Alternately titled: For Answer

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaabbacddcdc
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 161-162

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 385-387

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer), 227-228


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1870 Poems First Edition Text.

Scholarly Commentary


WMR and Baum both want to read the title to mean “many-sidedness”, which is alright so far as it goes; but that gloss obscures the title's larger (and almost contradictory) suggestiveness, which plays with the word's Latin root to mean closed in, confined.

In the context of The House of Life, line 9 produces a startling effect in the reader, who is (in this “stanza” of the sequence) “in” a room/stanza of the sonnet sequence, as well as in (the poem presumes) some “real” room/stanza. Moreover, both poet and reader may be imagined “in” the room together, and when that imagination is released the text organizes itself into a kind of Borgesian labyrinth (one thinks in particular of a story like “Death and the Compass”).

Textual History: Composition

WMR speculated that the date of the sonnet may have been 1860 (see WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 293 ), but in 1911 he dated it 1869, which is Fredeman's date. WMR's earlier speculation may not be entirely amiss, however, as we can see from the Delaware manuscript of the sonnet, which antedates all later texts and bears an original title “For Answer(” (altered from “Questions” on the manuscript); both are characteristic of the titles he used before he had any thought to construct The House of Life sequence.

Two other copies, both with corrections, survive in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence; one derived directly from the Delware manuscript, the other from the latter.

Printing History

First printed as sonnet XIV in the sequence of sixteen sonnets published in the Fortnightly Review in March 1869. It was then printed in mid-August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs and remained in all proof stages until it was published in the 1870 Poems and thereafter. It is The House of Life Sonnet XXIX in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet LXIII in 1881.


WMR wrote of line 9: “I suppose this refers to an actual room in Rossetti's old-fashioned house, 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea” ( DGR as Designer and Writer, 228 ). DGR moved there after his wife died in early 1862.

Baum rightly says that in the octave “the choice of illustration [is] rather strange” ( The House of Life, 162 ), and the images in lines 5-8 are especially arresting because of the domestic suggestions reinforced in the sestet. These details suggest that the sonnet might well be taken as a kind of preface to the group of four sonnets [“Known in Vain”, “The Landmark”, “A Dark Day”, and “The Hill Summit”] that immediately succeed it in the 1870 sequence. These are all early sonnets; as such, they come into the sequence in 1869-1870 carrying immediate (if subtextual) reflexive meanings. They are, in short, especially open to autobiographical readings because their very appearance in the sequence enacts a memorial gesture.

Doughty reads the sestet as an oblique, guilt-ridden memory of Jane Morris's visits to Cheyne Walk in the spring of 1868.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 15-1869.raw.xml