The Cloud Confines

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1871 August
Rhyme: a3 b3 b3 a3 c3 c3 c3 a3; [refrain] a3 b3 a3 b3
Meter: iambic
Genre: lyric


◦ Caine, Recollections, 90-91 .


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

Scholarly Commentary


Composed in 1871, the poem is clearly recollecting Swinburne's great philosophical poem “Hertha”, which Swinburne wrote in 1869-70 and published in 1871 in Songs before Sunrise . The two poems differ in the way that DGR's and Swinburne's critical departures from montheist ideology differ. DGR was far more uncertain and troubled than Swinburne on these matter, as is quite clear from this poem and the closely related “Soothsay”, which was being composed at the same time as this work. In both DGR wants to express his theory of death not “of annihilation but of absorption”, as he put it in letters to William Bell Scott and his brother (see below), “a real retributive future for the special atom of life to be re-embodied (if so it were) in a world which its own former identity had helped to fashion for pain or pleasure”.

Textual History: Composition

The poem was composed in August 1871 and sent in a letter to William Bell Scott on either 11 or 13 August. Scott published this text, which is dated 9 August and whose manuscript text has not subsequently appeared, in his Autobiographical Notes, 146-148 (see also Doughty and Wahl, Letters 972-973 and Fredeman, Correspondence no. 71. 119 ). This version, which differs considerably from the received poem in its conclusion, is much closer to the version he sent to his brother in his letter of 10 September 1871.

A later fair copy is included among the miscellaneous poems DGR gathered at the back of the gift book of verses he gave to Mrs. Morris in 1874. A second fair copy is in the Tinker Library at Yale. Also at Yale is a fair copy fragment of stanza 4 that is scripted on the verso on a manuscript of “Beauty's Pageant”.

Textual History: Revision

DGR worried his poem, particularly the conclusion, in the letters he sent to William Bell Scott, Thomas Gordon Hake, and his brother in the early part of September 1871 (see Doughty and Wahl, Letters 989-1007passim and Fredeman, Correspondence no. 71. 134-135, 144-146 ). These revisions eventually made their way into the 1872 printing. He was particularly concerned that some proposed changes might seem to reference “a personal God, which of course is not meant” (see his letters of 2 September to Scott and to Scott and to Hake, Fredeman, Correspondence no. 71. 134 and135 ).

When DGR set about collecting the poem in 1881, he undertook a new set of revisions, but most of these were eventually rejected. Nonetheless, they are quite interesting in themselves. He began to experiment in one of his small notebooks (three passages at pages [16r], [24v], and [29v]). Two other draft efforts at revision survive: one at Princeton, the other in the British Library. The latter is a pair of alternate stanzas that DGR composed in February 1873 and sent to Theodore Watts in a letter asking him for his view of their aptness.

Printing History

The poem was initially intended for publication in the Dark Blue, as DGR's letter to his brother of 11 September shows. DGR instead published “Down Stream” in that periodical (in October) and held this poem back for its first printing in The Fortnightly Review (1 January 1872). It was printed again in Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 32-1871.raw.xml