Caine, Recollections, 90-91
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets text.
Composed in 1871, the poem is clearly recollecting Swinburne's great philosophical poem “Hertha”, which Swinburne wrote in 1869-70 and published in 1871 in
Songs before Sunrise
. The two poems differ in the way that DGR's and Swinburne's critical departures from montheist ideology differ. DGR was far more uncertain and troubled than Swinburne on these matter, as is quite clear from this poem and the closely related “Soothsay”, which was being composed at the same time as this work. In both DGR wants to express his theory of death not “of annihilation but of absorption”, as he put it in letters to William Bell Scott and his brother (see below), “a real retributive future for the special atom of life to be re-embodied (if so it were) in a world which its own former identity had helped to fashion for pain or pleasure”.
The poem was composed in August 1871 and sent in a letter to William Bell Scott on either 11 or 13 August. Scott
published this text, which is
dated 9 August and whose manuscript text has not subsequently appeared, in his
Autobiographical Notes, 146-148
Doughty and Wahl, Letters
no. 71. 119
). This version, which differs considerably from the received poem in its conclusion, is much closer to the version he sent to his brother in his letter of 10 September 1871.
A later fair copy is included
among the miscellaneous poems DGR gathered at the back of the gift book of verses he gave to Mrs. Morris in 1874. A second fair copy is in the Tinker Library at Yale. Also at Yale is a fair copy fragment of stanza 4 that is scripted on the verso on a manuscript of “Beauty's Pageant”.
DGR worried his poem, particularly the conclusion, in the letters he sent to William Bell Scott, Thomas Gordon Hake,
and his brother in the early part of September 1871 (see
no. 71. 134-135, 144-146
). These revisions eventually made their way into the 1872
printing. He was particularly concerned that some proposed changes might seem to reference “a personal
God, which of course is not meant” (see his letters of 2 September
to Scott and
to Scott and to Hake,
no. 71. 134 and135
When DGR set about collecting the poem in 1881, he undertook a new set of revisions, but
most of these were eventually rejected. Nonetheless, they are quite interesting in themselves. He began to
experiment in one of his small
notebooks (three passages at pages [16r], [24v], and [29v]). Two other draft efforts at revision
survive: one at Princeton, the
other in the British Library. The latter
is a pair of alternate stanzas that DGR composed in February 1873 and sent to Theodore Watts in a letter asking
him for his view of their aptness.
The poem was initially intended for publication in the Dark Blue,
as DGR's letter to his brother of 11 September shows. DGR instead published
“Down Stream” in that periodical (in October) and held this poem back for its first printing in The Fortnightly Review (1 January 1872). It was printed again
in Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.