Bocca Baciata

Alternately titled: The Song of the Bower

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1860
Date: 1859
Rhyme: ababcdcd
Meter: dactylic octameter
Genre: song


◦ Bentley, “Love for Love: Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Bocca Baciata and ‘The Song of the Bower’”

◦ Bullen, The Pre-Raphaelite Body (1998), 51-53, 89-95, 102-108

◦ McGann, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game that Must Be Lost (2002), 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


The double work is not always recognized as such. Indeed, the work has always, and rightly, been linked almost exclusively to the pictorial element, the great and pivotal oil on panel known as Bocca Baciata. But this is indeed a double work and the associated poem is a significant one, not least in relation to the picture, whose commentary should be consulted.

Although written well before DGR was putting together his 1870 volume (where it was first published), the poem folds into the book's central thematic and imagistic concerns. Baum remarks that it “should be read with The Stream's Secret” (see Baum, Poems, Ballads, Sonnets 156n), which is apt enough, though the poem echoes as well many poems in The House of Life sonnets (e.g., “Farewell to the Glen”). An 1869-70 context fits easily with the poem's gorgeous style. The beloved imagined in this poem resembles the more voluptuous women who populate DGR's paintings from the early 1860's—figures out of Venetian art rather than the more austere women inspired by DGR's interest in primitive and early Italian Renaissance painting.

The poem recurs to DGR's preoccupation with the recovery of a lost, primal love. In this respect it recalls nothing so much as “The Blessed Damozel”. Because this work makes such a radical shift toward the “profane” and “fleshly” dimension of the lost beloved, the implication arises that what the lover has been “missing” is in fact a mortal beloved, rather than some transcendental and spiritualized mistress.

Textual History: Composition

The poem was composed in 1860, as WMR was the first to indicate (see 1911 xxviii)—that is to say, shortly after DGR had completed the painting which it doubles. WMR may have seen an early manuscript (not now extant), but he understood that the first title of the poem, “Bocca Baciata”, placed it in a close relation with the painting of the same title, which was finished late in 1859.

The only manuscript of the poem that we have is the text included in the Fitwilliam manuscript of “Three Songs”, where it was copied out initially under the title “Bocca Baciata”. This title is cancelled in the manuscript, a change that was clearly made very late, when DGR was revising the poem for inclusion in the 1870 volume.

Textual History: Revision

The second stanza was added to the text as the poem was passing through its pre-publication process towards the 1870 Poems. The stanza first appears in the Second Trial Book, which was assembled in November 1869. Swinburne, who first saw the addition early in December when he received his proofs of DGR's book, was full of praise for the passage—which in truth is one of the most Swinburnian passages in the poem (see Lang, Swinburne's Letters II. 64 ).

Production History

In July 1859 DGR persuaded George Boyce to commission a portrait of Fanny which became the famous picture Bocca Baciata (see his letter to Boyce, 5 September 1859, in which he included a small sketch of the planned work: “Above is the composition of Fanny's portrait, which you will see has taken after all a rather Venetian aspect. ‘Them be'ind's merrygoes,’ as the fair original might say in her striking rendering of the word marygolds. Its size is 13 x 11, and I have ordered for it a frame of a new design. The picture is well advanced, & I am doing nothing else at present. But I must tell you this is the 2nd version of it, without which fact it would have been finished before now. I was induced to throw the first aside, on account of its being painted with a good deal of copal & on panel, a combination which I never before attempted and which I found produced an unpleasant glossiness of surface. I therefore, by a severe exercise of conscience, threw it aside after making considerable progress with it. Its design was different from the present one, the head being in the action I scrawled out for you when I last saw you. The present one is the same action of the head as in the Golden Water which Ruskin has. I am putting more work in it than I at first intended, so you will have no cause to complain. The head is finished as far as likeness is concerned, and is more like, I think, than any I have done. I must confess that the pencil sketch is not finished yet, as, the day I meant to work on it, I drew the portrait instead, and have not thought of it since. But done it shall be.” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 59. 35 ). Boyce's painting was completed in October. The other picture, oil on panel as well, is in a private collection.

Printing History

First printed as part of the pre-publication process for the 1870 Poems, in the Penkill Proofs, August 1869. Those proofs have no special organization of the poetic units. At the next proof stage, the so-called A Proofs (Sept. 1869), this poem is placed in a loosely organized section under the heading “Sonnets and Songs, Towards a Work to be Called The House of Life”. DGR experimented with the order of this section until, in the final proof stage (realized at the beginning of March, 1870) this poem and ten others were grouped as The House of Life's integral section of Songs. In the 1881 Poems. A New Edition, this section is detached from The House of Life and placed under the heading Lyrics, and two other poems are added to the group. This poem appears at page 245.


Under the title The Song of the Bower the poem recalls the Bible's “Song of Songs”; this source text is especially apparent in stanza 3 (lines 19-23). But under the title Bocca Baciata the literary reference is to Boccaccio's Decameron, Day 2, Story 7. These radically different textual references underscore the marriage of the sacred and profane that becomes such a crucial part of DGR's work from 1859 forward.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1860.s114.raw.xml