Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1870
Rhyme: abbaabbacddccd
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 95-97.

◦ Fontana, “Representations of the Kiss”, 80-88

◦ Lewis, The Trial Book Fallacy, 129-131.

◦ Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study, 422-423.

◦ WMR, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer, 198.


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

Scholarly Commentary


From the earliest commentaries, including both Buchanan's attack and DGR's rejoinder, the sonnet has been read as a celebration of the congruent beauties and pleasures of body and soul—one of the central themes of the sequence. The sonnet pivots around lines 9-10: after the catalogue of the octave, the text here seems brinked for a move toward a sensuous extremity. In erotic love poetry the culminating “sweet” would have been sexual, though usually expressed in some poetic artifice or turn of phrase. Here DGR inverts that traditional sexual expectation and moves into a description of a culminant spiritual encounter. The wit of this turn is such that it forces the reader to carry the (expected) sexual meanings over to this new set of spiritual assertions. As a result, the thematic argument is reinforced at the core of the sonnet's aesthetic action.

Textual History: Composition

The poem was one of the last two written for and added to the 1870 Poems, as his letter to his publisher Ellis indicates (see Doughty and Wahl, Letters II. 828 : 26 March 1870). The sonnet was apparently written at that time. The only manuscript known is C. F. Murray's copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” manuscript.

Textual History: Revision

Once corrected in the revise proof, the text remained unchanged from 1870 onwards.

Printing History

First printed in a revise proof sheet (along with He and I) for the March 1870 Proofs for the first edition of the 1870 Poems (Lewis's state 15 of the 1869-1870 pre-publication documents). Two copies of this revise proof are known. The sonnet is The House of Life Sonnet XIII in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet XXI in 1881.


The sonnet comes out of a highly developed tradition of love poetry that ultimately depends upon the Christian idea of the Ladder of Perfection. DGR's Early Italian Poets project exhibits the tradition in texts too numerous to cite. One notes, however, Lapo Gianni's ballata “A Message in charge for his Lady Lagia”, which catalogues an ascending order of the lady's virtues. Also notable would be Fazio Degli Uberti's canzone “His Portrait of his Lady, Angiola of Verona”. Cavalcanti's sonnet “To Guido Orlandi . . . In Praise of Guido Orlandi's Lady” is also interesting for the way it emphasizes the interpenetration of the lady's physical and spiritual virtues.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 7-1870.raw.xml