The House of Life: 22. Heart's Haven
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ballads and Sonnets (London: Ellis and White, 1881). PR 5244 B2 1881 ROBA end R677 B355 1881 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
3 With still tears showering and averted face,
4Inexplicably fill'd with faint alarms:
5And oft from mine own spirit's hurtling harms
6 I crave the refuge of her deep embrace,--
7 Against all ills the fortified strong place
9And Love, our light at night and shade at noon,
10 Lulls us to rest with songs, and turns away
11 All shafts of shelterless tumultuous day.
13And as soft waters warble to the moon,
14 Our answering spirits chime one roundelay.
1] The sonnets that make up The House of Life were composed between 1847 and 1881, spanning Rossetti's poetic career. In March 1869, he published sixteen of them in the Fortnightly Review with the significant title "Of Life, Love and Death." In his volume Poems, 1870, fifty sonnets (including the one from the Fortnightly Review) and eleven lyrics were grouped together under the general title "Sonnets and Songs towards a work to be called The House of Life." Six other sonnets from the 1870 volume, but not there included in the House of Life group, were later incorporated into the sequence. The House of Life in its final form was published in Ballads and Sonnets, 1881, with 101 sonnets, in addition to the introductory one. The sequence is there divided into two parts, the first part (sonnets I to LIX) bearing the sub-title "Youth and Change," the second part (sonnets LX to CI) the sub-title "Change and Fate." The songs that had formed part of his projected work in 1870 were excluded from this final version. The title, according to William Michael Rossetti, derives from astrology, which divides the heavens by meridian lines into twelve "houses" or "spheres of influence." The first of these is frequently termed "the house of life." Rossetti may very well have become acquainted with the expression from a projected painting of that title by his friend G. F. Watts--a panoramic and partially symbolic vision of creation, the universe, and the moral and intellectual development of man. Rossetti denied any autobiographical significance in his sonnet sequence, saying: "The 'life' recorded is neither my life nor your life, but life purely and simply as tripled with love and death," and associated with auxiliary themes of "aspiration and foreboding, ... ideal art and beauty." Despite Rossetti's denial, it is now generally recognized that his sonnets are deeply personal, inspired in part by love and regret for his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, who died in 1862, and in much greater part, especially after 1868, by his love for Jane Morris, the wife of William Morris. Back to Line
2] dark wings: fears and depression darkening the soul. Back to Line
8] sweet reserve of sovereign counter-charms: the arsenal of weapons strong to dispel sorrow. Back to Line
12] The presence of love is faintly discerned through love's song, as the full moon may be dimly visible between the tips of the new moon. Back to Line
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RPO poem Editors:
Margaret Frances (Sister St. Francis) Nims