Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1847; 1869
Rhyme: couplets
Meter: tetrameter
Genre: hymn


◦ Bentley, “Rossetti's ‘Ave’” (1977) 21-35

◦ Cervo, “Rossetti's ‘AVE’” (1989), 37-40

◦ Gregory, Life and Works of DGR II. 121-122

◦ Masefield, Thanks Before Going 51

◦ Smulders, “DGR's ‘Ave’” (1992), 63-74

◦ Swafford, “Early Marian Poems” (1982), 78-91


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


Although not one of DGR's most celebrated poems, it is one of his most important for explicating the programmatic character of his work both as a writer and as an artist.

“Ave” descends from the series of “Songs for the Art Catholic”, which DGR wrote in 1847 as part of his early efforts to define his principal objects as a painter and a writer. One of those Songs was “Mater Pulchrae Delectionis”, from which “Ave” directly descends. (DGR's reimagination of the earlier text is so great, however, that the two have to be considered entirely separate works.)

As DGR initially conceived this poem in 1869, when he was preparing a collection of his verse for publication (the volume that would eventually appear as the Poems of 1870), it carried a prose note to the title: “This hymn was written as a prologue to a series of designs. Art still identifies herself with all faiths for her own purposes: and the emotional influence here employed demands above all an inner standing-point.” Though later withdrawn from the volume, the note is important for two reasons. First, it shows the intimate relation that DGR cultivated between his work as a writer and his work as an artist. Second, the note articulates one of DGR's key aesthetic ideas: the concept of the “inner standing-point”, which is his peculiar and novel re-interpretation of Keatsian Negative Capability as that idea passed through the further revisionary conceptions of Poe and Browning. DGR again invoked this concept in 1871 when he responded to Buchanan's attack on his 1870 volume of poetry, and particularly on the modern poem “Jenny” . Like “Ave”, DGR's poem about contemporary prostitution demanded an approach from “an inner standing point”: for “The heart of such a mystery as this must be plucked from the very world in which it beats or bleeds; and the beauty and pity, the self-questionings and all-questionings which it brings with it, can come with full force only from the mouth of one alive to its whole appeal” (see “The Stealthy School of Criticism” ).

The poem must be read as a kind of pastiche of an early Roman Catholic hymn to the Virgin. It is an historicist exercise very much in the manner of the literary ballads cultivated by the Pre-Raphaelites, and especially by Swinburne. As pastiche, the poem plunges more deeply into the coveted “inner standing-point” than does the more celebrated and cognate genre, dramatic monologue. In this connection it is important to register that the poem is formally a hymn—an impersonal song, rather than a subjective lyric.

Textual History: Composition

Projected as a “prologue to a series of designs” (according to DGR's note to the title of the poem as originally printed), we may surmise that DGR began his process of constructing the work from its 1847 beginnings sometime between 1855 and 1858; for these were the years when he executed the pictures that he had projected earlier for the Marian materials of the poem. He probably also worked on the poem in 1860 when he was preparing the aborted Dante at Verona and Other Poems for the press.

Textual History: Revision

DGR revised the text of the poem in the fall of 1869 as it passed though the prepublication proofs for the 1870 Poems. The revised manuscript preserved in a Princeton notebook represents DGR's synthesis of his reworked text for its first printing.


See Commentary (Reception History) for the 1870 Poems.


Like its related poems and paintings, this work elaborates Marian mythology, and in particular the Virgin's seven joys and seven sorrows (the poem is iconographically ordered in seven stanzas).

Printing History

First set in type in the Penkill Proofs in mid-August 1869 (Lewis's third proof state). It is clear that the poem was one of the last added by DGR before the Penkill Proofs were set in type (see DGR's letter of 7 August 1869 to his printer Strangeways, Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 116 ). The poem was revised in the 1869-1870 proofing process and first published in the Poems 1870, and collected thereafter.


The poem was to have introduced, DGR said, a series of “designs” he projected in 1847 as a triptych. The left and right panels were to have depicted the “Virgin planting a lily and a rose, and the Virgin in St. John's house after the Crucifixion”, with a central panel showing “the passover [of] the Holy Family” (see WMR, Preraphaelite diaries and letters, 216-217 ). These pictures are (respectively) DGR's Mary Nazarene, Mary in the House of St. John, and The Passover in the Holy Family. Other closely related pictures of course include The Girlhood of Mary Virgin and Ecce Ancilla Domini!, as well as The Annunciation. John Masefield shrewdly notes that it reads as though he were thinking of painting a series of pictures showing the life of the Virgin Mary. The poem is, as it were, designed in panels of paintings to set upon each side of an altar over which would stand the final picture of the Enthronement.


Like all of DGR's Art Catholic materials, whether pictorial or textual, this work is intimately related to the mid-Victorian enthusiasm for High Church and Roman ideas and materials, liturgical as well as doctrinal. DGR's mother and sisters were closely involved with the Tractarian Movement and its aftermath; DGR's involvement in these things remained aesthetic and historicist, though in those respects his interests were simultaneously marked with serious personal and cultural issues.


More than its precursor text “Mater Pulchrae Delectionis”, “Ave” was reconstituted as a kind of pastiche work imagined as if it were a translation of some medieval original. In “Ave” all references to a contemporary setting have been carefully removed.

The opening of Dante's Paradiso—St. Bernard's hymn to the Virgin—seems clearly being recalled in the opening of DGR's poem.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 51-1869.raw.xml