WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 212
Baum, ed., House of Life, 128-129
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the The first edition of the Ballads and Sonnets text.
The sonnet closes the sequence in the 1881 “House of Life” that commenced with sonnet XL, “Severed Selves”. The previous sonnets in this subunit all preserve an ambiguity of reference so far as the Beloved was concerned. Here, however, the reader is led to make a primary association with the Innominata (biographically, Mrs.Morris). However, the octave's clear allusion (especially in lines 3-8) to the story of Orpheus and Euridice—a myth that recurs throughout the sequence—restores the ambiguity of reference via the recollection it carries of the lost Beloved (biographically, DGR's wife). The obliquity of this poetic move is important: it is the chief device for generating the sonnet's dark and haunted mood.
Baum was particularly drawn to the problem of the title, which he called “the prime difficulty” of the poem. He suggests that it refers to the vanity of the sonnet's address to inexplicable questions about death.
Four copies of the sonnet survive. The earliest seems to be a corrected draft gathered in the Troxell composite “House of Life” sequence; the other three are the holograph fair copy in the Bodleian Kelmscott Love Sonnets group; the Library of Congress fair copy;
and May Morris's fair copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life”.
First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.