Sudden Light

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1854
Rhyme: a3b4a4b 3a5
Meter: iambic
Genre: song


◦ Gregory, Life and Works of DGR II. 115

Scholarly Commentary


This poem treats one of DGR's most deeply desired beliefs, the idea that true lovers occupy an eternal space that defines their relationship, and that this fact gets registered by déjà vu experiences. The belief structures the entire dynamic order of The House of Life, and is explicitly present at various points, most notably perhaps in The Birth-Bond.

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR the poem was composed in 1854 (1911). There is no hard evidence that confirms or disconfirms that dating. But it must have been written in or before 1863, the date of its first publication. DGR's draft at Princeton has very interesting cancelled readings. One of the Ashley Library notebooks carries two draft texts.

Textual History: Revision

DGR revised his 1863 text slightly when he reprinted the poem in the 1870 Poems, and completely recast the final stanza in the 1881 Poems. A New Edition.

Printing History

First printed in Poems: An Offering to Lancashire (1863), an anthology published by Emily Faithfull's Victoria Press.

It was printed again as part of the pre-publication process for the 1870 Poems, in the Penkill Proofs, August 1869. 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 theme is a recurrent one in DGR's work, and in the pictorial work is epitomized by the picture How They Met Themselves.


It is perhaps notable that the poem was first published in a book “Printed and Published for the Arts Exhibition for the Relief of Distress in the Cotton Districts”. That DGR would have chosen to give this quasi-mystical poem for publication in such a consciously social and political publication as Emily Faithfull's Poems: An Offering to Lancashire goes some way toward explaining the connection he wanted to establish and pursue between the personal and the political in his 1870 Poems volume. (1863)

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 6-1854.raw.xml