The House of Life: 41. Through Death to Love

Original Text: 
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).
2      From winds that sweep the winter-bitten wold,--
3      Like multiform circumfluence manifold
4Of night's flood-tide,--like terrors that agree
5Of hoarse-tongued fire and inarticulate sea,--
7      Our hearts discern wild images of Death,
8Shadows and shoals that edge eternity.
9Howbeit athwart Death's imminent shade doth soar
10      One Power, than flow of stream or flight of dove
11      Sweeter to glide around, to brood above.
13Or threshold of wing-winnow'd threshing-floor
14      Hath guest fire-fledg'd as thine, whose lord is Love?

Notes

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.

The turbulent, shifting, vaguely disturbing images of the first five lines are visual equivalents of the "wild images of death" mentioned in line 7--ill-defined but persistent and ominous forebodings of death. They are dispelled by the stronger power of love, the "fire-fledg'd" angel-figure of the sestet. Back to Line

6] glass: mirror. The poet suggests that man's vision of life is blurred by the special quality of his experience and his nature. Back to Line
12] William Michael Rossetti identifies the reference to Chronicles 21:15-30, where David sees an angel of the Lord standing with drawn sword by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1881
RPO poem Editors: 
Margaret Frances (Sister St. Francis) Nims
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.280.
Rhyme: 
Form: