The Heart of the Night

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848
Rhyme: abbaaccadefdef
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 230

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life, 166-167


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets first edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet seems a kind of gloss or commentary not only on the sonnet that precedes it in the 1881 version of “The House of Life”, “Known in Vain”, but on the entirety of “the house of life” as it has unfolded “Till now” (6). The prayer in the sestet inflects the poem in a strongly personal way.

The title marks the sonnet explicitly in relation to what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”. In that respect its striking emotional ambivalences (for example, in lines 6-8) are exactly right.

“The work retrieved” is a phrase that anticipates the two sonnet triptychs that climax the sequence that began with “Transfigured Life”: “The Choice” and “Old and New Art”. Both triptychs represent for DGR a (biographical) moment of clear-eyed understanding and emotional stability, before the onset of the troubles of what he calls here the “swift cycle” of his life. The phrase is especially telling because of the secret history recorded in this sonnet: that it dates from the late 1840s (as WMR indicates in his note on the Tinker manuscript). WMR gives an 1873 date to the poem in his 1911 edition, but the physical evidence clearly establishes the early date; WMR must have forgotten his own annotation 1n the Tinker manuscript.

More striking still, the sonnet is one of the bouts rimés sonnets that DGR composed with his brother in their earliest years as young poets learning their craft. See the text and commentary for “Another Love”, which is another of these early sonnets.

Textual History: Composition

Four integral manuscripts survive. The earliest is the corrected fair copy at Yale (Tinker Collection). This important manuscript establishes the original date of composition before 1850, almost certainly 1848. DGR retrieved (and revised) the poem specifically for the 1881 “House of Life”. The Library of Congress has a fair copy and there are two copies in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence, a corrected copy and a fair copy.

Printing History

First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.


The 1862 watercolor drawing Mariana in the Moated Grange has an alternate title of “The Heart of the Night”.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 5-1873.raw.xml