The Hill Summit

Alternately titled: From the Hilltop

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1853
Rhyme: abbaaccadedeed
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


◦ Baum, ed., The House of Life, 172-173

◦ Doughty, A Victorian Romantic, 138-139

◦ WMR, DGR as Designer and Writer, 232-233


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

Scholarly Commentary


This sonnet concludes the 1870 group of four (Known in Vain, The Landmark, A Dark Day) that define the movement into the second part of the 1881 sonnet sequence. They function in a similar way in the expanded 1881 version of The House of Life. That is, they point to the special difficulties attending the belated worshipper (line 4). The figure is here constructed as an allegorical sign for the lover, the poet, and the artist.

Of special interest is the way the sonnet itself becomes an emblem of this problem. The theophanies that climax the movement of the octave signify in themselves a “height” (line 9), and as such they call attention to the position of this sonnet and its group in the rhythm of the sequence as a whole. Once again DGR associates himself and his work with the pilgrim Dante, partly through the invocation of the journey motif, partly through the recollection of Guinicelli's bird, which Dante also exploited.

As with all the early sonnets DGR recovers for The House of Life project in 1869-1870, this one's double chronology is exploited in various ways. The allegorical urgency of the text is increased when this double perspective is realized. Most importantly, the sense of a fatality governing DGR's life and work gets especially reinforced in this sonnet and its companions.

Textual History: Composition

DGR wrote the sonnet in July 1853, when he was on a solitary walking tour in Warwickshire. A year later he wrote to Allingham that he composed it “in great glory on the top of a hill which I reached one after-sunset” (see letter to Allingham, August 1854, where he copies a text of the sonnet). Another manuscript, a corrected copy, is gathered in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence.

Textual History: Revision

The original sonnet of 1853 was considerably revised when DGR published the text in the 1870 volume. Some of these revisions were made before it was printed. He contemplated revisions to lines 5-8 in October 1854, in response to charges of obscurity by Allingham (see DGR's letter to Allingham of 15 October 1854, Fredeman, Correspondence, 54. 67 ). Other changes—including the highly significant ones at lines 9-12—were made in the proofs. The latter first appear in the A Proofs in September (see DGR's letter to WMR of 15 September 1869).

DGR sketched an interesting variation on the sonnet's theme in a prose notebook passage dating from the mid-1870s.

Printing History

First printed in 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 XXXIII in the 1870 volume, and Sonnet LXX in 1881.


The sonnet will yield quite different autobiographical suggestions when it is read in the context of its original (1853) composition date, and when it is read in the contexts of the 1869-1870/1881 where the focus is in The House of Life.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1853.raw.xml