Heart's Compass

Alternately titled: Love's Compass

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 201-202

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life, 103-104


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

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet is heavily invested in Dantean materials and comprises a kind of aesthetic recapitulation of Dante's neo-platonic thought. DGR seems to be thinking back through the relation of Beatrice and Love as explicated in his translation of the Vita Nuova. The translation represents Dante's autobiography as a prolepsis of the culminant visions in the Paradiso. The final sonnet of the latter is a useful reference point for reading “Heart's Compass”.

DGR's “fleshly” orientation to his Dantean inheritance is, however, very clear, not least in the sestet's reversion to its sublunar courtly orientation. The octave's culminant paradisal image (“furthest fires”) illustrates what DGR here calls an “ambiguous art”, referencing as it does both Dante's paradisal world of light and a very human eroticism.

Textual History: Composition

Four holograph manuscripts survive: an early, perhaps the first, draft in the British Library, written in the autumn of 1871; and three fair copies: the copy in the Fitzwilliam compilation of “The House of Life”, the copy in the Library of Congress, the copy among the Kelmscott Love Sonnets.

Printing History

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

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 12-1871.raw.xml