A Day of Love

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1870 February
Rhyme: abbaabbacddcdc
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 88-89

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 195

Scholarly Commentary


Read as part of The House of Life sequence, the sonnet appears to record a consummate day of love for the poet and his Innominata. DGR himself told Alice Boyd that “the ‘Day of Love’ [refers] to a meeting between lovers who have much to remember ” (see letter of 25 March 1870, Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 70 ). Nor is there any reason not to read the poem this way. But the sonnet lies open to another very different reading, one that would be quite in accord with the Platonic and Dantean structure of DGR's poetical imagination.

This other reading emerges when one reflects on the strange interplay in the sonnet between images of presence and absence. Baum appears to have registered a related incongruity when he noted a “chronological” ambiguity in the poem as it figures in The House of Life sequence: “as a sonnet of wooing, [it] should precede those of surrender” (see Baum, The House of Life, 89 ). Another related problem arises from the discrepancy between the date of composition—February, 1870—and the subject matter: DGR and Jane Morris were not together in February 1870, and yet it is generally accepted that the poem was written with her in mind.

These evidences suggest that the sonnet, like so many in the sequence, “has an abstract side”, as DGR wrote in his letter to Alice Boyd. In this frame of reference we would read “Nowhere but here she is” (4) and “As here . . . we sit” (12) in a psychological rather than a realistic sense. This reading would “see” the poet's beloved as a figure in his imagination, as a fantasy image (or perhaps an artistic image—a drawing or a painting) that comes to him when he lives in “Love's spell” (4). So when the sonnet says that “the words take wing from” (11) his beloved's “love-lines”, we have an excellent example of DGR's worked language: for these texts serve as second-order figures whose principal reference is this very sonnet, its own lines and words; for it is this poem, as it is the picture of the beloved in The Portrait, that embodies the beloved. (In DGR's argument throughout The House of Life, only an aesthetic form can begin to approach, or hope to express (however inadequately), the true and ideal beauty of the beloved, or the love that she involves and instantiates.)

This reading also accommodates the sonnet to the sequence's crucial theme of the relation between love, art, and poetry. Finally, it articulates the ideality of the love that is being pursued, as well as constructed, in The House of Life project.

Textual History: Composition

When DGR decided, around 26 February 1870, to reorganize the order of the sonnets in The House of Life, he added (at first) “Two other new ones”, of which this was one (see letter to Swinburne, 26 February 1870, Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 35 ). (In fact he ended up adding three: this poem, “Life-in-Love”, and “The One Hope”. Baum suggests that DGR wrote this poem at Scalands ( Poems, Ballads, and Sonnets, 270n ) but DGR only went there at the beginning of March, and this poem was in the printer's hands in February.

The only manuscript is the fair copy by May Morris, corrected by DGR, in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” manuscript.

Textual History: Revision

The text of the poem does not change from the form as first printed in the proofs for the 1870 volume.

Printing History

First printed around 1 March 1870 as part of the Proofs for the first edition of the 1870 Poems. It is The House of Life Sonnet XII in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet XVI in 1881.


The poem seems to refer to some moment in DGR's relations with Jane Morris—perhaps to an incident when they were together in 1869, before she left England for medical treatments at Ems. In any case, despite the present tense of lines 12-14, the sonnet is a recollective text.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 6-1870.raw.xml