The Doom of the Sirens

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Genre: sketch for a play


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1911.

Scholarly Commentary


This work is DGR's most elaborated treatment of one of his central symbolic preoccupations: the figura of the siren or la belle dame sans merci. Like Keats, DGR is completely sympathetic to the ambiguous valence of this femme fatale. Unlike Keats, his work is a lifelong exploration of the complex social and cultural significance of the figure, as one sees very clearly in this remarkable work. Its filiations are literal and direct, as one can see by reading it in relation to works like Ligeia Siren, Boatmen and Siren, “Death's Songsters”, “For the Wine of Circe”, “A Sea-Spell”, and “The Question”; it develops obvious mutations in Lady Lilith, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and The Card Dealer.

The opening paragraph of the work makes such a clear reference of Hunt's early painting A Converted British Family Sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids that the work can scarcely not be read as an imaginative interpretation of Hunt's painting.

Like “The Orchard Pit”, this is an impressive imaginative conception, and it is unfortunate that DGR never executed either work beyond the prose sketches her made. In each case, however, what we have is sufficiently detailed to give a clear sense of the imaginative power of his thought.

Textual History: Composition

A prose cartoon for the work was drafted in 1869 in preparation for the unexecuted poetical work—a dramatic lyric based on events detailed in the cartoon. One of the notebooks at Duke University has a brief fragment describing how scene I was to begin. The brief lyric Tomaæ Fides was to have been part of this poem.

Printing History

The work was first printed posthumously by WMR in volume I of his 1886 collected edition, and it was collected thereafter. WMR used the Duke manuscript as his copy text but he altered it in notable ways.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 47p-1869.raw.xml