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2      Memorial from the Soul's eternity
3      To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
4Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
5Of its own arduous fulness reverent:
6      Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
7      As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
8Its flowering crest impearl'd and orient.
9A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
10      The soul,--its converse, to what Power 'tis due: --
12      Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue,
13It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath,


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
11] These three lines make explicit the major themes of The House of Life. Back to Line
14] Charon: the ferryman who, for a fee, transported the souls of the dead across the river Styx to the underworld. Back to Line