Hero's Lamp

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1875
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 249.

◦ Baum, House of Life, 201-202.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 190-191.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 144.

◦ Fennell, Rossetti-Leyland Letters, 86-89.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet retells the legend that DGR found in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy (Part III sec. ii Mem. v Subsec. 3.) and that he summarized in his prose note to the sonnet. The relevance of the sonnet to the 1881 “House of Life” is oblique at best. DGR seems to hold the legend, and the sonnet, as a mythic or symbolic emblem of what DGR's own experience of love might mean. But the significance remains obscure and ambiguous, since in one sense DGR has been quite successful in his loves, while in another he stands at a kind of perpetual loss. DGR does not allude to what the Burton text goes on to say— hat no man ever relit the lamp because of the inveterate inconstancy of women. For DGR, that ancient misogynist topos seems irrelevant.

Textual History: Composition

The poem seems to have grown from a text DGR found in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and that he copied into the second of the small Ashley note books.

Five integral manuscripts of the sonnet survive: a corrected draft in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center; a fair copy in the Bodleian composite collection; a fair copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence; and two other fair copies, one in the Rosenbach Library and another in the Bancroft collection of the Delaware Art Museum.

Printing History

First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.


The sonnet was written in 1875 to accompany a painting DGR projected at that time for Frederick Leyland. The picture was never executed, though Leyland had paid DGR 800 gns. for it. In October 1880 Leyland proposed that DGR do a replica of The Blessed Damozel instead, and the arrangement was made for an additional 500 pounds (see Fennell, Rossetti-Leyland Letters 86-89 ).


See Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, [T. Wiley, New York] 1850, 540 (Part III sec. ii Mem. v Subsec. 3.).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1875.sa88.raw.xml