“Retro me, Sathana!”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1847
Date: 1848
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet
The absence of a break between the octave and sestet is notable, especially since the sonnet's two parts are distinctly turned.


◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 250-251.

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Illustrated Memorial, 17, 216.

◦ Mégroz, Painter Poet of Heaven in Earth, 48.

◦ Baum, House of Life, 204.

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 9.

◦ Rees, Poetry of DGR, 81-82.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poems (1870) text.

Scholarly Commentary


The sonnet acquires greater force as part of The House of Life project because there it is able as it were to “look before and after”. In 1847 DGR's career had yet to unfold, but in 1869 his future's “narrow ways” appear more darkly lit precisely because of DGR's intervening years in “the world”. In this sense the poem's governing injunction is self-reflexive, for DGR is here reimagining his old sonnet and its 1847 point of view by placing it in the context the earlier sonnet foretold but could not have foreseen. This context is the set of events called up in the poetical narrative laid out in the sonnet sequence.

The significance of the 1847 version of the sonnet is best explicated in relation to the picture that DGR made at the time to go with the sonnet. This picture, which DGR finished only as a drawing, has little direct autobiographical content—indeed, it represents a scene out of Faust. In that context, the sonnet's rhetoric is less personal than it is moral, with the picture operating as an emblematic illustration of the sonnet.

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR: “The sonnet Retro me Sathana must belong to 1847, being intended to pair with his picture of the same name” ( Family Letters vol. 1, 107 ). Only one manuscript appears to survive: a corrected copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence.

Textual History: Revision

DGR made two substantive alterations early in the proof process in 1869, and thereafter the text of the poem remained stable through the final authorial publication in 1881.

Production History

DGR executed a drawing under this name in July 1848 and he projected but never carried out an oil version. The drawing depicts a scene that has no imagistic relation to the sonnet. The picture shows a priest walking with a pious young woman, with Mephistopheles lurking in the rear. The drawing was done in July 1848 and has much in common with DGR's Faust drawings of that period.


The drawing recalls Faust but is not specifically an illustration of that work. It operates more as an emblematic illustration of virtue being protected from threatening evil.

Printing History

First printed in August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs, the sonnet remained in all proof stages and was published in the 1870 Poemsand thereafter. It is The House of Life Sonnet XLII in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet XC in 1881.


The poem is dominated by biblical usages and allusions. The central text is taken from Jesus' rebuke of Peter who protested when Jesus foretold his coming passion and death (see Matthew 16:23). Rees points out that the figure of the charioteer, and the figural treatment of Time, are probably in debt to Shelley. Baum comments on the “Miltonic inspiration” of the sonnet.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 6-1847.s37.raw.xml