passion and reality of this poem, now that I see it again as a new thing, for I had no scrap of the old copies in this case. It is the outcome of the Italian part of me, and I am glad it is not lost.” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 191 ). In a later letter (November 1873) to Franz Heuffer he was even more explicit: “The first nucleus of the [poem] was the very earliest thing in the whole book, and was the simple and genuine result of my having passed my whole boyhood among people just like the speaker of the poem. Browning by travel and cultivation imported the same sort of thing into English poetry on a much larger scale; but this subject, if any, was my absolute birth-right, and the poem was conceived and in a manner begun long before 1848 (the date afterwards put to it, as characteristic of patriotic struggles,) and at a time when Byron and Shelley were about the limits of my modern English poeticstudies” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 73. 338 ).

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR, the poem was written in 1848-1849 and substantially completed at that time ( Works [1911], 649 ). It was one of the poems that had to be exhumed from his wife's grave in 1869.

The interpolated Italian song in the text was written early, in 1849, but DGR did not make his translation until October 1869, after he had recovered the poem from his wife's coffin.

For further details on the poem's composition see the commentaries for the Fitzwilliam MS and the Princeton MS fragment.

Textual History: Revision

DGR revised and corrected the poem in late October 1869 after the text was exhumed from his wife's grave. On 30 October 1869 he wrote to Swinburne that he had “now added to it about 130 lines, filling up corners, and also a translation of the Italian song in it” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 191 ).


See Commentary for the 1870 Poems .

Printing History

First printed in the Exhumation Proofs (Lewis proof state 8) and kept through all subsequent proof states until it was finally (first) published in the 1870 Poems ; and collected thereafter.


The poem is set in the Austrian-occupied kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia during the 1848 Italian uprising against Austrian rule.


The poem is most in debt to Browning; one thinks as much of “Porphyria's Lover” as of “Andrea del Sarto”. But the confession recalls as well the extended monologue/confession of the protagonist of Byron's The Giaour, which takes up most of the final section of Byron's poem.


DGR's comment about the poem, that it “is the outcome of the Italian part of me, and I am glad it is not lost” points to the personal element in the poem. DGR's attitude toward the events in Italy in 1848-1849 were substantially the same as his father's. Both men deplored the installation of papal power and the setback that Italian risorgimento suffered at that time.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1849.raw.xml