His Wife's Golden Hair Enshrined His Poems

May 12, 2020

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)
Vol. 42, pp. 1149-1153, 1178-1181 of The Harvard Classics

The manuscripts of many of the best poems of Rossetti were buried with his wife. Friends prevailed upon him to allow them to be exhumed - and these poems, once buried with the dead, are now a treasure of the living.
(Rossetti born May 12, 1828.)

The Blessèd Damozel

THE BLESSÈD Damozel lean’d out
  From the gold bar of Heaven:
Her blue grave eyes were deeper much
  Than a deep water, even.
She had three lilies in her hand,
  And the stars in her hair were seven.

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
  No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary’s gift
  On the neck meetly worn;
And her hair, lying down her back,
  Was yellow like ripe corn.

Herseem’d she scarce had been a day
  One of God’s choristers;
The wonder was not yet quite gone
  From that still look of hers;
Albeit, to them she left, her day
  Had counted as ten years.

(To one it is ten years of years:
  … Yet now, here in this place,
Surely she lean’d o’er me,—her hair
  Fell all about my face…
Nothing: the Autumn-fall of leaves.
  The whole year sets apace.)

It was the terrace of God’s house
  That she was standing on,—
By God built over the sheer depth
  In which Space is begun;
So high, that looking downward thence,
  She scarce could see the sun.

It lies from Heaven across the flood
  Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and night
  With flame and darkness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth
  Spins like a fretful midge.

But in those tracts, with her, it was
  The peace of utter light
And silence. For no breeze may stir
  Along the steady flight
Of seraphim; no echo there,
  Beyond all depth or height.

Heard hardly, some of her new friends,
  Playing at holy games,
Spake, gentle-mouth’d, among themselves,
  Their virginal chaste names;
And the souls, mounting up to God,
  Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bow’d herself, and stoop’d
  Into the vast waste calm;
Till her bosom’s pressure must have made
  The bar she lean’d on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
  Along her bended arm.

From the fixt lull of Heaven, she saw
  Time, like a pulse, shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove,
  In that steep gulf, to pierce
The swarm; and then she spoke, as when
  The stars sang in their spheres.

‘I wish that he were come to me,
  For he will come,’ she said.
‘Have I not pray’d in solemn Heaven?
  On earth, has he not pray’d?
Are not two prayers a perfect strength?
  And shall I feel afraid?

‘When round his head the aureole clings,
  And he is clothed in white,
I’ll take his hand, and go with him
  To the deep wells of light,
And we will step down as to a stream
  And bathe there in God’s sight.

‘We two will stand beside that shrine,
  Occult, withheld, untrod,
Whose lamps tremble continually
  With prayer sent up to God;
And where each need, reveal’d, expects
  Its patient period.

‘We two will lie i’ the shadow of
  That living mystic tree
Within whose secret growth the Dove
  Sometimes is felt to be,
While every leaf that His plumes touch
  Saith His name audibly.

‘And I myself will teach to him,—
  I myself, lying so,—
The songs I sing here; which his mouth
  Shall pause in, hush’d and slow,
Finding some knowledge at each pause,
  And some new thing to know.’

(Alas! to her wise simple mind
  These things were all but known
Before: they trembled on her sense,—
  Her voice had caught their tone.
Alas for lonely Heaven! Alas
  For life wrung out alone!

Alas, and though the end were reach’d?…
  Was thy part understood
Or borne in trust? And for her sake
  Shall this too be found good?—
May the close lips that knew not prayer
  Praise ever, though they would?)

‘We two,’ she said, ‘will seek the groves
  Where the lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens, whose names
  Are five sweet symphonies:—
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
  Margaret and Rosalys.

‘Circle-wise sit they, with bound locks
  And bosoms coverèd;
Into the fine cloth, white like flame,
  Weaving the golden thread,
To fashion the birth-robes for them
  Who are just born, being dead.

‘He shall fear, haply, and be dumb.
  Then I will lay my cheek
To his, and tell about our love,
  Not once abash’d or weak:
And the dear Mother will approve
  My pride, and let me speak.

‘Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
  To Him round whom all souls
Kneel—the unnumber’d solemn heads
  Bow’d with their aureoles:
And Angels, meeting us, shall sing
  To their citherns and citoles.

‘There will I ask of Christ the Lord
  Thus much for him and me:—
To have more blessing than on earth
  In nowise; but to be
As then we were,—being as then
  At peace. Yea, verily.

‘Yea, verily; when he is come
  We will do thus and thus:
Till this my vigil seem quite strange
  And almost fabulous;
We two will live at once, one life;
  And peace shall be with us.’

She gazed, and listen’d, and then said,
  Less sad of speech than mild,—
‘All this is when he comes.’ She ceased:
  The light thrill’d past her, fill’d
With Angels, in strong level lapse.
  Her eyes pray’d, and she smiled.

(I saw her smile.) But soon their flight
  Was vague ’mid the poised spheres.
And then she cast her arms along
  The golden barriers,
And laid her face between her hands,
  And wept. (I heard her tears.)


WHEN do I see thee most, beloved one?
When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that Love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone,)
Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies
Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?
O love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,—
How then should sound upon Life’s darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
The wind of Death’s imperishable wing?

Heart’s Hope

BY what word’s power, the key of paths untrod,
Shall I the difficult deeps of Love explore,
Till parted waves of Song yield up the shore
Even as that sea which Israel crossed dryshod?
For lo! in some poor rhythmic period,
Lady, I fain would tell how evermore
Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor
Thee from myself, neither our love from God.
Yea, in God’s name, and Love’s, and thine, would I
Draw from one loving heart such evidence
As to all hearts all things shall signify;
Tender as dawn’s first hill-fire, and intense
As instantaneous penetrating sense,
In Spring’s birth-hour, of other Springs gone by.

Genius in Beauty

BEAUTY like hers is genius. Not the call
Of Homer’s or of Dante’s heart sublime,—
Not Michael’s hand furrowing the zones of time,—
Is more with compassed mysteries musical;
Nay, not in Spring’s or Summer’s sweet footfall
More gathered gifts exuberant Life bequeathes
Than doth this sovereign face, whose love-spell breathes
Even from its shadowed contour on the wall.
As many men are poets in their youth,
But for one sweet-strung soul the wires prolong
Even through all change the indomitable song;
So in like wise the envenomed years, whose tooth
Rends shallower grace with ruin void of ruth,
Upon this beauty’s power shall wreak no wrong.

Silent Noon

YOUR hands lie open in the long, fresh grass,—
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
’Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn hedge.
’Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky,—
So this wing’d hour is dropped to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.


SWEET dimness of her loosened hair’s downfall
About thy face; her sweet hands round thy head
In gracious fostering union garlanded;
Her tremulous smiles; her glances’ sweet recall
Of love; her murmuring sighs memorial;
Her mouth’s culled sweetness by thy kisses shed
On cheeks and neck and eyelids, and so led
Back to her mouth, which answers there for all:—
What sweeter than these things, except the thing
In lacking which all these would lose their sweet:—
The confident heart’s still fervor: the swift beat
And soft subsidence of the spirit’s wing,
Then when it feels, in cloud-girt wayfaring,
The breath of kindred plumes against its feet?

Heart’s Compass

SOMETIMES thou seem’st not as thyself alone,
But as the meaning of all things that are;
A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon;
Whose unstirred lips are music’s visible tone;
Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar,
Being of its furthest fires oracular—
The evident heart of all life sown and mown.
Even such love is; and is not thy name Love?
Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart
All gathering clouds of Night’s ambiguous art;
Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above;
And simply, as some gage of flower or glove,
Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart.

Her Gifts

HIGH grace, the dower of queens; and therewithal
Some wood-born wonder’s sweet simplicity;
A glance like water brimming with the sky
Or hyacinth-light where forest-shadows fall;
Such thrilling pallor of cheek as doth enthral
The heart; a mouth whose passionate forms imply
All music and all silence held thereby;
Deep golden locks, her sovereign coronal;
A round reared neck, meet column of Love’s shrine
To cling to when the heart takes sanctuary;
Hands which for ever at Love’s bidding be,
And soft-stirred feet still answering to his sign:—
These are her gifts, as tongue may tell them o’er.

Breathe low her name, my soul; for that means more.

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