Percy Bysshe Shelley (Inscription for the couch, still preserved, on which he passed the last night of his life)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1881
Rhyme: abbaaccadeedff
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet

Scholarly Commentary


The subtitle of the sonnet refers to the couch that was in the possession of DGR's brother William (who published his Memoir of Shelley in 1886). DGR uses that devotional object to focus his sonnet's meditation on a set of key (and related) Shelleyan ideas: sleep, death, and “the veil which those who live/Call life”. DGR's sonnet refers explicitly to a pair of important Shelleyan texts: the sonnet “Lift Not the Painted Veil” and lines 191ff. of Act I of Prometheus Unbound.

DGR was re-reading Hogg's two-volume life of Shelley, published in 1858, in the summer of 1881, and it may be that he wrote his sonnet at that time. On the other hand, the other sonnets that eventually appeared in 1881 under the heading Five English Poets were written in 1880 and the poem may belong to that year.

Textual History: Composition

Four manuscripts survive: a draft copy in the Library of Congress; the British Library fair copy (with corrections in lines 11 and 13); and two copies in the library of the Delaware Art Museum, aanother corrected copy and a final fair copy.

Printing History

It was first published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets as one of the group of sonnets he headed with the title Five English Poets. It was collected thereafter but in the 1911 Works the five-sonnet grouping is dissolved altogether by WMR and this sonnet, like the four others, is printed separately.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 12-1881.raw.xml