Lost on Both Sides

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1854 July 21
Rhyme: abbaabbacdecde
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life 205-207

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer. 251-252


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1870 Poems First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


In the context of “The House of Life” the sonnet emphasizes the perpetuity of the love-quest that defines the action of the sequence at large. Like the “distant goal” of love (“Secret Parting” line 4) “Peace” is not to be attained in the “embattled day” (Parted Love line 1) that characterizes “The House of Life”. Ultimately this figure of Peace is aligned with the figure of Newborn Death. In this sonnet DGR establishes the connection through an oblique (and poetically climactic) reference to the birth of Jesus as the King of Peace (see the biblical allusion in lines 13-14).

Another early recovered sonnet, this piece also renews and redoubles its own argument when it gets placed in “The House of Life” sequence.

Textual History: Composition

DGR wrote the sonnet around 21 July 1854 (see his letter to Allingham of 23 July 1854, Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 55 ). The earliest text we have is the fair copy DGR sent to Allingham in a letter of 23 July 1854.

Textual History: Revision

Allingham's criticisms of the first text of the sonnet led the poet to offer some early revisions in another letter to his friend (see his letter of c. 1 August, Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 57 ). When DGR later printed the poem in the Fortnightly Review he brought it substantially into its received state. Only a few small changes were made in the proofs in 1869-1870.

One other manuscript survives: a corrected copy (which is also cancelled through by DGR) in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence.

Printing History

First printed as Sonnet VI in the initial sequence of sonnets DGR published in the Fortnightly Review (March 1869), the preparatory step toward his project for “The House of Life”. The sonnet was printed again in the Penkill Proofs in August and kept through all prepublication texts until its publication in the 1870 Poems. This sonnet is numbered XLIII in The House of Life as published in the 1870 volume, and XCI in the sequence as published in 1881.


The sonnet's octave has commonly been read as an emblem of “the two antagonistic loves of Rossetti's tragic experience” (see Baum, The House of Life, 206), though Baum himself rejects such a reading because the 1854 date of composition precludes it. But DGR pointedly recovered early sonnets for “The House of Life” in order to expose their latent, even prophetic, meanings. In this perspective the poem's autobiographical urgency is hardly to be resisted. In this reading, the “two men” (line 1) are best seen as two aspects of DGR himself—and hence they forecast the sonnet “He and I”, which comes soon after.

WMR offered another autobiographical reading that focuses on DGR's pursuit of a double career, as a painter and as a poet.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 4-1854.raw.xml