Barren Spring

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

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


◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 245.

◦ Baum, House of Life, 194-195.

◦ Lewis, Trial Book Fallacy, 191.


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

Scholarly Commentary


In the 1870 sequence of The House of Life, where the sonnet is first published, its literal subject matter links it closely with the previous three (“The Landmark”, “A Dark Day”, “The Hill Summit”).

Textual History: Composition

Before April 1870 ( WMR, DGR: Classified Lists, 6 ). It was in fact written in March 1870—one of the sonnets that formed part of the “sheet” of work he had written at Scalands (see DGR's letter to Alice Boyd, 22 March 1870: Fredeman, Correspondence, 70.63 ). By “sheet” DGR means the set of proofs he had pulled on 15 March.

The only manuscript is the Charles Fairfax Murray copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence.

Textual History: Revision

The major revision of this sonnet involves its repositioning in 1881. In the 1870 text the sonnet is number XXXIV and it follows directly on the sequence “The Landmark”, “A Dark Day”, and “The Hill Summit”). In 1881, however, it is sonnet number LXXXIII and is separated from that sequence by twelve intervening sonnets, coming in just before “Farewell to the Glen”. The effect of this alteration is significant.

DGR also made a pair of small textual alterations by hand in his annotated copy of the second edition. These changes (in lines 5 and 12) first appeared in the fifth edition of the 1870 volume.

Printing History

This is one of the last sonnets added to the sequence for the 1870 Poems volume. It was printed in a separate proof along with some other sonnets (“The Love-Letter”, “For The Wine of Circe, by Edward Burne Jones”, and “The Monochord”) and “The Stream's Secret”. It is The House of Life Sonnet XXXIV in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet LXXXIII in 1881.


In terms of its date of composition, the sonnet reflects upon the spring of 1870, on whose threshhold it was written. Its emotional gloom is very deep, but this fact need not be read in personal terms since the sequence constructs this gloom as part of its developing argument.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 13-1870.raw.xml