Supreme Surrender

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 75-76

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 189

◦ Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study. 419


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1870 Poems First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet's point is closely tied into the structure of The House of Life as a sequence. It glosses in particular the final line of “Nuptial Sleep”: lying “apparent” to the poet's gazing thought, the Lady is the central point of a meditation on Love, and especially on the drama of Love that gets recapitulated in the sequence. The clear autobiographical significance of the sonnet, notably in the sestet, underscores its structural (or narrative) function. Considered as an integral sonnet, it is not especially compelling.

Sharp notes the congruence of this sonnet's leading “motif” with lines 19-21 of The Stream's Secret . In the sonnet, however, it is not a “kiss” that “slake[s]. . .the thirst of memory”.

Textual History: Composition

WMR dates the poem “Before April 1870” (see Peattie, Letters of William Michael Rossetti 6 ) and Fredeman dates it 1870 (see Fredeman, “Rossetti's ‘In Memoriam’” ), while Baum simply gives “?1869-70”. The poem was certainly written by early October 1869, since it is printed in the First Trial Book, but more than that we can't say with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, the strong likelihood is that DGR wrote the poem in September or (less likely) early October 1869, when he was working very hard at revisions to the text of “Nuptial Sleep”, with which it is closely associated. The latter certainly existed in August and this sonnet may have existed at that point as well. The extreme immediacy suggests that it may not be a recollective work; if it isn't, the sonnet may date as early as the spring-summer of 1868.

Five manuscripts of the poem survive: two are at Princeton (both titled “Sovereign Service”), a first pencil draft and another early draft (in ink); the Ashley Library copy follows from these and the next in descent is the copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life”. The last copy is among the sonnets gathered by H.B. Forman collection of DGR poems now in the Library of Congress.

Textual History: Revision

The sonnet was not much altered from its first constitution in the First Trial Book. Of the two substantive changes, the alteration in the second line in the 1881 text (“harvest-field” for “fallowfield”) has been generally deplored.

Printing History

The sonnet was first printed in the First Trial Book (around 3 October 1869); it was kept through the proofs for the 1870 Poems, where it was first published. It is The House of Life Sonnet VI in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet VII in 1881.


The octave is dominated by images and machinery taken over from stil novisti poetry and its Petrarchan aftermath. It is, in short, highly artificial and makes a sharp contrast with the sestet, where the autobiographical subtext realizes the poetic event in a more concrete way. This structural feature of the sonnet effectively argues that a real and particular life experience is being transacted by Ideal forms and powers.


The sestet's reference to the “one shorn tress” of hair focuses the autobiographical subtext. This is the lock of hair from his dead wife Elizabeth that was so cherished by DGR (see his letter to his sister of 4 August 1852: Fredeman, Correspondence, I52. 8 ; and see as well Caine, My Story [1909], 203-204 ). That lock of hair is now crossed by the “abandoned hair” of another lady, Jane Morris in fact, who is the beloved “so long afar, at length so nigh”. DGR met and was attracted to her in 1857, but his committment to Elizabeth, and William Morris's love for Jane, intercepted their relations. By 1867 a serious intimacy was begun, however, and this sonnet appears to record the consummation of that intimacy. Nonetheless, the consummation may be read in relation to the “Beloved” of the sonnet sequence rather than the “Innominata”, and in narrative terms this would indeed be the preferred reading.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1870.raw.xml