Last Fire

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

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


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 203

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life, 106-107

Scholarly Commentary


The wit of the poem hangs upon the initial worplay in the preposition “through”, by which the lovers are represented as both the givers and the receivers of the “glory” spoken of. Note the wordplay that follows in the word “possessed”. Had Swinbjurne handled this subject, the poem would have enacted its ecstatic theme, which ultimately derives from the sympathetic pantheism initiated in poems like Wordsworth's “Lines Written in Early Spring” and Coleridge's “The Eolian Harp”. Casting the opening sentence as a question reinforces DGR's poetic argument that a transrational agency is at work in the spacetime inhabited by the lovers. The sonnet, especially the octave, is a Romantic version of Donne's “The Canonization”. DGR's metaphysics are sentimental, however, not scholastic.

The sestet is interesting for what it does not do: that is to say, it does not treat this “deathless hour” as a Wordsworthian resource, a moment to be recollected as a source of grace in later dark times. DGR treats the seasons as separate powers, so to speak. In this sonnet the winter landscape is evoked as a device for clarifying the value of the summer's ecstacy, which might otherwise have passed without having been marked. The sestet's winter in fact serves as a kind of objecive correlative for DGR's self-conscious and intellectual consideration of the meaning of love.

Textual History: Composition

Composed in the summer of 1871, the sonnet comes down to us through two manuscripts: the fair copy in the Fitzwilliam compilation of “The House of Life”; and what is probably the printer's copy, now gathered in the Troxell compilation of the sonnet sequence. The octave of the earlier, Fitzwilliam manuscript is markedly more erotic than the Princeton copy, and markedly superior to the revised text.

Printing History

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

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 15-1871.raw.xml