The Sun's Shame

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869, 1873
Genre: poem group


◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 252.

◦ Baum, House of Life, 208-210.

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 397-398.

General Description of The Sun's Shame I.

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

General Description of The Sun's Shame II.

Date: 1873
Rhyme: abbaabbacddcee
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnetstext.

Scholarly Commentary


The title's typically Rossettian wordplay anticipates in the first sonnet's concluding lines: for it remains a nice question whether the “Sun” is incorporate with the shame or merely an observer of shameful things. The same problem then applies to the “I” who records his own observations (line 12).

Within The House of Life the first sonnet recalls “The Hill Summit”. “Autumn Idleness” takes up related isues as well, and in fact opens with a phrase that echoes this poem's title (“The sunlight shames November”); it was brought into even closer relation with this sonnet when it was included in The House of Life in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets volume.

When DGR added the second sonnet to form the pair he altered the textual situation in two ways. First, he enlarged the argument so that it would have a specifically social and political dimension. Second, the enlargement allowed DGR to open the argument toward a more benevolent reading of the processes of cultural declension. The second sonnet develops affinities with a Nietzschean “Eternal Return” via the apparent renunciation of any Christian redemptive economy. The journeying world and its individual persons are “All soulless now” as they wend a way toward “nearer nothingness”. Unlike Swinburne, who would represent this condition as ultimate human freedom, DGR asks us to see the situation from the point of view of a person like Swinburne's Tannhauser in “Laus Veneris” —that is to say, as a freedom dogged by fearful anxieties passed along by the fact of monotheistic histories.

Textual History: Composition

Sonnet I was probably written in the summer of 1869 (which is Doughty's date), though it could have been written anytime before August 1869, when it was printed in the first proofs for the coming 1870 volume of poems. Two manuscripts are gathered in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence, a corrected draft and a fair copy. Another corrected copy is housed in the library of University of British Columbia.

The second sonnet was written later, in 1873, when it was titled “The World's Soul”. One of DGR's notebooks has a prose summary as well as a draft of the octave. A heavily corrected draft is in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence and another fair copy is in the Bodleian. Two further copies are in the Troxell composite “House of Life” sequence: a corrected draft and a fair copy.

Printing History

Sonnet I was first printed in August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs; the sonnet remained in all proof stages and was published in the 1870 Poemsand thereafter. It is The House of Life Sonnet XLIV in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet XCII in the 1881 Poems and Ballads volume. Sonnet II was first published in the latter text and numbered Sonnet XCIII.


The second sonnet recalls the mordant point of view developed in DGR's “On Refusal of Aid Between Nations”.


As Sharp notes (429-430 ), the first sonnet is a deliberate reworking of Shakespeare's Sonnet 66.


Baum comments that the first sonnet's “interest is largely autobiographic” ( House of Life, 209 ). And the sonnet may easily be read as an expression of DGR's regrets for wasting his talents and virtues on unworthy pursuits, in particular luxury, success, and money.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 18-1869.raw.xml