The Landmark

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1854 October
Rhyme: abbaaccadedeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 167-168

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 153-154

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 230-231

◦ Wagner, A Moment's Monument, 143


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1870 Poems First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


Whatever the point of this sonnet when DGR wrote it in 1854, in 1869 and thereafter he appropriated it to The House of Life project. It comes in as part of the sequence that begins, in the 1881 version of the work, with “Transfigured Life”. DGR forces it into a clear relation to the crucial Willowwood sequence—, the four sonnets that set the entire work in train. The “woodside well” of the latter group is the type of which “the foolish well” of this sonnet is the antitype (to borrow Christian exegetical terms that are quite relevant to DGR's secular poetry).

In a way that anticipates surrealist procedures, DGR here is implicitly arguing that an early actual event forecasts a later traumatic experience (the dream-experience of Willowwood). The latter is taken in two ways: first, as an explication of the hidden significance of the earlier event; second, as a promise that what once was lost will in future be found again.

DGR borrowed from Dante the idea that poetical work can carry meanings that are concealed at the time of the composition of the poem, but that later events may expose, so that the poem can be in effect re-written later by simply placing the old poem in the context that was only implicitly present in the earlier circumstances. The entire procedure of the Vita Nuova is governed by this kind of retrospective deployment of earlier compositions.

Textual History: Composition

The composition date of 1854 comes from the personal notes of Frederick Page, an editor at Oxford University Press who worked on DGR and who shared his work with Baum (see Baum, The House of Life, viii, 167 ). Doughty dates it, more exactly, October 1854 because he had seen the manuscript now in the Huntington Library, where it bears that date in DGR's autograph. The only other manuscript is the corrected copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence.

Textual History: Revision

When DGR came to publish the poem in 1869 he altered the earlier text. All the published versions are substantively identical. Baum observes that “In an earlier [manuscript] version lines 6, 7 preserved the b rime” (see Baum, The House of Life 168 ).

Printing History

First printed as sonnet X in the sequence of sixteen sonnets published in the Fortnightly Review in March 1869. It was then printed in mid-August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs and remained in all proof stages until it was published in the 1870 Poems and thereafter. It is The House of Life Sonnet XXXI in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet LXVII in 1881.


Baum is shrewd to register the “conversational key, somewhat à la Browning, under whose influence Rossetti occasionally wrote in his earlier years” ( The House of Life, 168 ).

The Dantean figure of the pilgrim-poet, which functions throughout DGR's sequence, is here more explicitly present.


Baum suggests that the sonnet might be read as a comment about DGR's “hesitation between painting and poetry as a career” ( Poems, Ballads, and Sonnets, 303n ). But Doughty reads it more intimately still, as a reflection on a “tardy but sincere love for some humble person whose affection he has abused and betrayed in his expectation of a sincere passion for some more exalted lover who will appear in due time” (Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 154 ). This reading folds into Doughty's general thesis about DGR's love for Jane Morris. One need not assent to its literal accuracy in order to see that this reading can be applied to the sonnet and to DGR's work in various ways.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 3-1854.raw.xml