The Kiss

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life 72-73 (Paull Franklin Baum, ed.).

◦ Fontana, “Descriptions of the Kiss,”, 85-86.

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer. 188-189.


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


Though quite readable as an integral piece, this sonnet from The House of Life sequence clearly reaches back to the central idea of Bridal Birth and anticipates the visionary experience of the Willowwood sequence. The sonnet defines one of the types of experience cited in Bridal Birth (line 13) as “Death's nuptial change”. Along with the next two (related sonnets), DGR is making a birth image, or New Life image, out of the “little death” undergone in sexual union. The sestet defines this New Life in a series of quasi-allegorical figures.

Lines 7-8, which relate directly to the Willowwood experience, sharply locate the problematic character of the event. The entire significance of the Orpheus allusion only appears when the autobiographical subtext is allowed to surface: for as DGR maps the Orpheus/Eurydice story to his own life, the backward look to the poet's (dead) wife suggests the loss of love and union with love. In DGR's case, the loss will be experienced as an intrusion of guilt and remorse into the space of his present erotic relations—specifically, his love for Jane Morris. The disaster will later be named by DGR Lost on Both Sides.

Textual History: Composition

Before mid-autumn 1869 (see Peattie, Letters of WIlliam Michael Rossetti, 25 ); Fredeman dates it more specifically 1869, by which he means before August, when the sonnet was set in type for the Penkill Proofs (see Fredeman, “Rossetti's ‘In Memoriam’”). Since the sonnet is not among those included in the March printing (Fortnightly Review) of sixteen sonnets, the presumption has been that it was written between March and August. Two manuscripts are collected in the Fitzwilliam manuscript gathering of The House of Life materials: a first draft and a corrected copy.

Textual History: Revision

The text in the Penkill Proofs is not altered in subsequent printings.


This sonnet was not attacked by Buchanan in “The Fleshly School of Poetry”, although it seems no less (or more) objectionable in Buchanan's terms than Nuptial Sleep, which so exercised Buchanan.

Printing History

First printed in August 1869 as part of The House of Life materials in the Penkill Proofs. The poem was reprinted thereafter in all subsequent texts. It is The House of Life Sonnet IV in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet VI in 1881.


The Orpheus/Eurydice allusion in the octave involves an oblique reference to DGR and his dead wife Elizabeth. The House of Life sequence represents an imaginative reinvolvement with her, and the Orpheus story defines the limits—in a certain respect, the failure—to recover this early experience of love in his life.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 4-1869.raw.xml