William Blake (to Frederick Shields, on his sketch of Blake's work-room and death-room, 3, Fountain Court, Strand.)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1880 May
Rhyme: abbaaccadedeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ 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.

Scholarly Commentary


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 Fredeman, 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 Fredeman, 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.

Textual History: Composition

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 (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 80.187 ). He also 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 second copy sent to Shields is part of his letter of 21 May 1880 (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 80.180 ). DGR also sent a fair copy to his mother in his letter of 13 July 1880 (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 80.241 ).

Printing History

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.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 6-1880.raw.xml