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Sonnets XLIX, L, LI, LII. Willowwood.

Sonnets XLIX, L, LI, LII. Willowwood.

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120



The House of Life



disturbing the lodgers beneath; and, if anyone overhead objects, you

may say that it amuses them perhaps and will be soon over, and

that, as their hats were probably not buried with them, these will

not be sent round at the close of the performance. It is to be feared

indeed that they have left a growing family who may be trained to

the same line of business; but in the long run the cock crows, or the

turnip-head falls off the broomstick, or the price of phosphorus

becomes an obstacle, or the police turn up if necessary.’

Note 1 to letter (2) suggests that ‘perhaps the overwrought danse macabre

imagery here reveals DGR’s dread of his mother finding out about the

projected exhumation.’

Referring to this letter, WMR wrote that DGR ‘was now rapidly tending

towards . . . printing a volume of his original poems. On 1st March he sent

to our mother various sonnets, which he described as “a lively band of

bogies,” with other grotesque expressions to correspond – i.e. (as one may

understand the phrase), sonnets embodying painful thoughts, or fertile of

grievous reminiscences. I presume that these were most probably the

sonnets which he had then just printed in the Fortnightly Review, including

the series of four named Willow-wood. Mr. Browning, writing to him about

the same time, referred to this contribution’ (DGRDW 146). WMR also noted

that the Willowwood sonnets were largely responsible for his brother’s

assessment, near the end of 1868 when he thought his eyesight was failing,

that he should have been a poet rather than a painter (RP 339).

Four MSS comprising a complete draft of this quartet were given to

DGR’s friend W. J. Stillman; they are in Union College (for a full description

see Appendix Seven). This largest unit of HL with its own sub-title seems

always to have been the nucleus of the poem. In 1869 these sonnets were the

opening four in the group with the working title, ‘Of Life, Love, and Death:

Sixteen Sonnets.’, that may have been the first title for HL (see Note 3. to

Sonnet 47). In both Poems and B&S this four-sonnet poem is at the exact

centre of the sequence.

Manuscripts:

(1) Union College, WJS MS 281 (2) Fitzwilliam HL fol. 55a (3) Poems Proof

States 2, 3, 4 and 12 {Princeton}.

Revisions/Variants:

1. All MSS/B&S

title

Willowwood /

Sonnets XLIX., L., LI., LII.

I

/ WILLOWWOOD.

/

I.

WJS 281

1 woodside Fitz.

5 certain secret

WJS 281



8 fell,/fell. FR

9 at their fall, WJS 281

11 spring Fitz.

drouth:/drouth. WJS 281, Fitz.

drouth;/drouth. FR

2. The usual space between octave

and sestet, not present in the MSS

or the FR printing, was introduced

for all four sonnets in Proof State 2.



Text and Notes

3. Revisions in proof:

title

WILLOWWOOD

(Four Sonnets.)

I / [This was the reading in the

early proof states. In Proof State 12

at Prin., the subtitle in italics and

parentheses was deleted by DGR,

who left the title and sonnet numeral

but, unsure of the final numerical

sequence, wrote above the title,



121



‘here the Nos. as coming in order:

Sonnets * * * *’].

line 11 [there is no punctuation after

‘drouth’ in Proof States 2 and 3; in

Proof State 4 at Prin. DGR inserted

the terminal period.]

DGR defended the final two lines of

this poem in The Stealthy School of

Criticism (1871) against Buchanan’s

Fleshly School attack by quoting the

entire sonnet, then remarking:



‘The critic has quoted ... only the last two lines, and he has italicised the

second as something unbearable and ridiculous. Of course the inference

would be that this was really my own absurd bubble-and-squeak notion of

an actual kiss. The reader will perceive at once, from the whole sonnet

transcribed above, how untrue such an inference would be. The sonnet

describes a dream or trance of divided love momentarily re-united by the

longing fancy; and in the imagery of the dream, the face of the beloved rises

through deep dark waters to kiss the beloved. Thus the phrase, “Bubbled

with brimming kisses,” etc., bears purely on the special symbolism

employed, and from that point of view will be found, I believe, perfectly

simple and just.’ (Works 618–19)



122



The House of Life



II.



And now Love sang: but his was such a song,

So meshed with half-remembrance hard to free,

As souls disused in death’s sterility

May sing when the new birthday tarries long.

And I was made aware of a dumb throng

That stood aloof, one form by every tree,

All mournful forms, for each was I or she,

The shades of those our days that had no tongue.

They looked on us and knew us and were known;

While fast together, alive from the abyss,

Clung the soul-wrung implacable close kiss;

And pity of self through all made broken moan

Which said, “For once, for once, for once alone!”

And still Love sang, and what he sang was this: –



4



8



12



Manuscripts:

(1) Union College, WJS MS 282 (2) Fitzwilliam HL fol. 56a (3) Poems, Proof

State 2 {Princeton}.

Revisions/Variants:

1. WJS 282 seems the earliest draft:

title

Willowwood II

1 And now Love sang: and his was

such a song –

2 (A mesh of half-remembrance

hard to free) –

3 As souls forgotten in expectancy

4 May sing when the new birthday

tarries long:

5 And now I was aware of a still

throng

6 That stood around, one

beneath every tree,

7 Each a known shade, for each

was I or she, –

8 The shades of those

our days that had no tongue.



9 They looked on us, and knew us,

& were known,

10 While fast together, drenched

with tears of bliss,

11 Clung the soul-wrung insatiable

close kiss;

12 And pity of self through all

made broken moan

13 Which said, “For once, for once,

for once alone!”

14 And still Love sang; and what he

sang was this: –

2. This draft was revised:

1 song,

2 <(A mesh of ... free) –>So meshed

with ... free

2 [parentheses deleted]



Text and Notes

3 disused

in death’s sterility

5–6


throng

That stood around, one beneath

every tree,>

5–6

And I was made aware of a

dumb throng

That stood aloof, one form by

every tree,

7 form

11 implacable

3. WJS 282/Fitz.

1 But

2 free/free,

7
strange form,>
form,>All mournful forms,

7 she, –/she,

8 Those shadows of our days we

lived among.

[alt. reading in pencil at bottom

of WJS 282]

10
bliss,>alive from the abyss,

While locked together in tears

that Love calls his,

[alt. reading in pencil at bottom

of WJS 282]



123



4. Revisions to B&S readings in print:

4 long. Proof State 2, Prin.

9 known,/known; FR

5. Fitz. is cancelled with diagonal

lines. Verso, there is a pencil

drawing somewhat resembling How

They Met Themselves (S.118); lines

5–9 also suggest the doppelgänger

theme embodied in that pen and

brush drawing. On fol. 56b, there is

also is a cancelled unpublished MS

sonnet in Italian in DGR’s hand,

dated ‘Maggio 1869’. It is a love

poem evidently addressed to JM.

For a translation and discussion of

this and other sonnets cognate with

but excluded from HL, see

Appendix Eight.

6. Verso on WJS 282 is a preliminary

sketch of JM similar to that for

Mariana (S.213, 213A, pl. 303) and

other pictures she posed for

wearing the famous blue silk dress

(see WEF 68.77&n1; RP 327);

Mariana was begun in the summer

of 1868 and the completed oil

painting is dated 1870. This sketch

also suggests another JM likeness,

La Pia (S.207, pl. 301).



124



The House of Life



III.



“O ye, all ye that walk in Willowwood,

That walk with hollow faces burning white;

What fathom-depth of soul-struck widowhood,

What long, what longer hours, one lifelong night,

Ere ye again, who so in vain have wooed

Your last hope lost, who so in vain invite

Your lips to that their unforgotten food,

Ere ye, ere ye again shall see the light!

Alas! the bitter banks in Willowwood,

With tear-spurge wan, with blood-wort burning red:

Alas! if ever such a pillow could

Steep deep the soul in sleep till she were dead, –

Better all life forget her than this thing,

That Willowwood should hold her wandering!”



4



8



12



Manuscripts:

(1) Fitzwilliam HL fol. 57a (2) Union College, WJS MS 283 (3) Fitzwilliam HL

fol. 58a

Revisions/Variants:

1. Fitz.(1) seems to be the earliest of

these drafts:

title

Willowwood

1 O ye, that walk, that walk in

Willowwood,

2 That walk with hollow faces

burning white;

3 What depth, alas! of soul-struck

widowhood,

4 What long, what longer years,

one longest night,

5 Ere ye again, who so in vain

have wooed

6 Your hearts to joy, who so in

vain invite

7 Your lips to feast on the

forbidden food,

8 Ere ye, again, again, shall see the

light!



9 Ye know the bitter banks in

Willowwood,

10 Where grief-spurge grows and

shame-wort burning red;

11 O God, if ever such a pillow could

12 Give rest at all to any weary head,

13 O God alone unknown, the God

of good,

14 How could it be till brain & soul

were dead?

2. Revised, Fitz.(1) reads:

1 O ye, all ye

3 fathom-depth

4
night,>longer hours,

one lifelong night,

6
hope,>
lost hope,>last hope lost,



Text and Notes

7

unto their unforgotten food,

8 Ere ye,

ere ye, again

9 Alas!

10
shame-wort burning red;>

With grief-spurge wan, with

shame-wort burning red;

11 Alas!

3. Fitz.(1), as revised/WJS 283

title

Willowwood/Willowwood III

1 ye, that/ye that

7 unto/to that

8 ye, again/ye again

10 red;/red:

14 could/should

13–14: [below the text of WJS 283

appears this alternate final

couplet:]

13
death>Even though the whole

soul died, ye tried & true

14 Would God that I, your god,

could give it you!

4. WJS 283/Fitz.(2)

title

Willowwood III/III

1 [In Fitz.(2) DGR encloses the

poem in double quotation



125



marks: they are printed as single

in Poems, double in FR and B&S.]

8 shall Fitz.(2)

9 in Fitz.(2)

10 /tear-spurge...blood-wort

11 ever Fitz.(2)

[In lines 8, 9 and 11 readings

from Fitz.(1) and WJS 283 are

changed, then restored.]

12–14


head,

O God alone unknown, the God

of good,

How should it be till brain &

soul were dead?>/

12 Steep deep the soul

in sleep till she were dead,–

13 Better all

life forget her than this thing,

14 That Willowwood should hold

her wandering!”

5. Below Fitz.(2) are lines 11–14

from WJS 283, cancelled; DGR

experimented a good deal with the

conclusion of this sonnet, devising

at least three different versions. He

finally abandoned the awkward

god/God references. Even though

DGR has cancelled Fitz.(2), as

revised it is identical with B&S.



126



The House of Life



IV.



So sang he: and as meeting rose and rose

Together cling through the wind’s wellaway

Nor change at once, yet near the end of day

The leaves drop loosened where the heart-stain glows, –

So when the song died did the kiss unclose;

And her face fell back drowned, and was as grey

As its grey eyes; and if it ever may

Meet mine again I know not if Love knows.

Only I know that I leaned low and drank

A long draught from the water where she sank,

Her breath and all her tears and all her soul:

And as I leaned, I know I felt Love’s face

Pressed on my neck with moan of pity and grace,

Till both our heads were in his aureole.



4



8



12



Manuscripts:

(1) (2) Fitzwilliam HL fols 59a, 60a (3) Union College, WJS MS 284

(4) Fitzwilliam HL fol. 61a (5) Poems, Proof State 12 {Princeton}

Revisions/Variants:

1. Fitz.(1) seems to be the earliest

draft; the revised version reads:

title

IV

1 So sang he: and as meeting rose

& rose

2 Together cling through the

wind’s wellaway,

3 Nor fall at once, yet near the end

of day

4 The leaves drop loosened till the

heart-stain flows, –

5 So when the song died did the

kiss unclose;

6 And her face fell back

drowned, and in the grey

7 Still water nothing but my own

face lay:



8 How thence I went, I know not if

Love knows.

9 I know that here in Willowwood

I
10 With her the parted paths,> but

have no spell

9–10

I know that here in Willowwood

I fare

For ever to and fro, but have no

spell

11 To find again with her the

vanished well:

12 And in what glade she

waits, and holds her hair

13 Aside, and listens to the sunken

air,

14 The talking willows know but

may not tell.



Text and Notes

2. Fitz.(2), revised from Fitz.(1)

[1–5 are identical with Fitz.(1)

except that the comma at the end

of line 2 has been dropped and

in line 3 Fitz.(2) has ‘change’

instead of ‘fall.’]

6–7

And her face fell back drowned,


O’ the water nothing but my

own face lay:>

6–7

And her face fell back drowned,

and as it lay

And fading like

the eyes the face grew grey:

8 How thence I went, I know not if

Love knows –

9 I know that here in Willowwood

I fare

10 For ever to and fro, but have no

spell

11
vanished well:>

To track my footprints

to the vanished well:

12 And in what
waits>
seeks>glades she seeks, and

holds her hair

13 Aside, and listens to the sunken

air,

14 <<>These <>

whispering willows know but

may not tell.>


water>>these waters may not

tell.>
willows will not tell.>

These willows & these waters

may not tell

3. WJS 284, revised from Fitz.(2),

follows:

[1, 2 and 5 are identical with

Fitz.(2) except that the comma at

the end of line 2 is here restored.]



127



3 Nor change at once, yet near

the end of day

4 The leaves drop loosened

where the heart-stain

glows, –

6–8

6 And her face fell back drowned,

and
7 <>

7 The <>lips grew greyer

than the eyes were grey:

8 How thence I went> I know not

if Love knows.

6–8

6 And her face fell back drowned,

and was as grey

7 As its grey eyes; and if I ever may

8
again>Behold it more

I know not if Love knows.

9 Only I know that
I>I leaned low and drank

10 A long draught of the water

where she sank,

11 Her breath and all her tears and

all her soul:

12 And as I drank I know I felt

Love’s face

13 Laid on my neck with

moan of pity and grace, –

14 Till both our heads were in his

aureole.

4. Fitz.(3), revised from WJS 284,

follows:

2 [terminal comma dropped again,

as in Fitz.(2)]

7–8


Behold it more I know not if

Love knows.>

7–8

and if it ever may

Meet mine again I know not if

Love knows.

10 draught from

11 her whole soul:



128



The House of Life



12–13

Love’s face



Pressed on my neck

13 grace,

9–14

[this entire section of MS is

cancelled, including the

following lines below the sonnet

text which seem to be revisions

of the sestet of Fitz.(2):]

9 I know that here in Willowwood

I fare

10 For ever to and fro, but have no

spell

11 To track my footprints to the

vanished well

12 And in what glades she seeks &

holds her hair

13 Aside, and listens to the sunken

air,

14 These whispering trees have

heard but may not tell.



5. Fitz.(3)/B&S

11 her whole soul/all her soul

12 drank I/leaned, I

6. Revisions in print:

12 leaned, I Prin.

7. The foregoing compilation

reveals that DGR was struggling

with two contradictory conceptions

in this conclusion to the Willowwood

sub-sequence – one despairing, the

other consoling. He produced

entirely different sestets in the first

and second pairs of MSS, the consoling one articulated in WJS 284,

and Fitz.(3). As evidence of the

intensity of his labours over this

sonnet, see the ten different

versions above of line 14.



Text and Notes



129



SONNET LIII.

WITHOUT HER.



What of her glass without her? The blank grey

There where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.

Her dress without her? The tossed empty space

Of cloud-wrack whence the moon has passed away.

Her paths without her? Day’s appointed sway

Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place

Without her? Tears, ah me! for love’s good grace,

And cold forgetfulness of night or day.

What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,

Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?

A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,

Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,

Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,

Sheds doubled darkness up the labouring hill.



4



8



12



Date of Publication: 1881, B&S

Date of Composition: 1871, Works

MS Source:

Duke MS Note Book III {PFB 1):76}

‘The glass stands empty of all things it knew’ [line 1]

Manuscripts:

(1) Bodleian Eng. poet. d. 43 fol. 18 (2) Fitzwilliam HL fol. 62a (3) BL, Ashley

1407 (4) Princeton HL fol. 29

Revisions/Variants:

1. All MSS/B&S

9 my heart...my heart/the

heart...poor heart Bod.

the heart...
heart>poor heart Fitz.

14 on the/up the Bod.

up the Fitz.



The first two are The Lovers’ Walk

(12) and Love’s Antiphony [Youth’s

Antiphony (13)]. Below the MS text

of Without Her is the signature, ‘Dante

G. Rossetti’. At the bottom left of

the MS he wrote in pencil a trial

title, ‘Heart’s Trails’, but erased it.



2. Ashley 1407 (see ALC IV: 133) is

headed:

Love and Loss

(Three Sonnets)



3. Prin. is a fair copy identical with

B&S.



130



The House of Life



SONNET LIV.

LOVE’S FATALITY.



Sweet Love, – but oh! most dread Desire of Love

Life-thwarted. Linked in gyves I saw them stand,

Love shackled with Vain-longing, hand to hand:

And one was eyed as the blue vault above:

But hope tempestuous like a fire-cloud hove

I’ the other’s gaze, even as in his whose wand

Vainly all night with spell-wrought power has spann’d

The unyielding caves of some deep treasure-trove.

Also his lips, two writhen flakes of flame,

Made moan: “Alas O Love, thus leashed with me!

Wing-footed thou, wing-shouldered, once born free:

And I, thy cowering self, in chains grown tame, –

Bound to thy body and soul, named with thy name, –

Life’s iron heart, even Love’s Fatality.”



4



8



12



Date of Publication: 1881, B&S

Date of Composition: 1871, Works

Manuscripts:

(1) Princeton HL fol. 30 (2) Bodleian Eng. poet. d. 43 fol. 6 (3) Fitzwilliam HL

fol. 63a (4) DAM Box 22 {see PFB 3):54}

Revisions/Variants:

1. All MSS/B&S

title


Love> Love’s Fatality Prin.

2 Life-thwarted. Prin.

3

Love shackled withVain-longing, Prin.

7 girths/power Prin., Bod.

power Fitz.

14 Love’s Fatality

Prin.



{The final title seems to have

emerged with this revision to

line 14.}

2. The DAM MS is a fair copy

identical with B&S.



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