Dennis Shand

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1850
Rhyme: a4b3c4b3
Meter: iambic
Genre: ballad
As in many old ballads, this carries an internal rhyme in the first and the third lines.


◦ Gregory, Life and Works of DGR, II. 122-123

◦ Lewis, The Trial Book Fallacy, 135-137


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1911.

Scholarly Commentary


Intending to publish the ballad in the 1870 Poems, DGR discussed the poem with William Bell Scott, his brother, and later with Swinburne. After having the ballad set in type in the Penkill Proofs, DGR wrote to Scott these interesting remarks: “The objection to ‘ail’ in ‘Dennis Shand’ I do not see. Certainly the signification of the word has nothing to do with being ‘able to complain.’ It simply means to ‘sicken’ or one might say ‘waste away.’ I am sure it might be found applied in much the same sense, if not in old poetry, in such poets as Coleridge, Scott, &c.—perhaps rather as regards waning light than waning shadow; but I confess it appears to me happily expressive of the gradual pining and weakening of shadows as the dawn comes on. Otherwise ‘fail’ might do instead, without resorting to what seems the most astounding suggestion of making my poor damsels ‘stale’! Really, Scotus, can you not see the universal grin that such a word would communicate to every studious mug that bent over my poetic page? Your suggestion of ‘Ann you once adored’ is so good and ingenious an one that I should be only too glad to adopt it if I did not happen to put a special value on the passage as it stands. I don't wish the lady to be over-refined at all, though indeed even high-minded dames used to claw their maids' faces in those days I fancy. Besides she afterwards uses this very illness of the unlucky Ann as a screen to new proceedings, which I think one of the best touches in the ballad which after all only aims at being amusing—and perhaps just a little improper. ‘Dennis Shand’ was written at much the same time as the ‘Blessed Damozel,’ ‘My Sister's Sleep’ &c. and I confess I look back to it as an encouraging landmark of my mental condition in those early days, which I should find otherwise to have been discouragingly angelic” (see his letter of 28 September 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 165 ). DGR later began to see the poem very differently, and he eventually withdrew it apparently because, as he later told Hall Caine, “It deals trivially with a base amour (it was written very early), and is therefore really reprehensible to some extent” (see Caine, 122 ). He said much the same thing to Swinburne in February 1870, when he decided against printing the poem (see his letter of 21 February, Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 31 ), even though the latter thought highly of the work (he called it “brilliantly clever and rigorous”: see Lang, Swinburne's Letters, V. 176 ). The poem was not published until WMR included it in his two-volume edition of 1904 (I. 80), and then collected thereafter. The supression was unfortunate for this is one of the strongest works of pastiche ballad produced by the Pre-Raphaelite circle—a genre they made particularly their own.

The key to the poem's success is the way it manages to preserve its tension to the end. For in the concluding dialogue between Lady Joan and Earl Simon, one cannot be entirely sure if her deception controls the scene, or if he is aware of the adultery and has his own treachery in train, through the cup which he keeps insisting that she and Dennis Shand should be the first to drink from. The drama of that sequence is maintained brilliantly, first, because the ballad takes such a neutral stance toward the three characters; and second, because the narrative lacunae are so strategically placed. DGR's ballad implies all sorts of possible readings of the people and the events, and caps these tensions with its splendid indeterminate ending.

It is worth noting that the crucial passage releasing the ballad's final set of tensions, stanza 17, was a late manuscript addition (see the corrected copy of the poem in the Harry Ransom Research Center).

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR (see 1911), the poem was written in 1850. Early in December of that year DGR thought of trying to get the ballad published in Tait's Magazine, but he was unsuccessful if in fact he did make the effort (see Fredeman, The Journal of the PRB, 84 ).

The only manuscript that appears to survive is a corrected copy representing a text that antedates the one DGR first printed in 1869 in the Penkill Proofs.

Printing History

The ballad was included with the works set in type in the Penkill Proofs in August 1869, the first of the prepublication states that would eventuate in the publication of the 1870 Poems. DGR decided to remove the poem from the collection sometime between December 1869 and March 1870, for it does not appear in the proofs for the first edition (which were ready around 1 March). The poem was not brought into the published corpus until 1904 (see above), and WMR added an extensive note in his collected edition of 1911 explaining DGR's reluctance to publish the work (page 666n), as well as his own decision after the poet's death not to print it in his first 1886 collected edition.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 4-1850.raw.xml