The Cloud Confines

Original Text: 
Fortnightly Review (1872). AP 4 F7 ROBA. 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      To him that would search their heart;
3      No lips of cloud that will part
4Nor morning song in the light:
5      Only, gazing alone,
6      To him wild shadows are shown,
7      Deep under deep unknown
8And height above unknown height.
9           Still we say as we go,--
10                "Strange to think by the way,
11           Whatever there is to know,
12                That shall we know one day."
13The Past is over and fled;
14      Nam'd new, we name it the old;
15      Thereof some tale hath been told,
16But no word comes from the dead;
17      Whether at all they be,
18      Or whether as bond or free,
19      Or whether they too were we,
20Or by what spell they have sped.
21           Still we say as we go,--
22                "Strange to think by the way,
23           Whatever there is to know,
24                That shall we know one day."
26      That beats in thy breast, O Time?--
27      Red strife from the furthest prime,
28And anguish of fierce debate;
29      War that shatters her slain,
30      And peace that grinds them as grain,
31      And eyes fix'd ever in vain
32On the pitiless eyes of Fate.
33           Still we say as we go,--
34                "Strange to think by the way,
35           Whatever there is to know,
36                That shall we know one day."
37What of the heart of love
38      That bleeds in thy breast, O Man?--
39      Thy kisses snatch'd 'neath the ban
40Of fangs that mock them above;
41      Thy bells prolong'd unto knells,
42      Thy hope that a breath dispels,
43      Thy bitter forlorn farewells
44And the empty echoes thereof?
45           Still we say as we go,--
46                "Strange to think by the way,
47           Whatever there is to know,
48                That shall we know one day."
49The sky leans dumb on the sea,
50      Aweary with all its wings;
51      And oh! the song the sea sings
52Is dark everlastingly.
53      Our past is clean forgot,
54      Our present is and is not,
55      Our future's a seal'd seedplot,
56And what betwixt them are we?--
57           We who say as we go,--
58                "Strange to think by the way,
59           Whatever there is to know,
60                  That shall we know one day."


1] Written in August 1871, and published in the Fortnightly Review, 1872. In a letter to his brother (September 10, 1871), Rossetti, discussing this poem which he considered one of his most important, offered alternate endings more in accord with his own views of life after death. The first of these proposed a theory "hardly of annihilation but of absorption:"
And what must our birthright be?
O never from thee to sever,
   Thou Will that shall be and art,--
   To throb at thy heart for ever,
Yet never to know thy heart.
The second suggested ending, which he preferred as a truer expression of his own position at that time, "[left] the whole question open:"
And what betwixt them are we?
What words to say as we go?
   What thoughts to think by the way?
   What truth may there be to know,
And shall we know it some day?
Back to Line
25] This stanza is said to have been suggested by the Franco-German war, 1870-71. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Margaret Frances (Sister St. Francis) Nims
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.283.