I felt a spirit of love begin to stir

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1861
Rhyme: abbaabbacdecde
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets) 189-193

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I.76-77 (II. 121-123) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 169-171 .

Scholarly Commentary


In both Dante and DGR, the sonnet focuses on the issue of prefiguration. The biblical context is very strong in Dante's poem, as is made explicit in the prose introduction where Dante quotes Matthew 33:13. The famous New Testament passage gets subtlely reinforced in the sonnet itself, line 6, which carries an oblique allusion to Sarah's prophetic laugh when the Lord promises that she will bear a child (Genesis 18: 12-15). Dante's wit turns his own sonnet into a figura of this prefigurative rhetoric in several ways. Most apparent is the backward reference to the opening sonnet of the autobiography, when the key image of the heart was associated with an image of Love weeping. (In this case, because Love is laughing, Dante “scarce knew him”: line 4). The various word plays on the names also function in this prefigurative rhetoric, most especially in the case of “Primavera/Spring” (line 13); but the prose discussion of the names “Giovanna” and “Giovanni” announce the poem's purposes in the most explicit way. The general point is that Dante has a vision of a series of signs that forecast the coming of a life of love.

Throughout his translation DGR gives a distinctively aesthetic reading of his source texts and the case is no different here—indeed, that way of reading is never more apparent than it is in this sonnet. So DGR turns Dante's sonnet into a sign, or sign-constellation, that prefigures a second coming of the poetic imagination. In this reading the pronoun “I” simultaneously references Dante and DGR, and its latter reference forces one to see a corresponding mutation in the reference of the figure of Love, who now also signifies “Dante”. DGR's decision to translate “la mente” as “my memory” (line 12) flags his purpose, for the word recalls—in this strongly recollective moment—the “book on my memory” where the autobiography opened its narrative.

Though unapparent in DGR's translation, the original sonnet is one of the poems that Dante wrote before he conceived the Vita Nuova. That fact about the poem supplies yet another level of prefiguration to the original text. DGR may well have known this bibliographical fact about the poem; certainly in his own poetic practice DGR regularly takes poems written at one period and in one context and reworks them for new meanings by later putting them in different contexts.

DGR's source text was “Io mi senti' svegliar dentro dal core” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri.

Textual History: Composition

An early translation, completed by the late 1840s.

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 26d-1861.raw.xml