Rose Mary

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871, 1881
Rhyme: aabbb
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: narrative poem


◦ Baum, “The Bancroft Manuscripts,” 47-68.

◦ Dunn, Recollections of DGR, 63.

◦ “F.C.H.,” “Berall Stone,” Notes & Queries 4th series VIII (12 August 1871): 135.

◦ Hyder, “A Study in the Occult,” 197-207.

◦ Keane, Poet as Craftsman, 160-170.

◦ Kindt, “Stray Notelets on Herbs & Leaves,” Notes & Queries 4th series VII (11 March 1871): 205-206.

◦ Marsh, Poet and Painter, 425.

◦ McGann, “Introduction,” DGR Collected Poetry and Prose, xxiii.

◦ Mègroz, Painter Poet, 212, 265-271, 289, 296, 306.

◦ Meynell, “The Brush, the Chisel, and the Pen,” 85-87.

◦ Pater, “Dante Gabriel Rossetti,” 234-235.

◦ Pearson, “Rosemary Used at Funerals,” Notes & Queries 4th series VII (27 May 1871): 348-349.

◦ Routh, “Parallels,” 36.

◦ Rubenstein, “The Framework of Belief,” 2-15.

◦ “T.O.M.,” “Echoes of Poe in Rossetti's ‘Beryl Song’,” Notes & Queries 168 (1935): 77.

◦ Walcott, “Berall Stone,” Notes & Queries 4th series VIII (22 July 1871): 66.

◦ Wasko, “The Web of Eroticism,” 333-334.

◦ “W.E.A.A.,” “Rosemary Used at Funerals,” Notes & Queries 4th series VII (22 April 1871): 348-349.


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Ballads and Sonnets.

Scholarly Commentary


DGR's ballad represents an effort to work out a tale of redemption in a world where all the characters, including the redeemer, are sinners. At the same time, the story involves an investigation of the function of art, for the Beryl-stone is clearly a figural embodiment of art and poetry as conceived in terms of Romantic Imagination. The resolution offered in the poem is interesting precisely because it is so equivocal. When Rose Mary destroys the stone's magical powers, the spirits of evil are not eliminated. Indeed, they flee abroad into the world. Rose Mary's act emblemizes a judgment on the illusions of Romantic Imagination. The poem's moral—it preoccupies nearly all of DGR's work—centers in the need for truth-telling and clarity of mind in a world riven by falsehood, secret fears, and hypocrisies.

The Beryl Songs comprise one of the most arresting and controversial features of the poem. WMR's note in his 1911 edition is important: “The very general opinion has been that they were better away; I cannot but agree with it, and indeed the author did so eventually. I have heard my brother say that he wrote them to show that he was not incapable of the daring rhyming and rhythmical exploits of some other poets. As to this point readers must judge. It is at any rate true that in making the word ‘Beryl’ the pivot of his experiment, a word to which there are the fewest possible rhymes, my brother weighted himself heavily. Also the ‘Beryl-songs’ have a certain semi-tangible impressiveness, which tends to elevate the calibre of the poem as a whole.”

Textual History: Composition

DGR had made use of the title “Rose Mary” for an earlier work which does not survive—apparently a comic ballad, as one judges from his remark to Scott that this ballad “has not a comic side” see his letter to Scott of 15 September 1871). He would later recall this lost piece to WMR as “some rubbish destroyed” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71.145 ). The first mention of the extant “Rose Mary” occurs in DGR's letter to William Bell Scott from Kelmscott on 2 August 1871, where DGR notes that “a ballad, of the ‘Sister Helen’ kind rather, is floating paperwards on a slow brain-breeze” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71.113 ). By 10 September 1871 he informed Scott that he had “finished Part 1— 51 five-line stanzas” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71.144 ), indicating that by that time he conceived a large-scale effort, divided into several parts. “There is so much incident,” he confessed, “that it is necessarily much more of a regular narrative poem than is usual with me, and thus lacks the incisive concentration of such a piece as ‘Sister Helen’” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71.149 ). By 22 September DGR reported to Scott and Thomas Gordon Hake that he had completed his “magic poem” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71.152, 153 ), which then ran to 160 stanzas divided into 3 parts. The Beryl-Songs were written later, sometime during 1878-79.

Prose synopses survive for Parts II and III of “Rose Mary.” These preliminary sketches are copied out in Notebook IV at the Duke University Library. In addition, a 20 line draft of part of the poem is found in the same notebook. Keane, drawing upon information gathered by himself and by Baum, offers a useful synopsis of the ballad matter drafted within the prose cartoons for “Rose Mary.” For Part II, the following stanzas do not appear to have prose sketches: 1-11, 23-24, 32-34, 39-42, 45-46, 49, 53, 59. For Part III, the following stanzas lack prose equivalents: 3-9, 12-19, 21-28, 32-33, 36-37, and 44 ( Keane, Poet as Craftsman, 162-163, 167 ). 8 stanzas from Part II may also be found at the Fitzwilliam and some important additional material, including DGR's experimentation with stanza form, is located at the Bancroft Collection at the Delaware Museum of Fine Arts ( Baum, “The Bancroft Manuscripts”, 61-67 ; Keane, Poet as Craftsman, 161 ).

Textual History: Revision

DGR discussed the Beryl-stone's appearance as well as some possible revisons in his letter to Hake of 22 September 1871 (see ( Fredeman, Correspondence 71.153).

Printing History

“Rose Mary” was first printed as the opening work in his 1881 Ballads and Sonnets volume. It was collected thereafter intact although DGR spoke of his intention to remove the Beryl Songs in later editions.


In answer to a query about the name “Rose Mary,” DGR told Watts-Dunton that he chose it because it seemed “a specially virginal name appropriate to the Seeress of the Beryl” ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 81.216 ). The contemporary numbers of Notes & Queries also seem to have played a role in DGR's choice of a name for the ballad and its heroine, as well as some topical detail. DGR read Notes & Queries with great devotion throughout 1871, often recommending articles to friends ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71. 113, 123 ). He would have followed with especially close attention two query strands under discussion during 1871—the first strand, running from March through May, seeking to trace the symbolism attached to the flowering herb Rosemary; the second strand, appearing in July and August numbers, pursuing historical and literary examples of a “Berall Stone.”

Henry Treffry Dunn later reported that he had provided DGR with the initial inspiration for calling the magic crystal a “Beryl-stone.” A Cheyne Walk acquaintance of DGR and Dunn claimed to possess the seeing stone of the London magician, Dr. John Dee. Dunn was able to view the stone, and he related what he had seen to DGR. The poet immediately seized upon the possibilities contained within the word “Beryl,” explaining: “It is better than crystal in every way; it is more rhythmical, and has a greater seeming of mysticism in its sound. Moreover, it is one of the mystic stones named in Revelations” (Dunn, Recollections 63).

“Rose Mary” has various debts to the tradition of gothic fiction. In particular, the story owes some of its supernatural weirdness to the tales of E. T. A. Hoffman. DGR's correspondence indicates that he also had in mind certain scenes of clairvoyance which he had once read in the anthropological and literary works of the Orientalist Edward William Lane. Especially pertinent are Lane's translation of the Arabian Nights and his famous study, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1836) ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 71. 151 ). Much closer to his immediate circle, Christina Rossetti's “Goblin Market” tells an analogous story. However, “Rose Mary” is by far most indebted to the tradition of the literary ballad, especially as practiced by Coleridge and Poe. Coleridge's “Christabel” is probably the single most important work standing behind DGR's strange ballad, which seems an effort to complete Coleridge's famous fragment, in several senses.

The name of Rose Mary's unfaithful lover, Sir James of Heronhaye, recalls the name of the hero of DGR's earliest published work, —Sir Hugh the Heron (1841). Both works deal with those preoccupying Rossettian subjects, love and clairvoyance. The similarities end at that point, however.


DGR accomplished “Rose Mary” during the happy summer of 1871, which he spent at Kelmscott with Jane Morris and her children. The critics' welcoming reception of DGR's Poems (1870) had buoyed his confidence in his poetic powers. DGR confided as much to Ford Madox Brown, declaring: “I wish one could live by poetry. I think I'd see painting d—d if one could” (see his letter of 7 September 1871, Fredeman, Correspondence, 71.140 ). The ambitious scope of “Rose Mary,” along with DGR's rapid completion of it, attests to his sunnier spirits and renewed energies. However, the first inklings of Robert Buchanan's intentions had already begun to cast their dark cloud, and in October—only a few weeks after he had completed his ballad—the Contemporary Review published Buchanan's attack on DGR and his circle, “The Fleshly School of Poetry.”.

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