Bridal Birth

Alternately titled: Bridal Birthdays

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869 summer
Rhyme: abbaaccadefdef
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 66-67

◦ Buttel, “Rossetti's ‘Bridal Birth’”, (1964), 23

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 398

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 185-186

◦ Stein, The Ritual of Interpretation, 190-191


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

Scholarly Commentary


The syntactic ambiguity of the appositive construction in lines 5-6 locates the dynamic of mutual desire in the sonnet: both the Lady and Love are “creature[s] of poignant thirst/And exquisite hunger”, and the poet's figural recreations signify his identity with them. By representing the dynamic in nuptial terms DGR can introduce (the context is after all a Victorian one) the fleshly terms in which the spiritual relations are imagined to be working themselves out.

Lines 7-8 are loosely biblical/religious: they recall Jesus' harrowing of hell, the trumpet-call to the Last Judgment, perhaps even the climactic moment of the crucifixion when Jesus gives up the ghost. In any case, they introduce the idea (traditional and Christian) of a second birth; and as the sestet argues, this new life is itself an evolving process that culminates in “Death's nuptial change”. The latter may be read either literally—as a reference to the passage of the married lovers to their final reward in heaven; or more figuratively, as an argument about the spiritual inertia at work when two “become one flesh”.

In terms of The House of Life as a whole, the sonnet introduces many of the key figures: the poet and his Beloved, Love, Death, and the figure of Life here represented as the child (who will reappear in several important later sonnets in the sequence).

Textual History: Composition

WMR dates the sonnet “Before mid-autumn 1869” (Peattie, Letters of WIlliam Michael Rossetti, 6 ), and Fredeman follows this suggestion, dating the sonnet 1869 (see Fredeman, “Rossetti's ‘In Memoriam’” ). Baum follows Tisdel in dating it ?1851-1862 (Baum, House of Life, 66 ). The sonnet first appears in print in mid-August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs. The corrected fair copy in the Fitzwilliam Museum is made on the verso of the last page of a manuscript of “The Portrait” that we know was made in the summer of 1869, almost certainly in August. The other manuscript is a slightly earlier corrected draft in the Fitzwilliam Museum's bound volume of The House of Life manuscripts.

Textual History: Revision

DGR slightly altered the 1870 Poems text when he reprinted the sonnet in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets volume. .

Printing History

First printed in mid-August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs, the sonnet remained in all proof stages and was published in the 1870 Poems and thereafter. It is The House of Life Sonnet I in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet II in 1881.


The sonnet consciously adopts a courtly and even astil novisti manner in its address (“my Lady”) and in its manner of elaborating its complex conceits. DGR means to establish a general relation to Dante's Vita Nuova, which also opens with the appearance of Love and Dante's Lady (Beatrice) as guiding figures of the unfolding story. Perhaps equally relevant is Guinicelli's famous Canzone. Of the Gentle Heart, translated by DGR.

The sonnet inaugurates the important image constellation of the grove and its associated motifs. For Petrarch's clear influence on this nexus of images see his Rime nos. CXLII and CLXXXI in particular (but also XXIII, LX, LXXI, and CVII).

In contrast to the stil novisti works, however, the idea of marriage is introduced into DGR's poem. The “Bridal” thought defines the Victorian terms that govern DGR's work, and in particular The House of Life, which is this sonnet's structural context.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1869.raw.xml