“I saw the Sibyl at Cumae”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1873
Rhyme: aabaca
Meter: iambic trimeter
Genre: epigram

Scholarly Commentary


Written around 1873 (not 1870 as WMR surmised), it was first printed in the 1886 Works. The translation is interesting partly because of its famous reappearance as the epigraph to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (Eliot almost certainly lifted it from DGR); and partly for the way it reflects on DGR's sense of the aptness of the fragment for his own place and time. The epigram is quite closely related to “The House of Life”, and in particular to the key themes that climax in the “Newborn Death” sonnets and the final sonnet, “The One Hope”. The death that the sibyl longs for resonates towards a “new life” as much for DGR as for Eliot, though DGR's “new life” is clearly conceived in far more secular terms than the one Eliot committed himself to.

Textual History: Composition

DGR copied the text from Petronius and drafted his epigram in the second of his small note books in the Ashley collection, around 1873. Another text, without the Petronius original, is preserved at Princeton.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 19-1870.raw.xml