Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871
Rhyme: aabbaabb
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: poem group


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the The Princeton Library printer's copy manuscript text..

Scholarly Commentary


WMR's extended note (see his 1911 edition) is nearly the only commentary on this arresting work. In the notes to his extensive 1937 edition of DGR's Poems Ballads and Sonnets (330n) , Baum seconds WMR's remarks and adds the following shrewd gloss: “There is no doubt about the alliteration and the intended musical effect: each verse is to be chanted. But the poem is really a ballad of which we have only the refrains, the story being similar to that of “Down Stream”.” Baum's remark is all the more important because he was not familiar with the partial text DGR copied into his letter to Hake of 11 September 1871 (see below), where DGR specifically states that the lines were first written (in 1871) “to intercept the stanzas [of “Rose Mary”] with a running and very varied burden. . . The burdens were to be distantly allusive to the story in a sort of gradually culminating way.” That last remark means, in short, that the sequence of refrains in “A Death-Parting” and the first stanza (at least) of “Chimes” both carry an implicit narrative structure that interpretively reflects the narrative structure of “Rose Mary”

Disjoined from the context of DGR's long ballad, however, “Chimes” is augmented and transformed into a highly unusual symbolic narrative. DGR has removed from the poem all explicit narrative content and left the reader with a kind of abstract score for a ballad, with a series of related tropes serving as the score's notations written into seven bars of music.

Textual History: Composition

The earliest manuscript relating to the poem appears at the end of the letter DGR sent to Thomas Gordon Hake on 11 September 1871 (see above). There it comes as the second of two burdens he had been thinking to work into the prosodic structure of “Rose Mary”. (The other burden is a sequence more or less corresponding exactly with the refrain lines in “A Death-Parting”.) He abandoned the idea of burdens for “Rose Mary” but later recovered the lines for the opening of the poem “Rose Mary”, which he wrote in 1878.

Three other manuscripts are known: the holograph printer's copy for the 1881 publication (this manuscript begins with a stanza DGR cancelled in proof); a fair copy of the poem in Notebook II in the Duke University Library; and a revised fair copy in Notebook IV (also at Duke).

Printing History

First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 2-1878.raw.xml