English May

Alternately titled: May 1869

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

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


◦ Doughty, 389-92

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet, addressed to Jane Morris, was originally intended for “The House of Life”. It is very much an occasional work, addressing Jane's ill health that grew worse through the spring and early summer of 1869. In July her condition was such that Morris finally decided to take her to a German health spa in Ems.

The sonnet pivots on a witty comparison and contrast between the regenerative powers of nature and of art, which DGR explicitly connects to himself and his Italian heritage. Over against “May's lyre” (6) DGR sets the “breath of Italy” which (the poem suggests) pervades both his spirit and the poetry that issues from that spirit, including this sonnet.

Textual History: Composition

Three manuscripts descend to us: a lightly corrected fair copy in the Bodleian that DGR sent to Jane; a fair copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” manuscript; and another lightly corrected fair copy in the Getty Library manuscript book.

Printing History

First published in WMR's 1886 collected edition and kept thereafer.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 26-1869.raw.xml