Troy Town

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869-1870
Date: 1863-1864; 1869-1870
Rhyme: a4b2a4c4a 4b2c2
Meter: septet, irregular trochaic
Genre: ballad
A typically Rossettian complex variant on a simple balladic form, which is an irregular triplet. The rhyme structure of the double refrain involutes the political and psychic dimensions of the text and strengthens the suggestion of uncanny relations between different orders of reality.


◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 133.

◦ Howard, The Dark Glass, 139-143.


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

Scholarly Commentary


The ballad, written in the summer of 1869, is a disturbing and erotic meditation on cultural doom—a common Victorian preoccupation most famously treated in Tennyson's Idyls. DGR's interest in elaborating his treatment of the subject appears in his effort toward a companion pictorial work, which he never fully realized. The surviving study is all that we have.

DGR's poem handles its materials in an intense, even claustrophobic, manner characteristic of his ballads (as it is not of, say, Swinburne's). This effect comes from the elliptical ballad manner, as well as the intricate metrical structure of the work. A strong personal undercurrent also contributes to the effect, precisely because DGR has to leave this aspect of his verse inexplicit.

Many of the poems in the 1870 volume swirl in the same vortex that dominates this work. DGR's book uses historical and mythological materials from various cultures to elucidate a close relation between personal love, sex, and the largest kinds of historical events.

The poem is a dark double of The Blessed Damozel; here Paris dreams of his longed-for beloved Helen, whose prayer to Venus dominates the text and action of this work. The Blessed Damozel operates under the horizon of paradise, Troy Town under the prophecy of the destruction of Troy, the symbol of flourishing civilization.

The poem was placed first in the opening section of the Poems in the initial prepublication printings of 1869-1870. DGR changed the order and put The Blessed Damozel first when the proofs for the 1870 Poems reached their last phase, in March 1870.

Textual History: Composition

DGR was writing the poem in September 1869, as he told to Alice Boyd in a letter of 21 September ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 160 ), and he continued to work at it into the following February (to A. C. Swinburne, 28 Feb. 1870 ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 39 ). The earliest manuscript is the copy gathered in the Princeton/Taylor Notebook of miscellaneous 1869-1871 materials by various hands. The Fitzwilliam manuscript is subsequent to the latter and was printer's copy for the proofs for the First Trial Book.

He put the poem at the head of the 1870 collection as it was passing through the 1869-70 press revisions, but in the end he decided to put The Blessed Damozel first (letter to F. S. Ellis, 18 March 1870: Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 58 ).

Textual History: Revision

DGR made substantial revisions to the poem after it was set in type. The text had an epigraph (attributed to Herodotus in the earliest stages of the poem, including an early proof of the First Trial Book). After a discussion of the epigraph with Swinburne DGR removed it: “I had put an explanatory note to Troy Town, which I cut out because the authority (in Pliny) [Historia Naturalis 33.23] did not quite meet the case,—referring the gift to Minerva, not Venus. Do you think some explanation absolutely necessary to prepare the reader for so outlandish a notion as a cup resembling a bosom. Would the old resource of a French motto do?—(or I mean is it desirable?) as thus:— Cette coupe que Venus/ Eut des mains d'Helene belle,/ Ressemblable au sein d'icelle.” (Calendrier de l'Amour, 1480) (letter to Swinburne of 28 Feb. 1870). But the most important revision was the addition of the received first stanza, which was added to the poem shortly (see letter to Swinburne of 21 December 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 220 ). This change first appears in the proofs for the first edition.

Production History

According to Robert Browning (in a letter to Julia Wedgewood, 2 September 1864), DGR executed a drawing or painting in 1863 or 1864 that depicted a design corresponding to what we now know from the drawing Troy Town, which was executed around 1870. Perhaps DGR had indeed made the picture Browning says that he saw; if so, it is now lost. (The 1863 painting Helen of Troy [Surtees no. 163] is almost certainly not the picture Browning refers to.) The other extant drawing on this subject represents a very different image and might have been executed at either of the two possible dates.


See Commentary (Reception) for the 1870 Poems.

Printing History

First printed early in October 1869 for the First Trial Book (the earliest surviving printed text being the proofs for the First Trial Book preserved at the end of W. B. Scott's copy of the Penkill Proofs). This was printed from the copy gathered in the Princeton/Taylor Notebook of miscellaneous 1869-1871 materials by various hands. It was first published in the 1870 Poems and collected thereafter.


The poem's intense eroticism underscores its relation to a number of more personal poems of 1869-70, for example The Stream's Secret and the House of Life sonnets. That relation—as in the case of a poem like Eden Bower, also from 1869—highlights DGR's troubled view of the destructive power of erotic love. The whole of DGR's tangled personal love-life is thus obliquely reflected in the poem. As such, it also exposes its clear Victorianism, and its relation to other related doom-visions like Tennyson's Idyls.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1