Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454
The title poem of Rossetti’s 1866 volume, “The Prince’s Progress” is her only other important narrative poem besides “Goblin Market,” and second only to that poem in length. Her first impulse in poetry was lyrical; she does not sustain narrative well, neither in fiction nor in verse. The poem began as a sixty-line lyric entitled “The Alchemist,” composed on October 11, 1861, and published in Macmillan’s magazine for May, 1863. This original poem constitutes the end (lines 481-540) of “The Prince’s Progress.” The other 480 lines represent, according to biographer Edith Birkhead, the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who urged his sister to tell the story implicit in the song.
The poem has a similar fairy-tale quality to “Goblin Market” and a similar metrical inventiveness that echoes the folk ballad and the nursery rhyme. The narrative portion (the first 480 lines) consists of eighty six-line stanzas rhyming aaabab. The great number of rhymes on the same sound lends a singsong quality to the verse and taxes Rossetti’s rhyming powers. There are generally four beats per line, except in the last line of each stanza, which has only three, signaling an ending.
The prince of the title is continually warned by the voices of the ladies waiting on his bride (which seem to find him magically across the miles) that she awaits his arrival, and that he must not tarry. He does, however, delayed by several temptations: A milkmaid offers him refreshment, but her fee is that the prince stay with her that day; an old alchemist offers him lodging, but his fee is that the prince work the bellows to create his “elixir of life”; the prince is rescued from drowning by lovely ladies who urge him to stay with them. Finally he heeds the voices of his bride’s attendants and rushes to her, hoping that the alchemist’s elixir of life will justify his delay. He is too late: He arrives to find his bride dead. The stanza form changes slightly for the last sixty lines. The last six stanzas are ten lines each, alternately long and short, and rhyming abcbdbebfb—only the even-numbered lines rhyme. This portion is simply a rebuke addressed to the prince for his delay.
Several of Rossetti’s characteristic themes come together in this poem. The picture of thwarted love, seen throughout her early verse, is seen here in the bride pining away for her prince who will never come to her. The theme of seizing the moment, which would normally be antithetical to Rossetti’s ethic of renunciation, is here appropriate, for the moment the prince must seize is sacred union with his bride. He squanders the time, and he pays for it by losing his bride.
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