The Dark Glass

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

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


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 198-199

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life, 112-113

◦ Harrison Eldredge, “On an Error in a Sonnet of Rossetti's”, Victorian Poetry, V (Winter 1967) 302-303


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets first edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


Baum admires this sonnet, which “comes close to genuine sublimity without his besetting sin of artificial elaboration. . . . Though apparently not one of his favorites, it is certainly one of his finest, and one of the true indexes of his mysticism.” DGR's “mysticism” has been a vexed critical question, but certainly the imagistic and rhetorical contradictions of this poem have the same kind of disorienting effect that one finds in St. John's poetry, or Crashaw's. The triple synaesthesia in lines 12-13 epitomize this kind of effect (and see also the figural development in lines 4-8). Equally difficult are the shifting valences in the word “love”, both upper and lower case, in lines 1, 7, and 9. The verbs “reach” and “pierce” are especially elusive because of their sharp literal particularity.

That these difficulties are deliberate can hardly be doubted, given the allusion made by the title to I Corinthians 13:12. Harrison Eldredge's explication of the sonnet's difficulties is extremely useful, if finally misguided in its judgment.

Textual History: Composition

Three manuscripts survive, all apparently copies from some lost draft. The earliest is the fair copy made for Jane Morris and the Kelmscott Love sonnets sequence. The two others are the Fitzwilliam copy in the Fitzwilliam compilation of “The House of Life” and the Princeton copy in the Princeton compilation. DGR sent a copy to William Bell Scott in a letter of 13 August 1871 that Scott later printed in his published (see his Autobiographical Notes (page 145)). Scott's transcript differs slightly from the received text of the sonnet.


After DGR sent a copy of the sonnet to Scott, DGR's friend wrote to criticize an image repetition he saw between this sonnet and “Through Death to Love”. DGR dismissed the objection, replying that Scott was “hardly making due allowance for the general theme of the series” (see letter to Scott, 25 August 1871, Fredeman, Correspondence, 71. 129 ).

Printing History

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

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 19-1871.raw.xml