Mater Pulchrae Delectionis

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1847
Rhyme: couplets, with occasional triplets
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: hymn


◦ Baum, Manuscripts in the Duke University Library, 10


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1911.

Scholarly Commentary


According to WMR ( 1911, 661 ), the poem was written very early in 1847 as part of DGR's “Songs of the Art Catholic” project. These works were to have included poems which, located in a contemporary setting (like “My Sister's Sleep”), would nevertheless call back to (if not actually call up) medieval religious cultural forms and ideas.

In this case the poem represents itself as a kind of free translation or contemporary reconfiguration of an original Latin hymn to the Virgin Mary.

The pastiche element in works like this produce a kind of magical character —poems aspiring to what might be termed a secular sacramentalism, designed to re-install (not simply re-imagine) the ethos and spiritual agency of “the Art Catholic”. These texts formed an integral relation to DGR's early pictorial work as well, which pursued the Art Catholic in a visual medium. At its core the project was dominated by a preoccupation with the Virgin Mary and her secular avatars, like Dante's Beatrice.

The poem should be compared with DGR's highly original translation of a portion of the poem from the Auchinleck Manuscript commonly known as “The Early Life of the Virgin Mary”, and which DGR knew as “Joachim and Anne” from an 1840 printed text.

Textual History: Composition

Apparently the work was composed early in 1847 while DGR was putting together his Songs of the Art Catholic. There are two surviving manuscripts: the first page of a fair copy (location: Duke U. library) comprising lines 1-16 of the received poem; and a complete text of the poem (location: the Wormsley Library). Both of these texts date from 1847 and are titled “Mater Pulchrae Delectionis”.

Textual History: Revision

The poem was heavily revised in 1869 when DGR was preparing his Poems 1870 for the press. The revision was so extensive, however, that the result was a poem (Ave) that has to be considered a work in its own right.


The poem is all but completely organized in iconographical terms.

Printing History

First printed by WMR in the Pall Mall Magazine (Dec. 1898, pages 483-484), presumably from the complete manuscript now in the Wormsley library. Printed again in 1911 (pages 661-662).


The poem looks forward to a whole series of related Marian paintings and drawings that DGR would execute in the late 40s and through the 50s. These pictures include Mary Nazarene, Mary in the House of St. John, and The Passover in the Holy Family (which were to form a triptych), as well as The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, Ecce Ancilla Domini! , and The Annunciation.


Like all of DGR's Art Catholic materials, whether pictorial or textual, this work is intimately related to the mid-Victorian enthusiasm for High Church and Roman ideas and materials, liturgical as well as doctrinal. DGR's mother and sisters were closely involved with the Tractarian Movement and its aftermath; DGR's involvement in these things remained aesthetic and historicist, though in those respects his interests were simultaneously marked with serious personal and cultural issues.


The poem is closely related to Browning's dramatic monologues, and to Poe's efforts (in prose and poetry both) to dramatize the imagining of alternative worlds. Its immediate model, however, was John Keble's “The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, from his The Christian Year and.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1847.raw.xml