Dantis Tenebrae (In Memory of My Father)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1861
Rhyme: abbaaccadefdef
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Mégroz, Painter Poet of Heaven and Earth 179-180

◦ Ray Rossettiana 22-23


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

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet forms a pair with “On the Vita Nuova of Dante”, and both call attention to the crucial Dantean significance of all of DGR's work. The word “Tenebrae” in the title signals the element of mystery and secret meanings which both DGR and his father explored in their work with Dante. DGR's work characteristically darkens (in a psychological sense, at any rate) these darknesses, as this poem emphasizes when it associates (in line 6) the Dantean mysteries with the Commedia's Inferno. Dante's journey passes through to the Paradiso, but for DGR that goal remained at best “The One Hope” of his desire. Consequently, the sonnet's conclusion—where DGR's father is seen under the dominion of “the night”—lifts the “darkness” explored in this poem to a position of great (and decidedly ambiguous) power.

Textual History: Composition

WMR dates the sonnet 1861 (see 1911, 668n ), thus associating it directly with DGR first book The Early Italian Poets (1861).

Textual History: Revision

The text first put into print, in the First Trial Book, differs slightly from the received text. DGR introduced the received changes when he corrected those proofs, and the present text appears in the Second Trial Book.

Printing History

First printed in the First Trial Book at the end of September 1869, and eventually published in the 1870 Poems a few months later, and collected thereafter.


The poem of course feeds upon the key Dantean works of the Vita Nuova and the Commedia, as well as on DGR's father's lifelong scholarly involvement with the latter in particular. The sonnet's octave refers directly to Gabriele Rossetti's study La Beatrice di Dante (1842).


The sonnet is an elegy for DGR's father Gabriele, the celebrated Dante scholar. He died in 1854. The works of Gabriele Rossetti that bear most strongly on DGR's work are La Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri con comento analitico . . . , 2 vols. (1826-27); Il Mistero dell'Amor Platonico 5 vols. (1840); and La Beatrice di Dante (1842).

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1861.raw.xml