This is one of the sonnets that DGR composed during his trip to the continent with Holman Hunt in the autumn of 1849, a group of writings that WMR posthumously gathered together under the title A Trip to Paris and Belgium. This sonnet's chief interest lies in its ideological assessment of what Arnold and others at the same time saw as the withdrawel of “the sea of faith”. DGR's landscape is nicely constructed as a symbolic figure for that cultural situation.
Though composed in 1849, the only autograph manuscript dates from 1860. This autograph text also carries some notes and variant readings added to the text by WMR. These changes, as well as an altered title added by WMR, eventually found their way into the poem (in 1911) and became the received text.
The sonnet was first published faithfully by WMR in 1898 in the Pall Mall Magazine from DGR's 1860 manuscript. When he came to collect it later, in the edition of 1911, he altered the title and introduced his own substantive changes in three of the poem's lines.