A Century of Sonnets: The Romantic-Era Revival 1750-1850

By Paula R. Feldman; Daniel Robinson | Go to book overview
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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his siblings, William Michael and Christina, were
the children of an Italian patriot who came to England in 1824. A poet,
highly influenced by Keats, and painter apprenticed to his mentor and life-
long friend Ford Madox Brown (1821–93), and driven by his own aesthetic
principles, Rossetti founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 to re-
form the styles and manners of Victorian art. His interests in poetry and
painting are inextricably combined, as he demonstrates in his important early
sequence Sonnets for Pictures. His later sonnet sequence, The House of Life
(1870), in part a response to his wife's suicide, explores the metaphysics of
erotic love, death, and spirituality. In 1871 Robert Buchanan (1841–1901)
attacked it as pornography.

433–438. Sonnets for Pictures

433. I. A Virgin and Child, by Hans Memmeling; in the Academy of Bruges

Mystery: God, Man's Life, born into man
Of woman. There abideth on her brow
The ended pang of knowledge, the which now
Is calm assured. Since first her task began,
She hath known all. What more of anguish than
Endurance oft hath lived through, the whole space
Through night till night, passed weak upon her face
While like a heavy flood the darkness ran?
All hath been told her touching her dear Son,
And all shall be accomplished. Where he sits
Even now, a babe, he holds the symbol fruit
Perfect and chosen. Until God permits,
His soul's elect still have the absolute
Harsh nether darkness, and make painful moan.


434. II. A Marriage of St. Katharine, by the same; in the Hospital of
St. John at Bruges

Mystery: Katharine, the bride of Christ.
She kneels, and on her hand the holy Child
Setteth the ring. Her life is sad and mild,
Laid in God's knowledge—ever unenticed
From Him, and in the end thus fitly priced.
Awe, and the music that is near her, wrought
Of Angels, hath possessed her eyes in thought:
Her utter joy is hers, and hath sufficed.
There is a pause while Mary Virgin turns


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