Eden Bower

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Date: 1863-1864 (circa) or 1869 (circa)
Rhyme: a4b3c3c4
Meter: quatrain, irregular trochaic
Genre: ballad
The metrical arrangement is complex. Each stanza's first line ends with either the name Adam, Eden, or Lilith, and the concluding couplets all end in feminine rhymes. There are alternate refrain lines, although in the early drafts of the poem the refrains were in each stanza (with the second following the couplet).


◦ Keane, Dante Gabreiel Rossetti, 80-93.

◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 134.

◦ Riede, Dante Gabreiel Rossetti Revisited, 93-98.


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

Scholarly Commentary


DGR began the poem in London on 2 August 1869, according to WMR. At the time he called it “a central representative treatment of its splendid subject” (see his letter to Alice Boyd of 21 September 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 160 ), and he later maintained his high valuation of the work. Along with “Jenny”, “A Last Confession”, and The House of Life,he placed it among the poems “I would wish to be known by” (see his letter to Thomas Gordon Hake, 21 April 1870, Fredeman, Correspondence,70. 110 ).

The poem is indeed one of DGR's core texts, both in its themes and in its manner of treatment. It locates the equivocal fatalities of beauty and love in a primal scene and complicates the moral issues by weaving the action into a domestic structure of relations. The poem cuts into the Eden story and the story of the Fall from Paradise via the myth of Lilith, which is not treated directly in the bible.

The poem connects to a great many of DGR's works, both pictorial and textual. In the 1870 Poems volume, where it was first published, the ballad relates directly to works like “Sister Helen”, “Troy Town”, “The Card-Dealer”, and “Body's Beauty”. The antithesis of the central female figures in these works is Eve, or DGR's Beatricean form, or the Virgin Mary.

The erotic intensity of the poem is deepened by the social and personal aspects of the subject that run through the text in dark undercurrents. An apocalyptic destruction (at once psychic and cultural/historical) is hinted throughout the ballad.

DGR must have read the poem to his sisters shortly after completing it at the end of September, for at that time William Bell Scott wrote to WMR: “Gabriel writes me that he has done the best he has yet accomplished in the ‘Eden Bower,’ and that it drove Maria and Christina from the room” ( WMR, Rossetti Papers 1862 to 1870, 470 ).

Textual History: Composition

Begun on 2 August 1869, perhaps in conceptual form and perhaps even in a prose outline such as DGR sometimes made for projected works, the poem was worked on during the rest of the summer. DGR wrote the first 14 stanzas on 19 September while he was staying with Miss Losh near Carlisle on his way back from Penkill Castle to London (see his letter to Alice Boyd of 21 September 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 160 ). He must have completed the composition very quickly for a text of the poem was set in type late in September as an early proof for the First Trial Book, which was completely printed by 3 October.

An interesting and unincorporated variant appears in the early draft manuscript of “Troy Town”: it is an attempt at a refrain for “Eden Bower”.

The frontmatter of the printer's copy in the Princeton/Troxell collection contains a typewritten note by collector Janet C. Troxell detailing her research on the composition of the poem.

Textual History: Revision

The draft manuscript is heavily corrected, and further revisions were carried out on the proof sheets of the various prepublication texts of the work as it was passing towards its first publication in the 1870 Poems. When DGR reprinted it in the 1881 New Edition he made further changes, notably to the refrain lines.

Printing History

The poem was first set in type around 3 October 1869 in the First Trial Book (Lewis's proof state 6) and was first published in the 1870 Poems and collected thereafter.


DGR executed a drawing Eden Bower which depicts the figure of Lilith entwined by a snake (reproduced with a note in Fredeman, A Rossetti Cabinet, plate 30 ). The treatment of the Lilith theme connects the poem to other pictures that figure as part of the Lilith constellation, most notably Lady Lilith.


Virginia Allen has shown the relation of this kind of subject, in DGR and other late Victorian writers, with the politically charged Woman Question—in particular, with the social import of the rise of the “new woman”. As the contemporary elements in a painting like Lady Lilith show, DGR was regularly inclined to discover (like Baudelaire and so many others at that time) mythic forms revived in modern guises. The myth-figure of the fatal woman, like the myth-figure of Beatrice, were contemporary realities for DGR.


The poem moves out from the Genesis story (chapters 2-3), to which it alludes recurrently for various details; in doing so, it keeps echoing Milton's reworked story of the fall. The tale itself, drawn from the Talmud, is elaborated in the post-Talmudic texts (see especially the Midrash Alphabet of Ben Sira) where the story is told that God first gave Lilith to Adam as his consort. She refuses to submit to his authority and disappears into the air, and later haunts his dreams. This source text explicitly defines the conflict and disagreement as a struggle for sexual power. The fact that Lilith, unlike Eve, was created directly from the earth (like Adam) underscores the authority of her claim to equality with Adam. She flees him when he refuses to grant her this equality.

The poem is a darker working of Keats' Lamia, with some recollections as well of Coleridge's Christabel. DGR recurred frequently to the theme of the fatal woman in his poems and pictures alike.“Eden Bower” stands closest to the sonnet “Body's Beauty” and its associated painting Lilith. It is also a subtle revision of Milton's interpretation: in DGR's tale (see especially lines 81ff.), the tale of the serpent's seduction of Eve is read as an act of ventriloquism, with the snake serving merely as Lilith's mouthpiece.

DGR's manipulation of the ballad structure is impressive. The couplet rhymes in each stanza are often loose, and all are feminine. DGR's technique is no mere poetic virtuosity, but a subtle device for establishing what he liked to call an inner standing point toward the material. That move erodes the distance between the poet/narrator and his poetical characters—as if the entire discourse were contained within the same moral atmosphere.

The diction and phrasing of the poem are biblical throughout.


The association of the poem with Fanny Cornforth comes via DGR's inclination to use her as his model for his various treatments of Lilith-like figures. But the association is radically complicated when one unravels the associations that radiate from related works like “Body's Beauty”.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 20-1869.f30.raw.xml