Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1853
Rhyme: aabbb
Meter: iambic tetrameter
Genre: Song

Scholarly Commentary


Though placed under a heading that calls this poem a “Song”, its form owes much to DGR's study of Browning and the tradition of the dramatic monologue. Despite its oblique and imploding metrics, which work against the essentially realistic inertia of the dramatic monologue, the poem has the same kind of objectivity as “My Sister's Sleep” and “The Woodspurge”.

Aptly titled, the poem represents a critical self-assessment by a lover who in “one hour”, now regretted, failed in his love devotions. The failure occurs because the objective circumstances of “that day” did not appear to require such devotions. To the speaker, the failure is all the more disastrous for that reason. In the 1870 Poems, the sonnets “Vain Virtues” and “Lost Days” explore similar psychic perceptions and conditions.

Textual History: Composition

According to WMR the poem was composed in 1853 (1911). There is no hard evidence that confirms or disconfirms that dating. The only manuscript is a corrected fair copy of the first three stanzas (located in the Fitzwilliam Museum); it seems to be complete in that form, and the manuscript is on paper that we know DGR was using in the summer of 1869.

Textual History: Revision

In its first printing in the Penkill Proofs the poem's last two stanzas were quite different. DGR began a process of revision in those proofs that continued through the next proof stage (see Doughty and Wahl, Letters vol. 2, 740 ; and Peattie, Letters of William Michael Rossetti, 230 ). The poem then remained stable until the latest of DGR's proofs, when he radically altered the final two stanzas “now continuing the parenthesis throughout, as the omission of this was slovenly” ( Letters vol. 2, 812 : to Swinburne, 9 March 1870).

Printing History

First printed as part of the pre-publication process for the 1870 Poems, in the Penkill Proofs, August 1869. Those proofs have no special organization of the poetic units. At the next proof stage, the so-called A Proofs (Sept. 1869), this poem is placed in a loosely organized section under the heading Sonnets and Songs, Towards a Work to be CalledThe House of Life. DGR experimented with the order of this section until, in the final proof stage (realized at the beginning of March, 1870) this poem and ten others were grouped as The House of Life's integral section of Songs. In the 1881 Poems. A New Edition, this section is detached from The House of Life and placed under the heading Lyrics, and two other poems are added to the group.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 6-1853.raw.xml