The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

There are four versions of “The Blessed Damozel,” which was written in 1847, when Dante Gabriel Rossetti was eighteen years old. The first version was published in The Germ in 1850, the second in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine in 1856, the third in 1870 in Rossetti’s collection Poems, the fourth in Poems, 1881. The changes appearing in the second and third versions are generally regarded as improvements.

Many years after the poem was written, Rossetti is said to have attributed it to his admiration of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1845). Rossetti is reported to have said that Poe had done the most that was possible to do with the grief of a lover on earth longing for a lover in heaven and that he (Rossetti) was determined to reverse the conditions in “The Blessed Damozel.”

Both a poet and a painter, in 1848 Rossetti, along with Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, established the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The term “Pre-Raphaelite” was first used to describe a group of German artists who early in the nineteenth century formed a brotherhood in Rome to restore Christian art to the medieval purity of the great Italian masters preceding Raphael. The German group was short-lived, and the term was later used to designate the English school founded by Rossetti and his followers. In general, the English Pre-Raphaelites reacted against the neoclassic tendencies and low standards of the art...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Originally, the ballad was a narrative lyric poem preserved by oral tradition. The ballad meter of England derived from the septenarius, a rhymed Latin hymn meter of seven feet or accents. These long lines, technically known as “fourteeners,” as they often numbered fourteen syllables, were afterward broken up into four shorter lines of iambic tetrameter alternated with iambic trimeter, which accounts for the alternating unrhymed lines.

In the case of “The Blessed Damozel,” Rossetti has broken three long septenarian lines into six shorter lines of alternating tetrameters and trimeters. Thus, the second, fourth, and sixth lines in each stanza rhyme, as in stanza 2: “adorn,” “worn,” and “corn.” The ballad was predominantly a medieval poetic form, and Rossetti’s use of it exemplifies the Pre-Raphaelite preoccupation with medievalism.

Another important aspect of Rossetti’s poetry is his “painterly” style. It is often said that reading one of his poems is almost like looking at a painting. Rossetti himself said that the supreme perfection in art is achieved when the picture and the poem are identical—that is, when they produce the same effect. Rossetti achieves this effect by paying meticulous attention to detail and by using concrete images. The damozel’s eyes are as deep as waters “stilled at even” (at twilight); she wears seven stars in her hair, which is yellow like corn; holds three lilies in her...

(The entire section is 427 words.)