My lady looks so gentle and so pure

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1861
Rhyme: abbaabbaccdeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets) 189-193

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I.76-79 (II. 123-125) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 185-187 .

Scholarly Commentary


This sonnet forms a pair with the next sonnet in the Vita Nuova. As the prose of chapters XXV and XXVI indicates, both sonnets are consciously written—Dante's words are “con ragione” and “avendo. . .ragionamento”—to illustrate and perform the aesthetic program Dante sets forth in his prose. This is the program by which figurative and rhetorical language that is not strictly “realistic” is cultivated in the verse in order to suggest transphenomenal ideas and orders of truth. So in this sonnet Beatrice seems “a creature sent from Heaven to stay/ On earth, and show a miracle” (7-8). Even more dramatically, Beatrice's spiritual power is such that she inspires a poetry—this very poem, in fact—whose operations are essentially unexpressed and unapparent. This is a mute sonnet—it “has nought to say” (“ogne lingua deven tremando muta”, line 3)—because its deep “ragione” functions beyond the order of physical expression. The argument gets sealed in the sonnet's last two lines, where Dante plays on the words “spirito” and “Sospira” to intimate an immaterial level of erotic response.

As usual in DGR, this poetic economy is given a distinctive aesthetic turn in DGR's translation. The effect is especially clear in the final three lines, where DGR shows himself quite aware of the transhistorical power of Dante's poetry. The translation consciously echoes Shelley's “Life of Life” lyric in Prometheus Unbound (II.5.48-71, especially 48-49), which is itself a conscious recollection of this passage in Dante. DGR's “for ever” (line 14), which is not in his source, nonetheless captures perfectly, even performatively, the “spirit” of Dante's poetical argument.

Dante's sonnet for its part explicitly recalls several of the most celebrated poems in the “praise of my lady” tradition—most particularly Guinizelli's sonnet “Yea, let me praise my lady whom I love” and several of Cavalcanti's poems, including the sonnet “Who is she coming, whom all gaze upon” and the ballata “With other women I beheld my love”.

DGR's source text was “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri .

Textual History: Composition

An early work, probably late 1840s.

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.


Many years later (1880-81) DGR gave a pictorial representation of this text with his large oil painting known as The Salutation of Beatrice.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 32d-1861.raw.xml