The Staff and Scrip

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1849 September; 1851-1852
Rhyme: a4b3a4b3b 2
Meter: iambic quintain
Genre: ballad


◦ Boos, Poetry of DGR, 130-135.

◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 113-114.

◦ Howard, The Dark Glass, 60-63.

◦ Masefield, Thanks Before Going, 13-14.


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

Scholarly Commentary


DGR sketched the poem in September 1849, when he adapted it out of his readings in the Gesta Romanorum, which he had just acquired. Critical judgment of the work varies greatly, from those who see it as one of DGR's most successful poems to those who find it relatively uninspired.

Textual History: Composition

On 18 September 1849 DGR wrote out and sent to his brother a prose “synopsis of the subject” (see Family Letters, II. 49 ), as well as a “considerably altered” version of the poem about which he wanted his WMR's opinion (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 49. 11 ). He seems not to have done anything further with his plans for the poem until 1851-52, when WMR says it was probably written ( Memoir, I. 197 ). That text would presumably be the original (unrevised) part of the Texas draft manuscript, a heavily revised composite text of the poem (part written in 1851-52, part in 1856). A corrected copy of part of the draft manuscript is also held in the Harry Ransom Research Center, U. of Texas.

Textual History: Revision

The poem was probably revised for its printing in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine in December 1856. The initial parts of those revisions can be seen in the Texas draft manuscript, where a great many stanzas are cancelled throughout the poem, and where other alterations and additions are to be seen. The Huntington Library also has a fair copy fragment of two stanzas written for the 1856 printing. The copy text for the 1856 printing does not appear to survive, however. The poem was further revised as it was passing through its prepublication states toward its eventual publication in the 1870 Poems (see DGR's letter to his brother of 26 August 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 137 ).


See Commentary for the 1870 Poems.

Printing History

First printed in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine (December 1856), a text that was picked up and reprinted in the May 1858 issue of The Crayon . It was revised and reprinted in the 1870 Poems. As the latter volume passed through further printings of the 1870 edition, DGR made additional changes to the text. It was then reprinted in its final form in the 1881 Poems.


The poem is based on one (and perhaps two) anecdotes from the Gesta Romanorum: no. 25 (“Of Ingratitude”) and no. 66 (“Of Constancy”). DGR clearly took the basic incident from the former, but in that tale the lady proves ultimately unfaithful to her vow. The tale “Of Constancy”, which is formally similar to “Of Ingratitude”, ends with her faithfulness.

DGR's sophistication of the traditional ballad stanza is most evident in the addition of the short fifth line, which was “perhaps suggested by Keats' stanza of ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’” ( Baum, Poems, Ballads and Sonnets, 23n ).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1851.raw.xml