A gentle thought there is will often start

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

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


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets) 189-193

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I.94-95 (II. 149-151) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 231-232 .

Scholarly Commentary


Perhaps no text in the entire Vita Nuova casts itself so far forward as this remarkable translation of the sonnet that climaxes Dante's Donna della Finestra episode. Free as it is, the translation captures the radical doubleness of Dante's original poem—indeed, it raises that doubleness to a more explicit level, as DGR regularly does in his reclamation of Dante's work. So, various key locutions—for example, “secret self”, “between doubt and doubt”, and “Love's messenger”—have no literal Dantean equivalents, though all perform equivalent functions. “Love's messenger” is perhaps most revealing in this regard since it works to pick up the angel theme that is so important in Dante's autobiography.

An appreciation of the “strange art” of DGR's sonnet (that phrase also has no literal Dantean source) can be usefully sought in various poems and poem sequences in “The House of Life”, where the strange art of the secret self is developed to such an extraordinary degree. Observing the nuances and ambiguities of a sonnet like “Life-in- Love”, for example, not only illuminates this translation of Dante, it demonstrates how deeply DGR's reading of Dante's autobiography informs the English poet's work. Figural palimpsest is perhaps DGR's central poetic (and artistic) device, and in this sonnet we see that he has stolen this idea from Dante, or rather from his reading of Dante.

Various “uncanny” effects follow from the deployment of this device. DGR's poetry, as everyone knows, is replete with haunted texts, where the present world is regularly impinged upon by forces from the past and spirits of the dead. Not least impressive and affecting, however, are those texts where we glimpse living spirits appearing as premonitions of the past. DGR's translation of the Vita Nuova is exactly that kind of text—less a translation, in the ordinary sense, than a raising from the dead through a secular reinvention of a key Christian economy, prefiguration. The New Life of Dante's autobiography, in this view of the matter, is that one far off sublime event to which its whole creation, unbeknownst to itself, moved.

DGR's source text was “Gentil pensiero, che parla di vui” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri .

Textual History: Composition

An early work, late 1840s.

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 25d-1861.raw.xml