Love's Nocturn

Alternately titled: Nocturn

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1854; 1869 (much revised)
Rhyme: a4b4a4b4b4a2b4
Meter: septet, trochaic
Genre: dramatic lyric
The stanza builds a subtle and complex form out of its basic initial ballad quatrain. The fifth line is crucial since its b rhyme erodes the standard ballad closure. The short line six forces the movement to hover, and the internal rhyme introduced in line seven turns the stanza back upon itself.


◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 120

◦ Riede, Poetry of DGR, 73-74.


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


Although one of DGR's most impressive poems, this work has not been much commented upon, and from the outset it seems to have caused readers trouble. Having failed to get it published in the Atlantic in 1855, DGR learned that the poem struck readers as obscure. A few years later Ruskin, who greatly admired the poem, tried (unsuccessfully) to get it published in the Cornhill (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 55. 51, 57. 36, 58. 16, and 60. 36A ).

DGR conceived the poem as a kind of dramatic monologue: “The first conception of this poem was of a man not yet in love who dreams vaguely of a woman who he thinks must exist for him. This is not very plainly expressed, and not I think very valuable; and it might be better to refer the love to a known woman whom he wishes to approach” (see his letter to to WMR 14 Sept. 1869: ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 154 ). He revised the poem to encourage this latter interpretation, though it does not prevent the other.

The poem's influence on W. B. Yeats was profound, as one can see especially in lines 50-63.

Textual History: Composition

The poem was written in 1854, according to WMR ( 1911 ), and then heavily revised when it was passing through the 1869-1870 pre-publication revisions for the publication of the 1870 Poems. The Fitzwilliam manuscript is the earliest surviving text and served as printer's copy for thePenkill Proofs.

Textual History: Revision

This was one of the first poems to be revised during the 1869-70 process of preparing the Poems 1870 for publication, and the revisions were extensive. In September 1869 the first of this poem's major revisions is made in the Penkill Proofs for this poem, where four stanzas are added in manuscript by DGR (stanzas 2, 18, 20, and a stanza that was subsequently dropped following stanza 21). Another stanza followed stanza 7 in the proofs but was excised in a later proof.

In this early state of the text, one can see quite clearly that the poem is closely cognate with, for example, the Willowwood sonnets (see especially lines 22-26).


See Commentary for the 1870 Poems.

Printing History

First set in type in the Penkill Proofs (Lewis's second proof state), which DGR received in mid-August 1869. The poem was much revised in the pre-publication process that culminated in the 1870 Poems, where it was first published. Collected thereafter.


Lines 50-70 of the poem, a central section, connect the work directly with the doppelgänger theme that so fascinated DGR. The key pictorial work here is what DGR called his Bogie drawing, How They Met Themselves. DGR originally made this drawing in 1851 for G. P. Boyce, and in 1861—during his honeymoon in Paris—he made a new version. The original is lost. (See Surtees I. 74 and DGR's letter to Boyce, 3 February 1861: Fredeman, Correspondence, 61 10 ).


In Rossettian terms, the poem's central situation should be compared with Chiaro dell Erma's dream vision of his soul in Hand and Soul, and of course with the many variant versions of such dream visions that appear throughout his work, including The Blessed Damozel, the Willowwood sonnets of The House of Life, and dream texts like The Stream's Secret. The ultimate origin of this kind of visionary poem, for DGR, is the love poetry he translated and eventually published as The Early Italian Poets: see for example Cino da Pistoia's Sonnet. A Trance of Love; Bonaggiunta Urbiciano's Canzonetta. How He Dreams of his Lady, and of course various dream texts of Dante (for example, A very pitiful lady, very young in The New Life).


Doughty ( A Victorian Romantic, 149-150 ) reads the poem as an expression of DGR's disillusionment with his love for Elizabeth Siddal.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1854.raw.xml