Dante at Verona

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848-1850
Date: 1852 (circa)
Rhyme: abbacc
Meter: iambic sexain
Genre: narrative verse


◦ Boos, Poetry of DGR, 134-140.

◦ Ellis, Dante and English Poetry, 108-112.

◦ Gregory, “Life and Works of DGR” vol. 2, 135.

◦ Hayward, “Early Italian Poets”, 165-174.

◦ Howard, The Dark Glass, 20-27.

◦ Masefield, Thanks Before Going, 8-10.

◦ Ray, Rossettiana, 23-26.

◦ Spangenberg, Cangrande I della Scala.

Works (1911), 647.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The poem was conceived as an integral work before DGR had an idea to imagine its subject in pictorial terms. His ideas for a double work began to emerge early in the 1850s, and gelled into a plan for an elaborate triptych that would interpret Dante's work and the general significance of his career as it was understood by DGR. The import of this project can be deduced from the three panels DGR planned for the triptych: the first would have been Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante, which DGR in fact brought to completion as a watercolor and a finished drawing; the second would have shown Dante as one of the Florentine magistrates presiding over the banishment of Cavalcanti; and the third would have portrayed Dante at the court of his patron Can Grande in Verona. The second two parts of the triptych never passed beyond the stage of preliminary sketches.

DGR wrote the poem in an early version between 1848 and 1850, according to WMR, at which point it was titled “Dante in Exile” and intended as an introduction to DGR's translation of the Vita Nuova . Conceived in the same spirit as The Early Italian Poets and in particular the Vita Nuova , the poem investigates Dante and the cultural condition of Italy in the 13th and early 14th centuries. As such, it also provides DGR with a vehicle for reflecting on his own immediate social, cultural and artistic circumstances.

The poem is a revisionary critique of that line of Dante scholarship which represents Dante's relations with his Verona patron Can Grande della Scala in a favorable light. DGR's poem is strongly critical of Can Grande. Indeed, it represents itself—this is signalled through its first epigraph—as a revisionary reading of Canto XVII of Dante's Paradiso .

The poem means to function as a text built upon secret or coded texts which it incorporates into itself. The key passages are those where the poem plays on the Italian words cane and scala (both of which refer to Can Grande della Scala) and their English equivalents and associations (dog, stairs). Equally important is the poem's use of Dante's Paradiso XVII. 91-99, where Dante says he received prophetic insights into Can Grande and his court that he does not reveal in his poem.

It is also important to register the studied archaic quality of the diction and poetical style. This feature of the poem aligns it closely with DGR's translations and Art Catholic pastiche works of the same period. It suggests that the narrator of the poem is not to be seen transparently, as it were the voice of DGR in propria persona. The voice seems a contemporary (Victorian) one that has been invaded by the spirit of a much earlier culture.

The later aspect of the poem's style underscores the work's contemporary social and political relevance. As Ralph Hayward III has shown, this poem exposes the dialectical relation operating between Dante's artistic and spiritual interests and his alienated secular circumstances. DGR uses this view of Dante and his work as a vehicle for arguing a similar relation between the contemporary artist and the secular Victorian world.

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR, the poem was begun early, perhaps before 1848. It was still being written in May 1849: WMR's diary for 15 May mentions that DGR “read his poem (in progress) intended as introductory to the Vita Nuova” ( Fredeman, The P.R.B. Journal, 3 ). Although WMR says it may not have been completed until 1852 ( Works (1911), 647n ), it was certainly in some kind of final state by 16 February 1850, for at that point—as WMR's own diary shows—it was being considered for publication in The Germ (under the title “Dante in Exile”: The P.R.B. Journal, 55 ). In November it had been read and much praised by Coventry Patmore ( The P.R.B. Journal, 77-78 ).

It may have then been revised or augmented or both in preparation for its inclusion in the projected Dante at Verona, and Other Poems, which was scheduled for publication in 1861 or 1862 as a companion volume to The Early Italian Poets. DGR cancelled plans to publish the volume of his original poems, however, and buried this poem with several others in his wife's grave after her death early in 1862.

Textual History: Revision

DGR had the manuscript of the original version of the poem exhumed from his wife's grave in late 1869. This text was then printed in the exhumation proofs at the end of October 1869, and DGR then set about revising the work as it passed through various proof states. After its publication in the first edition of the 1870 Poems , it was further revised in small particulars through the next six editions of that volume, and a new stanza was added when the poem was reissued in the 1881 Poems. A New Edition .

Production History

DGR planned a painting to illustrate this poem but only completed some preliminary sketches ca. 1852 [sketch 1,sketch 2, sketch 3,sketch 4]. The completed picture would have formed the third panel of a major Dantean work, The Dante Triptych.


See Commentary (Reception) for the 1870 Poems .


“The exiled Dante descending a flight of stairs with eyes lowered, is stared at by the court jester. Other figures are roughly sketched on the left” ( Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonée vol. 1, 20).

Printing History

First set in type in the exhumation proofs , pulled in late October 1869 from the exhumed manuscript. The text was then reprinted and revised through the subsequent proof states toward its eventual first publication in the 1870 Poems . It was reprinted and collected thereafter.


The poem centers in the period of Dante's second sojourn in Verona (ca. 1314-1318) after his exile from Florence in 1302. It recovers and glances at various events of the period of Dante's life (1265-1321), in particular events associated with Florence and the factional struggles that occurred in Italy and her cities.

The subject of “Dante at Verona” also functions as a kind of objective correlative for the situation of the artist in mid-Victorian England. A satiric investigation of Verona's cultural condition, it necessarily also casts these satirical reflections forward to DGR's own country and culture.


The poem represents itself—through its first epigraph—as a revisionary reading of Canto XVII of Dante's Paradiso . In a sense the poem is a revelation of the prophetic words that Cacciaguida spoke to Dante but that, according to Canto XVII, were not made part of the prophecy incorporated in Canto XVII (see lines 91-96 of Canto XVII). Aware of the received historical tradition that Dante was an enthusiast of Can Grande's generosity and intelligence, DGR's poem comes as a revelation of a fuller and very different truth. As such, it clearly seeks to align itself with the prophetic character of the Commedia itself, and especially with its political attitudes and objects.

The presence of the anecdote recorded in lines 295-306 is important for helping to correct the widespread and mistaken view that DGR and his father read Dante in opposite ways. While it is true that Gabriele Rossetti downplayed the historical Beatrice in favor of an arcane allegorical meaning, and DGR focused on the historical lady, their methods of reading Dante have much in common. First of all, by recalling this recondite story in the poem DGR illustrates his father's general approach to reading Dante as secret political allegory. It also (secretly) deploys Gabriele Rossetti's most notorious exegetical method: reading for double-meanings via plays on words and syntactical ambiguities. Gabriele Rossetti's oblique presence in this poem underscores an influence that most scholars of DGR's works have failed to recognize. In fact, when DGR came to publish his 1870 Poems , where this work figures so prominently, the only family member who stands out in the book is Gabriele Rossetti. (DGR includes two sonnets that relate to his father's Dantist studies— “Dantis Tenebrae” is particularly pointed—and he went out of his way to wrap his book in a secret paternal sign: the decorated endpapers reproduce paper that Gabriele Rossetti brought with him to England when he was exiled from Italy.)

The poem's chief antecedent English text is Byron's The Prophecy of Dante , which also takes up the question of the function of the artist in society in the form of a prophetic satire. Carlyle's lecture on Dante, published in On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History (1840), is also a clear influence. Of DGR's works, and besides The Early Italian Poets translations, the relevant texts are the contemporary socio-political commentaries “The Burden of Nineveh” and “Jenny” . Equally important related texts are “Hand and Soul” and “Saint Agnes of Intercession” . All of these are works that date back to the late 1840s.


Everything Dantean that DGR wrote or executed pictorially has autobiographical significance, since he strove to reimagine Dante's life and work as a mythic forecast of his own life and work.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1848.s55.raw.xml