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 forJane Morris, the wife of William Morris.
The poet celebrates in the first eight lines the new love that has revivified his spirit at a time when he had become the thrall of sorrow and death, fettered by vain regrets for the past and gloomy forebodings for the future. Back to Line
9] poor tress of hair. When the grave of Rossetti's wife was opened several years after her death to recover a manuscript book of his poems impulsively buried with her, her red-gold hair was found to be unaltered in death. Back to Line
13] change: the change that has taken place in the world about him and in his own life, as well as the change within the grave. Back to Line