WMR, DGR Designer and Writer, 228-229
Baum, ed., House of Life
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets first edition text.
This is a sonnet carefully built to represent nature in symbolical terms, with the symbols all being ambiguous. The octave carries a series of figurations whose primary value is related to springtime and to summertime as periods of pleasure and fertile growth. But every line is at the same time made to carry an undertone of something degenerative, and so carries a forecast of the dark topics raised in the sestet. The double-meanings begin with the ambiguous symbol of the cuckoo, the bird who flourishes as an emblem of spring by bringing death to the offspring of other birds. (In the following lines note for example the phrases “leaves it”, “visit”, “sunset”, “furtive flickering”, and “lusts”.) The sonnet is a more personal version of many texts in Swinburne, most famously, I suppose, the great chorus in
Atalanta in Calydon
, “When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces”.
DGR finished the sonnet on 28 December 1879, and sent a copy (titled “Pleasure and Memory”) to Jane Morris the next day. He sent copies as well to family members and friends, two of which conform to the manuscript sent to Mrs. Morris: a fair copy in the J.Paul Getty bound notebook, and another at Leeds (the Brotherton Collection) signed and dated “Xmas 1879”, as in the
fair copy at Yale (Tinker Collection) (the latter is reproduced in facsimile in Sharp between pages 426-427). Other copies are: in the Library of Congress, a fair copy; and a corrected copy in the Fitzwilliam composite “House of Life” sequence. The sonnet is one of the earliest indications we have of DGR making practical moves to construct the augmented version of “The House of Life” that would eventuate in his 1881 volume of Ballads and Sonnets.
The sonnet is worked up from DGR's notebooks, which exhibit scraps of lines from the early 1870s. Ashley Library Note Book I has drafts of line 6, line 14, line 11, and another stab at line 11. Ashley Note Book II has drafts of lines 2-3, line 1, lines 12-13, lines 13-14, and lines 10-11.
The texts drafted in the Duke Library notebooks are: in Note Book II, line 10; and in Note Book III, lines 13, 12, line 11, and lines 6, 7-8, 10, 7.
First published in the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and collected thereafter.