Three Shadows

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1876
Rhyme: abcdabcd
Meter: iambic trimeter
Genre: lyric


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the The 1881 Ballads and Sonnets first edition text..

Scholarly Commentary


The enigmatic character of the poem is a function of its serial movement into increasingly fantasmagorical figures. The initial symbolic construction, a recurrent Rosettian figuration, is fairly accessible, if also decidedly subjective. The second stanza's trope is more allegorical and attenuated, however, since the connection between the gold and the stream must be extra-textually defined by the reader. (One thinks, perhaps, of the symbolism in the Niebelungenlied, but in fact we have no clear direction about how to situate the symbolism.) The final stanza, however, seems apt only for a completely narcissistic imagination. The shadow concealing such a pearl has to be a psychic, not a geophysical, phenomenon. The poem thus builds a kind of argument about the increasingly inaccessible character of its key terms: eyes, heart, and love.

It is important to observe that the poem flaunts its constructed and artificial manner. This is not a poem asking to be read as a piece of first-person Romantic self-expression. It is, rather, a “lyric” in the sense DGR meant when he placed it in the “Lyrics &c.” section of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets. It is what Browning would call—did call—a “dramatic lyric”.

Textual History: Composition

The only known manuscript is the printer's copy at Princeton, which has some revisions at the end. The poem was written some time in 1876.

Printing History

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

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1876.raw.xml