On the Vita Nuova of Dante

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1852
Rhyme: abbaabbacdcdcd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum's Rossetti. Poems, Ballads and Sonnets, 174n.

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 125-126

◦ Ray Rossettiana, 21-22

◦ McGann, ‘Medieval versus Victorian versus Modern’, 101-109


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Poems First Edition Text.

Scholarly Commentary


Baum says the sonnet was composed “for his translation of the Vita Nuova, which he had completed in 1850” (see Baum, Poems, Ballads, and Sonnets, 174n ). Baum's “for” should be taken to mean that the sonnet is a gloss on the translation as that work constitutes DGR's interpretive appropriation of his Dantean inheritance.

The sonnet is yet another expression of DGR's programmatic effort to recover the ground of a vital artistic practise “in this the twilight” ('St. Luke the Painter”) of the European tradition. In painting, the program involved a turn to the primitive models of the Pre-Raphaelites; in poetry it meant going back to the poetic practices DGR saw epitomized in the poems he translated in The Early Italian Poets. And in each case the move was conceived in “simple” terms—that is to say, in stylistic forms (like pastiche and translation) that emphasized the authority of the origin. So in DGR's Dantean frame of reference, the “child” is a figure that idealizes the spirit of submission and humility sought with such difficult deliberation by the proud and talented Dante. Dante's greatness as a poet arises from the devotional character of his work, and DGR here adopts a similar devotional posture towards his greatest master.

Textual History: Composition

WMR dates the sonnet 1852 in 1911 . The Fitzwilliam “House of Life” composite manuscript contains two holograph copies of the sonnet: an early corrected draft manuscript and a fair copy that must date from 1869.

Textual History: Revision

The text of the poem as it appears in the 1870 volume shows only one minor accidental change from the various proof texts that preceded the book.

Printing History

The sonnet was first published in the 1870 Poems; it was first printed in August 1869 in the Penkill Proofs, and kept in DGR's texts thereafter.


Along with its companion piece ”Dantis Tenebrae”, the sonnet locates a key moment in the 1870 Poems: when the relation between DGR's original poetry and his translation work is sharply defined. The translation project that first appeared under the title The Early Italian Poets (1861), and that centered in DGR's translations of Dante, is intimately connected to all of DGR's work as artist and writer. Indeed, as Pater was the first to see with perfect clarity, DGR's remarkable stylistic innovations are all grounded in the experiments he carried out when he tried to create translation of Dante and his Circle that would be at once “literal” and poetic.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1852.raw.xml