Alternately titled: Dies Atra 1st May 1869

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869
Rhyme: abbaabbacddcee
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 135-136

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 277-280, 389

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 215

◦ Zweig, 178-193


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

Scholarly Commentary


As so often in DGR's work, pastiche is the figure that dominates his style. The authority of the figure permeates every aspect of his art (both textual and pictorial), but it comes most to the fore in works like this one, which takes such a literal approach to historically removed conventions and materials.

Here the “image” named in line 1 reveals its character as soon as it begins to undergo its “Bewildering” (line 5) transformations. Ultimately it signifies art or any kind of imaginative construct; and a sonnet like this (or any work of art, it is here argued) is nothing more (or less) than a locus of image mutations that project a map of changing desire.

This sonnet, in the sequence, concludes the important series that opened with its paired sonnet “Life-in-Love”.

Textual History: Composition

Apparently written on 2 May 1869, commemorating the doleful anniversary of the delivery of a stillborn child to Elizabeth Siddal Rossetti in 1861. Three copies are gathered in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” manuscript: the early draft copy (dated 1 May 1869), a corrected copy, and a fair copy made from the latter. There is also a fair copy with one correction in the U. of British Columbia library, the Norman Colbeck Collection. DGR scripted an interesting variant of line 9 in Ashley Notebook I (which dates sometime after 1871).

Printing History

First printed in mid-August 1869 as part of the Penkill Proofs, the sonnet remained in all proof stages and was published in the 1870 Poems and thereafter. It is The House of Life Sonnet XXIII in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet XLVIII in 1881.


The allegorical apparatus is a form of pastiche, one of the commonest of DGR's poetic devices. As in other pastiche texts (and pictures), it functions as a second-order set of figures: i.e., as an index or sign of a “dream” or fantasmal or imaginary order. Stylistically it has much in common with sonnets like “Passion and Worship” and “A Superscription”.


The Fitzwilliam manuscript of the poem is inscribed by DGR “Dies Atra 1st May 1869”. This records the eighth anniversary of the delivery of DGR's and Elizabeth's stillborn daughter (the delivery was in fact on 2 May 1861). This event weaves its way through many of the sonnets in The House of Life sequence. In the 1870 sequence it comes as a key figure in the initiating sonnet “Bridal Birth“, and it receives its most literal presence in “Stillborn Love”.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 13-1869.raw.xml