Sunset Wings

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871 August
Rhyme: a5b3a5a5b3
Meter: iambic
Genre: lyric


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets first edition text .

Scholarly Commentary


The poem's most striking images focus on a flock of starlings that DGR noticed during his sojourn at Kelmscott in 1871 with Jane Morris. The flocking patterns made by the birds suggest to DGR the presence of a mysterious signifying agency. But the poem is replete with “wings” that grow more and more ambiguous in their suggested meanings. This ambiguity culminates in the last seven lines, which unfold a studied series of ambivalent signs. In that general context, one notes the arresting character of the third stanza, which climaxes the first half of the poem where non-symbolic detail figures a condition of experiential innocence. When the poem takes its turn to symbolism (“Even thus Hope's hours”, 16) that paradisal spell is broken.

The last stanza of Keats's “To Autumn” can scarcely not be recalled. That intertext throws into sharp relief the brooding and uncertain finale of DGR's poem.

Textual History: Composition

Composed in August, 1871 when DGR was at Kelmscott with Jane Morris. Five integral manuscripts survive: what seems the first draft, in the library of the Delaware Art Museum; an early copy, sent in a letter to his mother on 18 August 1871; another early copy, possibly the one that DGR included in his letter to William Bell Scott of 13 August 1871 (see Fredeman, Correspondence 71. 123 ); a fair copy which is included among the miscellaneous poems DGR gathered at the back of the gift book of verses he gave to Mrs. Morris in 1874; another late fair copy, possibly printer's copy for 1881, with a correction.

Printing History

First printed in the Athenaeum (24 May 1873), then collected in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 33-1871.raw.xml