Beauty. (A Combination from Sappho.)

Alternately titled: One Girl

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: aaa
Meter: iambic hexameter
Genre: fragment
The meter is basically iambic, with anapaestic variations; in fact, an Alexandrine. It is an effort to represent Sappho's quantitative hexameters in English accentual verse.
Sources of the Work:
Translated Work: A History of the Literature of Ancient Greece by Karl Otfried Müller, continued by John William Donaldson (London, 1858), I. 237-238.
Note: Donaldson states in his “Translator's Preface” that the first twenty-two chapters of the work were translated by Sir George Cornewall Lewis, the remainder by himself. Lewis's translation is therefore the immediate source of DGR's text.


◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 125.

◦ Bentley, “The Source of D. G. Rossetti's ‘Combination from Sappho’”.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Poems First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


DGR closes the first section of his 1870 Poems with this poem, a work that hardly calls attention to itself. The title of the translation in the 1870 volume was “One Girl”, not “Beauty” (the latter was the title DGR gave it when he reprinted the work in his 1881 volume Poems. A New Edition).

But the diminuendo of this little work is a subtle obliquity on DGR's part. D. M. R. Bentley's identification of the source of the poem, in the volumes that both completed and translated Karl Otfried Müller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (1858), I. 237 , suggests that weighty themes are being lightly carried in DGR's translation—themes that pervade the whole of the 1870 volume and that figure prominently in The House of Life, the section of the volume that follows immediately upon this fragment.

Briefly, Bentley shows that the two Sapphic fragments translated by DGR were implicitly given a mythic significance in Müller's volumes. The fragments deliver a cryptic message out of the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries, a message Nietzsche would make famous in his exposition of the myth of the Eternal Return. In terms of the Sappho fragments translated by DGR, the theme is located in hymeneal hymns that celebrate, in the language of flowers, the mystic or mythic marriage that founds the whole myth of the Eternal Return.

This modest translational work therefore clarifies the place DGR has made for the set of translations with which he concludes the first section of his book. All focus on love and death, and they intimate the universality of the subject in poetic discourse as well as the transhistorical (i.e., mythic) character of the subject. Ultimately DGR has aligned his work with the myth of Orpheus and his Chthonian counterpart Dionysius. The “One Girl” is Persephone/Euridice, although in DGR's book she has as well many other particular names.

Textual History: Composition

WMR (1911) dates the translation 1869, but without any corroborating data. The (1858) source of the text, however, might argue an earlier date of composition. The character of the printer's copy manuscript gives no clue as to date of composition, but there is another fair copy manuscript, in the library of J. Paul Getty, that seems earlier. There is also a draft text of the poem in Notebook I in the Duke University Library that suggests it was composed sometime between 1863-1868.

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. When it was reprinted in the Tauchnitz edition (1874) DGR changed the title from “One Girl” to “Beauty”, and he kept the latter in his 1881 Poems. A New Edition.


The Sappho fragments are nos. 93 and 94 in Bergk's editions; he was the first to attribute the fragments to Sappho (see Theodor Bergk, Poetae Lyricae Graecae [Leipzig, 1843]). The text that directed DGR's translation was the following passage from the English translation of Karl Otfried Müller's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece : “In a fragment lately discovered, which bears a strong impression of the simple language of Sappho, she compares the freshness of youth and the unsullied beauty of a maiden's face to an apple of some peculiar kind, which, when all the rest of the fruit is gathered from the tree, remains alone at an unattainable height, and drinks in the whole vigour of vegetation; or rather (to give the simple words of the poetess in which the thought is placed before us and gradually heightened with great beauty and nature) ‘like the sweet apple which ripens at the top of the bough, on the topmost point of the bough, forgotten by the gatherers—no, not quite forgotten, but beyond their reach.’ A fragment written in a similar tone, speaks of a hyacinth, which growing among the mountains is trodden underfoot by the shepherds and its purple flower is pressed to the ground; thus obviously comparing the maiden who has no husband to protect her, with the flower which grows in the field, as contrasted with that which blooms in the shelter of a garden.” ( I. 237-8 ).


At the autobiographical level of the text the “One Girl” is both his dead wife Elizabeth and his living beloved Jane Morris.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 42-1869.raw.xml