Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a visual artist and poet. He is more so remembered today for his paintings than for his poetry, but he was also a skilled writer. His influence is felt in the work and ideology of poets such as Oscar Wilde and artists like Audrey Beardsley.
About Dante Gabriel Rossetti
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London, England in May of 1828.
- He was part of an extraordinarily creative family.
- He formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood alongside John Everett Millais.
- From 1847 to 1848 Rossetti wrote some of his best-known poems, including “The Blessed Damozel”.
- He died from blood poisoning in April of 1882.
- Rossetti’s wife committed suicide after the death of their child in 1862.
- He buried his unpublished volume of poems in his wife’s grave (They were later exhumed).
- Today, Rossetti is better remembered as a painter than a poet.
- His sister, Christina Rossetti is an even better-known poet than her brother.
- In his final years, he suffered from obesity, addiction, and bad eyesight and even attempted suicide.
- ‘The Blessed Damozel’ is likely Rossetti’s most popular poem. It is also the title of one of his most famous paintings. It was published in The Germ, a Pre-Raphaelite journal in 1850. The poem describes a woman who’s in heaven, leaning over a balcony looking down at Earth. The speaker has been separated from this woman for longer than he can stand and is longing to rejoin her. He fantasizes about hearing and seeing her as she dreams of being together with her lover once more.
- ‘The House of Life: 19. Silent Noon’ was published as a part of Rossetti’s The House of Life. The poem depicts an indescribable moment of peace two lovers share in a pasture. The two are unified in their appreciation of the peace they’re sharing. He places emphasis on their surroundings, everything is illuminated and enhanced, much more than it normally would be. Luckily, the two know how special this moment is and are able to fully appreciate it.
- ‘Sudden Light’ was written in the early 1950s. It contains moments of recollection as a speaker is forced to contend with an emotional drama. He is at the seaside, trying to relive memories that he can’t quite grasp. He knows he has seen and felt these same things before, but it’s hard for him to describe exactly when or how. The imagery in this poem is beautiful, requiring the reader to use their imagination to hear, see, smell, and feel what the speaker does.
- ‘The Staircase of Notre Dame, Paris’ uses a metaphor to describe the political environment in France in the late 1840s. The poem comes from the perspective of a speaker who is making his way through the insides of Notre Dame Cathedral. The stairwell is compared to his emotional state and to the state of France at that time. The people are restless, and change is coming. Rossetti concludes the poem with the description of a storm on the horizon.
- ‘Autumn Song’ personifies nature, describing how painful the transition into winter from autumn is. These pains are passed on from nature into humanity. The heart feels the most grief at the “fall of a leaf,” the speaker explains. The mind decays alongside the heart/soul as the world’s life fades away.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London, England in May of 1828. His parents were Gabriele Pasquale Giuseppe Rossetti, an Italian scholar, and Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori. Rossetti was born, Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti but later chose to place “Dante” as his first name in honor of Dante Alighieri. His sister was the equally, if not more so, well-known writer, Christina Rossetti. His other two siblings, William Michael, and Maria Francesca were a critic and author.
When Rossetti was young he was educated at King’s College School. It was here that he first developed a love for literature and a complete understanding of the Bible. He studied the works of Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, and many others. As a child, Rossetti was known to be passionate and charismatic. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a poet but also held an interest in painting. Rossetti was particularly drawn to Medieval Italian art and studied for a time at Henry Sass’ Drawing Academy.
He later enrolled in the Antique School of the Royal Academy. He remained at the school until 1848, leaving to study alongside Ford Madox Brown, who is known today as a precursor to the Pre-Raphaelite artists. Brown would remain friends with Rossetti for the rest of their lives.
It was also during this time period that Rossetti began work on translations from Italian and German of medieval poetry. From 1847 to 1848 Rossetti wrote some of his best-known poems. These included ‘The Blessed Damozel’ and ‘The Bride’s Prelude.’
Rossetti split his time between painting and writing and it was in 1848 that he formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood alongside John Everett Millais. Their goal was to reform English art through the use of intense colors and complex compositions reminiscent of Italian and Flemish art. Eventually, painters such as William Holman Hunt and Thomas Woolner joined the group.
The group printed the publication, Germ. It was in this format that Rossetti published a number of his poems, such as ‘My Sister’s Sleep.’ The 1840s saw Rossetti exhibiting his paintings, as well as meeting and marrying Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, also known as Lizzie. A popular model among the Pre-Raphaelites. Unfortunately, their marriage did not last. The couple lost a child and Lizzie committed suicide in 1862.
Tragic Loss and Later Career
poems in his wife’s grave, a decision he later regretted. The poet returned to dig the book up soon after. It was her image that appears in a great number of his works, most notable as Dante’s lover Beatrice. Rossetti’s paintings were extremely influential on European art. They often depicted women in close-up, dense compositions that featured floral details and a plethora of symbols.
After the death of his wife, Rossetti moved to Chelsea where he lived for the next twenty years. The exhumed poems from his wife’s grave were finally published in 1870 as Poems by D.G. Rossetti. They were seen as quite scandalous at the time and criticized for their sexual nature. One work that drew particular scorn was ‘The House of Life.’ Rossetti’s second volume, Ballads and Sonnets was released many years later in 1881.
The poet was deeply impacted by the negative reviews of his work and suffered a mental breakdown in June of 1872. He attempted to commit suicide via the same method as his wife Elizabeth had during this time. He suffered over the following months but eventually improved, at least temporarily. In the summer of 1874 Rossetti left his home at Kelmscott, a house he was sharing with model Jane Morris—he never returned.
The last years of Rossetti’s life were dark. He was suffering from obesity, addiction, and bad eyesight. His paranoia, worsened by the consumption of chloral, was only growing and he suffered two more breakdowns in 1877 and 1879. His final collection, Ballads and Sonnets, was the last great effort of Rossetti’s life. It included short poems and a historical ballad titled, ‘The King’s Tragedy.’ This collection was received much more favorably than the previous but his health was too far depleted for positive reviews to make a difference.
In February of 1882, he moved to Birchington. It was here that he died from blood poisoning from uric acid in April of the same year.