A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Thirty-five
MID-VICTORIAN POETRY

(2) THE PRE-RAPHAELITE GROUP

DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI ( 1828-1882) turned his back on the religious and social problems that weighed so heavy on Arnold and Clough. He cared nothing for science, philosophy, history, or politics. Love and Beauty to him were all in all. His worship of them did not lift him with Plato to the contemplation of the idea of Beauty laid up in the heavenly places, nor with Dante to the vision of the Divine Love that moves the sun and the other stars. It remained individual and earthly, the love of a man for "one loveliest woman's form and face." He may say,

Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor Thee from myself, neither our love from God,

but the God with whom their love is one is not the Christian Deity. Ave and World's Worth reveal Rossetti's understanding of the reverence of the Virgin and the mystery of the Eucharist, but it is the understanding of an artist, a dramatic poet, not of a believer. Refusing to breathe the common air of the world around him, unable to rise like his sister into the purer ether of religion, he found the walls of the ivory tower which he had made his House of Life slowly closing in on him tilt they stifled him at the last. It might have been otherwise if his wife had lived and his home been filled with the laughter of children. Other elements in Rossetti's personal tragedy do not concern the student of his poetry. After his wife's death in 1862 he wrote no more for years; the Poems published in 1870 were mostly written before she died. His only other published volumes were, in 1861 The Early Italian Poets, afterwards named Dante and his Circle, a collection of translations of rare felicity; and Ballads and Sonnets in 1881.

Rossetti's poetry is an exotic in our English garden. He was three parts Italian by blood and half Italian by culture. In boy

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