Whatever while the thought comes over me

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1861
Rhyme: a5b3c5a5b3c5c5d5e5e3d5f5f5
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: canzone
The canzone is truncated.


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets) 189-193

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I.88-89 (II. 140-142) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 209-212 .

Scholarly Commentary


The theme of confusion, so dramatically begun in the sonnet preceding this canzone, is indexed again here as a problem of language and poetical technique. As the prose introduction explicitly shows, the poem locates Dante searching uncertainly for an adequate form of expression. The text's “occasional” character is extreme and in this respect emphasizes how arrested Dante's life has become, an exact equivalent of the “sola civitas” of Chapter XXVIII.

The central event in this work is purely textual—the angel reference in line 24. Initially it appears simply to recapitulate a now familiar figural theme in the story. But immediately after Dante writes this stanza—according to the story being told here—the textual angels reappear in another medium, and as if through an agency beyond Dante's conscious purposes. The import of the famous incident narrated in Chapter XXXIV, of Dante caught drawing an angel by some unexpected Florentine visitors, lies concealed and anticipated in this interrupted canzone.

In his prose introduction to this unfinished canzone Dante discusses the work in terms of two imaginary speakers, Beatrice's brother (the first stanza) and himself (the second). But in the larger poetical context one sees another speaker concealed in the text—another messenger, another angel, Beatrice herself, who now seems to be guiding the life-actions of a traumatized Dante.

This remarkable presentation of a secret spiritual ministry in Dante's life acquires a nineteenth-century Rossettian equivalence that seems to me scarcely less astonishing. The equation will remain unapparent, however, if one's attention is too narrowly focused. It is difficult to see Beatrice's secret messaging if one stays within the text of Dante's incomplete canzone; but the Rossettian “translation” becomes apparent as soon as DGR's New Life is viewed in terms of its three historical states: the late 1840s (when it was written), 1860-61 (when it was first published), 1874 (when it was re-published). The thirteenth-century action, as DGR came to see, would unfold itself in his own life (1) before he knew Elizabeth Siddal; (2) at the end of his life with her; (3) in the midst of his devotion to Jane Morris, DGR's “Donna della Finestra”. In this sense DGR's “angel” is Dante, or (perhaps) the whole mythic constellation of Dante's life and works. Some such eventuality DGR clearly hoped to realize, though surely not in the dark form that it actually took.

DGR's source text was “Quantunque volte, lasso! mi rimembra” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri .

Textual History: Composition

An early work, late 1840s.

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 50d-1861.raw.xml