The Day-Dream (for a Picture)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1880 September
Date: 1878-1880
Rhyme: abbaabbaccdeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet
Model: Mrs. Jane Morris


◦ Agosta, 90-92

◦ Marillier, DGR: An Ilustrated Memorial, 199

◦ Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1, 153-154.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets text.

Scholarly Commentary


Both picture and sonnet reflect, and reflect upon, the vicissitudes of beauty and of the artist's attachment to beauty. The poignant tone develops from a structure of present tenses borne down by a belated perspective, a spring attenuated by dream and haunted by its own departure. Phrases like “Still bear” and “Still the leaves come new” define the sonnet's ominous sadness, which is connected to the natural world and its seasonal movement. In this respect, the work has much in common with Swinburne's great poem “A Vision of Spring in Winter”.

What flourishes in the poem are figures of speech rather than natural forms, an effect epitomized in the splendid opening two lines of the sestet. The poem develops an implicit argument about how a transcendental awareness and commitment emerges from “the branching shade” of reveries that attend to the unabiding forms of nature. That attention passes first into a state of natural “Dreams” and then to the “spirit-fann'd” dreams that DGR represents in the figure of the dreaming woman, whose far reverie has “forgotten” altogether its quotidian state.

The prose description accompanying the sonnet in the Lasner manuscript is important: “This Subject is simply one of natural sublimity. The time of year is about April, some branches of the sycamore tree in which the lady is seated being still quite young in spring foliage while in places the leaves are already larger though with spring-buds also clinging here & there.” The sonnet appears to locate the scene at a moment “half the summer through”. The prose suggests, therefore, that DGR intended “Still bear” to carry an implication of imaginative forecast. The melancholy implication emerges in the implicit clash between this forecast (natural) hope and reality and the belated (human) situation surrounding both sonnet and picture.

Textual History: Composition

Two manuscripts of the sonnet are extant. DGR wrote the poem near the beginning of September 1880 and sent a fair copy to Jane Morris in a letter of 3 September (see Fredeman, Correspondence, (3 September 1880) 80. 298 . He must have also given a copy to F. G. Stephens in January 1881, when he was in regular personal and epistolary contact with Stephens about the latter's essay on the painting of The Day-Dream. This would be the fair copy in Mark Lasner's collection. The two manuscripts vary slightly but significantly.

Textual History: Revision

DGR's revisions to the sonnet come in an attachment he sent in a letter to F. G. Stephens of 2 February 1881. Stephens had sent DGR a proof of an essay on DGR's recent work that he would shortly publish in The Athenaeum, (26 February 1881) 304 , and his letter requests DGR's ideas and suggestions (see Fredeman, Correspondence, (2 February 1881) 81. 56 ).

Production History

DGR composed the sonnet in 1880 to accompany his just completed painting of the same title. Jane Morris sat for the picture, which is one of DGR's best portraits of her. The painting actually derives from a drawing of Mrs. Morris made in 1872, and more immediately from an 1878 drawing Constantine Ionides saw in Rossetti's house in the spring of 1879. This picture, now in the Ashmolean, may be a reworked copy of the original 1872 drawing. Ionides commissioned the painting and DGR began working on it in the summer and fall. It was originally titled Monna Primavera, which reflects the work's strong focus on spring flowers and vegetation. The received title came late, when he had finished the painting and just before he wrote the sonnet, in July 1880: “The Vanna picture has quite a finished look now but is as yet unframed, nor is it really near a finish as to colour and tone. But I fear I shall have to change the name and call it perhaps The Day-Dream, reserving the other title for another of the series. Since I painted the spring leaves, the picture has undergone much remodelling; and though it is a fact that many of the largest leaves were on the tree together with the smallest, still it looks very full in leaf for a spring-tree, and I think the snowdrops will not do with it. I have removed them but not substituted another flower yet, and really almost think I may have to put off the flower to the early part of next year” (see the letter to Jane Morris in Fredeman, Correspondence, 80. 237 ).

Printing History

First printed in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and connnected thereafter.


The painting (and the poem) should be compared with the similar reverie represented in Beata Beatrix.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 7-1880.s259.raw.xml