The Sea-Limits

Alternately titled: From the Cliffs. Noon
Alternately titled: At Boulogne. Upon the Cliffs: Noon

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1849 September 28
Rhyme: abbacca
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: song


◦ Gregory, Life and Works of DGR, II. 107

◦ Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study, 348-349

Scholarly Commentary


This is the poem that concludes the group gathered together in the 1870 Poems as the Songs section of The House of Life project. Like the two previous poems, which have the same metrical scheme (“The Honeysuckle” and “A Young Fir-Wood”), this one is a parable. Its subject is not love or mortality, however, but unity-of-being. As such, it corresponds to the final sonnet (“The One Hope” of the sonnet group of The House of Life sequence.

Textual History: Composition

An early poem, it was written during DGR's trip to Belgium and France, on 28 September, and a copy was sent back in DGR's letter to WMR (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 49. 16 ). At that point it was titled “At Boulogne. Upon the Cliffs: Noon”, a distinctly Pre-Raphaelite title.

Textual History: Revision

DGR revised the poem twice, when he came to publish it in The Germ, March 1850 ; and again when he was preparing to put it into his 1870 volume, in 1869. The copy text for the Penkill Proofs, which was the first of the 1869-1870 printings, is the manuscript now gathered into the 1869-1871 notebook of miscellaneous manuscripts in the Princeton/Taylor collection. The Fitzwilliam manuscript was copy text for the Second Trial Book text of the poem, which was doubled in length from the previous texts.

Printing History

First published in The Germ no. 3 (March, 1850), page 129 (and titled “From the Cliffs: Noon”). DGR then put it into type again as part of the pre-publication process for the 1870 Poems, in the Penkill Proofs, August 1869 (where it was titled “The Sea-Limit”). It is clear that the poem was one of the last added by DGR before the Penkill Proofs were set in type (see his letter to Strangeways, 7 August 1869, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 116 ). Those proofs have no special organization of the poetic units. At the next proof stage, the so-called A Proofs (Sept. 1869), this poem is placed in a loosely organized section under the heading Sonnets and Songs, Towards a Work to be Called The House of Life. DGR experimented with the order of this section until, in the final proof stage (realized at the beginning of March, 1870) this poem and ten others were grouped as The House of Life's integral section of Songs. In the 1881 Poems. A New Edition, this section is detached from The House of Life and placed under the heading Lyrics, and two other poems are added to the group.


The poem resonates back across The House of Life sonnet sequence. Indeed, this poem and its two previous companion pieces can easily be read as a schematic treatment of the story that is more elaborately handled in the fifty sonnets that come before.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 43-1849.raw.xml