Caine, Recollections, 191-194.
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets.
The poem meditates on Blake via the Shields drawing DGR references in his
title. As such, it has much in common with his more famous series of Sonnets for Pictures.
DGR's interest in Blake dates from very early, perhaps even before April
1847, when a British Museum attendant sold DGR and WMR a Blake notebook,
known thereafter to Blake scholars as “the Rossetti
Manuscript.” As a result of this acquisition, DGR planned to
write some sort of critical work on Blake (see his letter to Allingham, 16
May 1851 in
Correspondence, 51. 11
He never did, though his friend Swinburne undertook the task and
completed it with his brilliant study, William Blake. A Critical Essay (1868), which DGR greatly admired. In the early sixties DGR was heavily involved in the
production of Alexander Gilchrist's biography The Life of William Blake (2 vols., 1863) and in early 1880 he again assisted Mrs. Gilchrist with the
revised edition (see
Correspondence, 80. 67-187passim
). In each case he made signal contributions to these works,
both critical and editorial. This sonnet, which dates from the later period,
was written soon after DGR's sonnet on
Chatterton, the first of the so-called Five English Poets sonnets that DGR published in 1881. DGR also wrote an epitaph for Blake.
DGR wrote the sonnet, possibly on 20 May 1880 (see below, his letter to Frederick Shields),
while he was assisting Mrs. Gilchrist with the new edition of her husband's life of
Blake. Mrs. Gilchrist wanted to include it in the edition but DGR refused
refused to have included his epitaph for Blake,
composed much earlier.
Six manuscripts of this sonnet are known to survive. The earliest is the
draft in the
Fitzwilliam Museum Library. Two copies are in the British Library, a
fair copy and a
cancelled copy attached to the
poem “Soothsay”. There is another
fair copy in the
Library of Congress. One of these may be the first copy that DGR sent to Frederick Shields. The
sent to Shields is part of his letter of 21 May 1880 (see
). DGR also
sent a fair copy to his mother in his
letter of 13 July 1880 (see
Fredeman, Correspondence, 80.241
It was first published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets as one of the group of sonnets he headed with the title Five English Poets. It was collected thereafter but in WMR's 1911 edition the five sonnets are detached from each other and printed separately.
A letter from DGR to Watts of 19 December 1880 (bound up with the British Library manuscript of the poem) indicates DGR thought of publishing the sonnet separately toward the end of 1880 (see
Fredeman, Correspondence, 80. 392
WMR notes that the Shields drawing is reproduced in Art Journal in 1903.