The Card-Dealer

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848-1849; 1869 (substantially revised)
Genre: lyric


◦ Bentley, “The Card-Dealer” (1981), 161-169

◦ Boos, The Poetry of DGR, 200-207

◦ Browne, “A Source for Rossetti” (1978), 88-92

◦ Browne, Theodore Von Holst (1994), 102-103

◦ Gregory, The Life and Works of DGR, II. 110-111, 123

◦ Holberg, “Rossetti and the Trance” (1970), 299-314

General Description of

Date: 1848; 1869 (substantially revised)
Rhyme: a4b3c4b 3d4b3
Meter: iambic sexain
Genre: lyric

General Description of

Date: 1848
Rhyme: aaaa
Meter: iambic quatrain
Genre: epigraph

General Description of

Date: 1848
Genre: epigraph


Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the Poems (1881) first edition text .

Scholarly Commentary


Although not a work much commented upon by DGR's early readers, it seems one of his most interesting early poems, underscoring very plainly his deep involvement with the fantastic traditions of romanticism (both artistic and poetical). The poem is explicitly—as its original printed version showed—an interpretive meditation on Theodore Von Holst's painting The Wish (also called The Fortune Teller (1840). As such it represents the first of what would become one of DGR's favorite poetical genres: the poem written to “illustrate” or comment upon a picture. DGR had seen the painting in 1848 in the London house of Lord Northwick.

DGR's admiration for Von Holst was early and intense. An engraving after one of “that great painter” Von Holst's works hung on the wall of DGR's room in March 1848, as he told Ford Madox Brown (see Doughty and Wahl, Letters I. 36 ); it was probably The Wish.

The poem is especially useful for throwing into relief DGR's early programmatic involvement with “Art Catholic” and Dantean materials. In all this work what most draws DGR's attention are aesthetic possibilities: in particular, the spiritual power of artistic and poetical practises.

The poem connects directly to DGR's drawings illustrating Faust, Von Chamisso, and Poe, which he executed in 1846-1848.

One of the most interesting parts of the poem is its pair of invented epigraphs. The first of these is in English prose, the second in French verse. Both epigraphs survive in a cancelled early manuscript. DGR clearly wrote them to cast an air of strangeness about the poem. When he decided to print the poem in 1852 he removed the English epigraph, and he removed the second (French) epigraph when he further revised the work for its appearance in the 1870 Poems. The English epigraph, which purports to give a sixteenth-century description of the three sirens, establishes DGR's early interest in these strange and fatal ladies. It is particularly notable because DGR assigns them names that are variant from the received names (the second of DGR's names, Telsinoe, is entirely invented). DGR was aware that the sirens were known under different names, and he uses that tradition to increase the verisimilitude of his spurious epigraph.

Textual History: Composition

DGR wrote a version of the poem (which he seems to have first titled “Vingt-et-un”) sometime in 1848: see his letter of 23 July 1848 to William Holman Hunt ( Fredeman, Correspondence, 48. 7 ). A fragmentary MS at Princeton, the only surviving MS for this work, appears to be what remains of this early state of the poem.

Textual History: Revision

On 2 September 1869 DGR wrote to WMR that he had just sent to his printer “an old poem, the Card-Dealer, which I have divested of its trivialities” (see Fredeman, Correspondence, 69. 146 ). This revised text, first printed in the A Proofs, is substantially the poem as received.

Reception History

See Commentary (Reception History) for the 1870 Poems.

Printing History

First printed in The Athenaeum 23 October 1852 , where it included the invented verse epigraph that DGR later removed from the text. The poem was revised and reprinted in the 1870 Poems and collected thereafter. In 1870 it was first printed in the A Proofs (Lewis's proof state 3) in the prepublication texts for the 1870 volume. The invented prose epigraph has not previously been published.


The poem is a meditation/commentary on the painting by Theodore von Holst (1810-1844), a London painter in the Blake/Fuseli tradition who was much admired by DGR. The poet's note to the text printed in 1852 refers to this picture as representing “a beautiful woman, richly dressed, who is sitting at a lamp-lit table, dealing out cards, with a peculiar fixedness of expression”. The painting is The Fortune Teller (1840).

It should be pointed out that the details of the poem do not correspond exactly to those of the painting.

There is a drawing of Fanny Cornforth shuffling cards that WMR thought might be an illustration of the poem (see Surtees, A Catalogue Raisonné I. 234).


Boos argues ( Poetry of DGR 200-201 ) that DGR's poem has been influenced by Wilhelm Meinhold's Sidonia the Sorceress , one of the poet's favorite novels. One also senses the presence of Poe throughout the poem—perhaps especially in the third stanza, which recalls “The Masque of the Red Death”.


D. M. R. Bentley's essay on the poem stresses its pivotal place in DGR's repeated concern with the themes of death and chance in both his writings and his pictures. Particularly notable are works like Hesterna Rosa, The Question, and “The Bride's Prelude”.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 3-1849.raw.xml