The Woodspurge

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1856
Rhyme: aaaa
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: Song


◦ Doughty, A Victorian Rmantic, 195-196

◦ Holberg, “Rossetti and the Trance”, (1970)

◦ McGann, “Rossetti's Significant Details”, 41-54

◦ Rees, Poetry of DGR, 65-67

◦ Riede, DGR and the Limits of Victorian Vision, 57-59


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

Scholarly Commentary


Like “My Sister's Sleep”, the poem is a paradigm instance of DGR's early Pre-Raphaelite handling of concrete details. The effect is not exactly “realistic”, however. The style functions primarily on two other thematic fronts. On one hand it conveys, obliquely, a picture of a traumatic moment, usually a moment following immediately upon some experience of intense psychic distress. On the other hand it carries an implicit argument for an aesthetic program in which phenomena are prized for their elemental, primary qualities. (The early Pre-Raphaelite ideal of “truth to nature” points in this direction.) The programmatic character of this kind of work is especially clear in “The Woodspurge” when the climactic stanzas introduce a potential for symbolic reading (via the trinitarian possibilities opened by a flower with ‘three cups in one’). The final stanza short-circuits the religious-symbolic reading, however, by insisting that, in crucial human moments, an ultimate wisdom will be found in simple facticities. The Ruskinian connections to this kind of thought are manifest.

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR the poem was composed in1856 (see 1911 , date in Table of Contents). There is no hard evidence that confirms or disconfirms that dating, but it has been widely accepted. The Fitzwilliam manuscript was printer's copy for the first printing

Printing History

First printed as part of the pre-publication process for the 1870 Poems, in the Penkill Proofs, August 1869. Those proofs have no special organization of the poetic units. At the next proof stage, the so-called A Proofs (Sept. 1869), this poem is placed in a loosely organized section under the heading Sonnets and Songs, Towards a Work to be Called The House of Life. DGR experimented with the order of this section until, in the final proof stage (realized at the beginning of March, 1870) this poem and ten others were grouped as The House of Life's integral section of Songs. In the 1881 Poems. A New Edition, this section is detached from The House of Life and placed under the heading Lyrics, and two other poems are added to the group.


The poem is a good instance of DGR's effort to render in a textual form the painterly method of an early Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic. The extreme clarity of the details, as well as the presentation of an intense psychic moment, correspond to any number of pictures done by Hunt, Millais, and DGR in his earlier years.


Following a suggestion of WMR's in his 1911 note to the poem, Doughty ( A Victorian Romantic (195-196) reads it as a record of a moment in the troubled relationship of DGR and Elizabeth Siddal.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1856.raw.xml