John of Tours

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: tetrameter couplets
Meter: iambic
Genre: ballad


◦ Gregory Life and Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. II. 124

◦ Lang, ““French Originals”, 1949), 1219-1222

Scholarly Commentary


This poem and its companion piece My Father's Close underscore the connection between DGR's work and the symbolist movement in France. Among the Pre-Raphaelite poets only Swinburne is regularly connected with that important contemporary school of French writing, but it is clear that DGR's work connects with it as well, perhaps at least as much as his friend Swinburne's work does.

DGR's translation of the old French ballad is undertaken under the auspices of the poetry of Gerard de Nerval, who resuscitated the French ballad in 1842, along with the original of “My Father's Close”. When Swinburne reviewed DGR's 1870 Poems, where both of the translations first appeared, he specifically called attention to Nerval when he remarked on DGR's translations (see the Fortnightly Review, May 1870 ).

Textual History: Composition

It was probably translated in 1869, sometime before August, when the manuscript was put into print by DGR in the Penkill Proofs for the forthcoming 1870 Poems. WMR dates it 1869 in 1911.

Textual History: Revision

Swinburne tried hard to persuade DGR to alter the expressions like “What's” and “It's” to “What is” and “It is”, but he did not succeed. He regarded them as slang usage, and hence inapt for the translation of such texts. Swinburne was right about the slang, though not perhaps about the larger aesthetic point; in any case, DGR had his way (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 38 ).

Printing History

It is first printed in the Penkill Proofs, the first of the prepublication texts DGR prepared for the eventual publication of his 1870 Poems; reprinted in the “New Edition” of 1881 and collected thereafter.


It is unclear which edition, or editions, DGR used when translating this Old French ballad, but it is probable that he knew and used Gerard de Nerval's version of both texts (first published in La Sylphide for 9 July 1842 , and after various further reprintings, collected in his Oeuvres completes (1867-69)). DGR's translation is four lines longer than Nerval's French text, but there are other French texts which contain the material in DGR's work.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 40-1869.raw.xml