An Old Song Ended

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: a4b3c4b 3
Meter: iambic
Genre: song


◦ Gregory II. 123

Scholarly Commentary


DGR's song begins by quoting the first song fragment sung by Ophelia when she enters in scene 5 Act IV of Hamlet “distracted, with her hair down, playing on a lute”. DGR “ends” Ophelia's song in two senses: first, because in the original play it is a song fragment; and second, because in DGR's text Ophelia intimates the corresponding madness that lies in store for the betraying man. The final two lines of the song sketch the figure of a man haunted by the presence of his dead love. The figure is nightmarish—a figure of literal possession.

Textual History: Composition

WMR dates the song “before mid-autumn 1869” (see Gregory, Life and Works of DGR, II. 123 ) and simply “1869” in 1911 . There is no evidence to explain these dates. A holograph manuscript is extant that was printer's copy for the Penkill Proofs' text of the poem.

Printing History

The poem was first printed as part of the prepublication texts that DGR put together in 1869, as a prelude to the publication of the 1870 Poems. It was printed in August in the Penkill Proofs, where it formed part of the section of The House of Life poems. DGR moved the poem to the opening part of his evolving Poems volume as the prepublication text moved into the A Proofs for the first edition in early September 1870. The poem was first published in the first edition.


DGR executed a drawing (1858) and a watercolor (1866) of Hamlet and Ophelia.


The song represents, implictly, an interpretation of Hamlet, which was one of DGR's favorite works. But that interpretation—which argues that Hamlet's fate follows upon his cruel treatment of Ophelia—inevitably produces a personal contemporary application for DGR, whose guilt about his wife was deep.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 32-1869.raw.xml