Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869 June
Rhyme: ababcbcb
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: song


◦ Baum, Poems Ballads and Sonnets, 152


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Poems First Edition text.

Scholarly Commentary


The poem is constructed in figurative and hieratic terms. Its basic structure is pictorially imagined as a paradisal landscape recollected and elaborated out of the bible. The key image comes from the text “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden” ( Genesis 2: 10). As in The Blessed Damozel, this paradise is a love garden. Here the beloved is named as the figural Love-Lily, who is at once the principal flower of this garden and the name of the garden's tutelary (female) deity (compare Beauty, the poem titled “One Girl” in the 1870 Poems). Love-Lily's erotic power is such that she emanates “A spirit” who is Love itself, figured in the second stanza as an angel. The whole treatment is not so much allegorical, although allegorical forms operate prominently, as ornamental and decorative. The latter stylistic treatment forces the text to be read as a set of reflecting or echoing signs, and tends to immobilize the sequential inertia of the work's textuality. In short, it is distinctly a “painter's poem”.

See also the general commentary for “Three Translations from Francois Villon, 1450”.

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR the poem was composed in 1869 ( 1911 ). In fact the date of composition was sometime in June (see commentary for the Fitzwilliam Mansucript of the poem.

Textual History: Revision

DGR's thoughts about revising the poem can be seen in his letter to WMR of 31 August 1869, where he discusses the Penkill Proofs text, the first appearance of the work in print (see Fredeman, Correspondence 69. 144 ).

Printing History

First printed as part of the pre-publication process for the 1870 Poems, in the Penkill Proofs, August 1869. Those proofs have no special organization of the poetic units. At the next proof stage, the so-called A Proofs (Sept. 1869), this poem is placed in a loosely organized section under the heading Sonnets and Songs, Towards a Work to be Called The House of Life, which would in the end be the title he gave to “The House of Life” when he published his 1870 Poems. DGR experimented with the order of this section until, in the final proof stage (realized at the beginning of March, 1870) this poem and ten others were grouped as The House of Life's integral section of Songs. In the 1881 Poems. A New Edition, this section is detached from The House of Life and placed under the heading Lyrics, and two other poems are added to the group.


The song recalls the song that the Spirits of the Air sing to Asia (“Life of Life”) when she appears in the form of Venus rising from the sea in Prometheus Unbound (Act II scene 5). Both songs represent a vision of Love as the total integration of spiritual and physical phenomena.

The poem's title and theme of mystic love also recalls E. T. A. Hoffmann's story “Der Goldene Topf”, which centers in the gnostic figure of the Fire-Lily and the love of the student Anselmus for the mystic snake maiden.

Finally, one notes the general stylistic allusion to medieval troubador and stil novisti songs of the kind that recur throughout DGR's collection of The Early Italian Poets.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 25-1869.raw.xml