Through Death to Love

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871
Rhyme: abbaaccadeedde
Meter: iambic
Genre: sonnet


◦ WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 209-210

◦ Baum, ed., House of Life, 122-124


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


This is one of the most difficult sonnets in the sequence, and it troubled both WMR and Baum in their efforts at elucidation. The imagery distinctly calls back to the previous sonnet, “Severed Selves”, a fact that may perhaps only complicate the interpretive issues even further. Baum's comment that “Our” (line 7) “seems to be the generalizing plural” (123) is misleading, for the pronoun is distinctly (and characteristically) ambiguous. In the context of the sequence, it might more readily be taken to refer to the lover and the beloved (autobiographically, DGR and Mrs. Morris—or might the beloved herself be equally DGR's dead wife?).

Baum usefully untangles the obscure syntax of lines 9-11 as follows: “Nevertheless, across these wild images of Death there soars a Power (that is, there shines a vision) which is sweeter (more soothing) than the flow of a stream or the flight of a dove. . .Literally: ‘sweeter in gliding around than flow of stream, sweeter in brooding above than flight of dove’”.

The phrase (line 1) “faint to flee” is notably Swinburnean, and while DGR's treatment of the relation of death and love is, as here, usually far more sentimental than Swinburne's, recalling the Swinburne dynamic to understand this poem is, I believe, quite helpful. It clarifies the overall argument of a sonnet whose local particulars are extremely recondite.

Textual History: Composition

The earliest manuscript is the draft copy in the Bancroft collection. The other manuscripts are: two copies in the Princeton composite “House of Life” manuscript, a heavily corrected draft and a fair copy; the May Morris fair copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life”; and the holograph fair copy in the Bodleian Kelmscott Love Sonnets group. DGR scripted various pieces of the sonnet in different places in Ashley Notebook I: line 1, line 2, line 8, and lines 12-14. Another manuscript existed but has not appeared, the one DGR sent to W. B. Scott in a letter (see his Autobiographical Notes (page 144)). Scott's transcript differs slightly from the received text.

Printing History

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

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 22-1871.raw.xml