.
The Blessed Damozel
A Poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)
A Study Guide
Cummings Guides Home..|..Contact This Site
.
Title
Type of Work
Publication Dates, Sources
Pre-Raphaelites
Theme
Rhyme and Meter
Writing Approach
Summary of the Poem
Text of the Poem
Footnotes
Questions, Essay Topics
Author's Biography
.
Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.. 2009
.
Title

.......The key term in the title, damozel, is an archaic word for damsel (maiden, unmarried young woman). Other archaic words with the same meaning are damosel, damoiselle, and demoiselle. All of these words descend from the Old French word dameisele. Rossetti's use of damozel perfumes the poem with an air of medieval romance. The adjective blessed suggests that the damozel deserves recognition as a saint. In Roman Catholic theology, a deceased candidate for sainthood receives the title Blessed before his or her name. Of course, the word may also simply signify her goodness and holiness.

Type of Work

.......The Blessed Damozel” is a dramatic lyric poem of 144 lines in 24 six-line stanzas.

Publication Dates and Sources

.......Dante Gabriel Rossetti completed the first version of “The Blessed Damozel” in 1847 and published it in the February 1850 issue of The Germ, a journal of the pre-Raphaelite movement in painting and literature. He conceived the idea for the poem (and later a painting with the same title and subject) after reading Edgar Allan Poe's “The Raven,” about a man who mourns the death of his beloved Lenore, and after reviewing Dante Allighieri's Divine Comedy, in which the author's first love, Beatrice, escorts him from Purgatory to Heaven during his imaginary journey through the realms of the afterlife. The damozel of Rossetti's poem is thus a kind of composite of Lenore and Beatrice who pines for her earthbound lover. Rossetti revised and republished the poem in 1856 in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine and in 1870 in Poems by D.G. Rossetti. As to the influence of Poe, Rossetti told his biographer, T. Hall Caine, that he wrote "The Blessed Damozel" as a sequel to "The Raven," saying, "I saw that Poe had done the utmost that it was possible to do with the grief of a lover on earth, and so [I] determined to reverse the conditions, and give utterance to the yearning of the loved one in heaven."

Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

.......Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an accomplished painter as well as a poet. In 1848, he and two other paintersJohn Everett Millais and William Holman Huntfounded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in rebellion against painting techniques that they regarded as rule-bound and highly academic—or, in other words, artificial rather than natural. Other disenchanted artists joined them, and in January 1850 they began publishing a short-lived journal devoted to their central tenet: to depict their subjects with the sincerity and moral earnestness of artists practicing before the rise of the painter Raffaelo Sanzio (1483-1520), popularly known as Raphael, during the flowering of the Renaissance. They gained public acceptance after the prominent art critic John Ruskin expressed admiration for their work. Rossetti applied pre-Raphaelite principles to his poems, including "The Blessed Damozel," embracing romantic, highly emotional language often centering on medieval and religious themes. Critics of the pre-Raphaelites argued that their work was unduly sentimental. 

Theme of the Poem: Undying Love

Although the death of the damozel has separated her from the man she loves, the love between them lives on. So does the hope that one day they will reunite in heaven. 

Rhyme and Meter

.......The second, fourth, and sixth lines of each stanza rhyme according to vowel sound (as in place, face, and apace in the fourth stanza), spelling similarity, or "eye rhyme" (as in even and seven in the first stanza), and consonant sound (as in hers and years in the third stanza). The meter varies, but most lines contain seven to nine syllables. The dominant lines are in iambic tetrameter. In this format, a line has four pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables, for a total of eight syllables. The term tetrameter (from the Greek tetra, meaning four, and metron, meaning measure) indicates that a line has four syllabic units. The first line of each of the first five stanzas is in iambic tetrameter, as illustrated below by the opening line of the poem. 

    .........1...............2.............3.............4
    The BLESS..|..ed DAM..|..o ZEL..|..lean'd OUT
Writing Approach

.......Applying pre-Raphaelite principles, Rossetti wrote “The Blessed Damozel” as a poignant, uncomplicated depiction of the kind of innocent young love that flourished in the days of the chivalric code. The poem presents a romantic, dreamlike atmosphere as a virginal young woman—claimed recently by death—stands at the threshold of heaven pining for the young man she left behind while he likewise pines for her on earth. Rossetti links the heavenly damozel with her earthbound lover by mixing the spiritual imagery of heaven with the physical imagery of earth. Thus, while the seven stars of the heavenly constellations adorn her hair, it flows down her back with the color of “ripe corn.” And while the young man thinks he feels her hair fall over him, he discovers only the fall of autumn leaves.
.......In helping readers to fathom the pain of the separated young lovers, Rossetti emphasizes the vastness of the gulf separating them: 

It was the rampart of God's house
That she was standing on;
By God built over the sheer depth
The which is Space begun;
So high, that looking downward thence
She scarce could see the sun.
To emphasize the loneliness of the lovers, he presents an image of lovers united in Heaven: 
Around her, lovers, newly met
'Mid deathless love's acclaims,
Spoke evermore among themselves
Their heart-remember'd names
Summary of the Poem

.......The Blessed Damozel leans out from a golden banister on the outermost boundary separating heaven from space. Her eyes are deeper than the bottom of still waters. In one hand she holds three lilies attesting to her purity and the nearness of the triune God. In her hair are seven stars symbolizing the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione in Greek mythology. These young women included Alcyone, Celaeno, Electra, Maia, Merope, Sterope, and Taygete, who attended the goddess of virginity, Artemis. After they died, they became stars in the heavens.
.......The damozel's robe hangs loosely about her. No embroidered flowers adorn the robe. But affixed to it is a single white rose, a gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary in recognition of the damozel's faithful service to Heaven. Her hair, the color of ripe corn, flows onto her back.
.......It seems to her that she has abided in the celestial realm no more than a day. But the family and friends she left behind miss her so much that it is as if ten years have passed since they last saw her. To the young man to whom she pledged her love, it is as if she has been gone ten years of years. As he muses about her, he thinks he feels the softness of her hair fall about his face. Alas, though, it is nothing but the fall of the autumn leaves as time moves on.
.......The damozel stands on a rampart built by God around heaven. So high is this place that when she looks down, through the great void of the universe, she can hardly see the sun. This rampart lies between space and the inner regions of heaven. Below the rampart, the tides of day and night ebb and flow, lapping at the boundaries of the universe and at the earth, which is spinning like a nervous insect. Around the damozel stand lovers, newly united in heaven, greeting each other. Other souls are just now rising to heaven, like "thin flames." 
.......But the damozel continues to look down into the vastness of space, yearning for her earthbound young man. She sees time raging on ineluctably as the sky darkens and a crescent moon appears. She speaks: "I wish that he were come to me / For he will come. . . ." 
.......When he does arrive someday in a white robe with a halo around his head, they will go hand-in-hand into heaven and bathe in the wondrous light of God. There, in that holiest of shrines, where prayers from earth reach God, they will see their old prayers, granted, melt away like little clouds. They will lie in the shadow of the tree of life, where the Holy Spirit—in the form of a dove—sometimes alights and every leaf speaks His name. She then will teach her beloved the songs that she sings, and he will pause as he sings to absorb the knowledge that they contain. 
.......The young man on earth wonders whether God will invite him to enjoy endless unity with his beloved. The damozel, meanwhile, says that after her beloved arrives in heaven they will visit groves where Mary abides with five handmaidens who weave golden threads into white cloth used to make the robes of the newly dead born into eternal life. The damozel will speak with pride of her love for the young man, and Mary will approve and will take them to the place where all souls kneel around God while angels sing and play their stringed instruments. The damozel will then petition Christ to allow her and her young man to live forever together, united in love. All of which she speaks will come to pass, she believes.
.......The young man imagines he sees her smile. But then she casts her arms down on the golden banister and weeps. He hears her tears.
.

The Blessed Damozel
By Dante Gabriel Rossetti
.
The blessed damozel lean'd out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters still'd at even;
She had three lilies1 in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.2

Her robe, ungirt3 from clasp to hem,
No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary's gift,
For service meetly4 worn;
Her hair that lay along her back
Was yellow like ripe corn.

Herseem'd5 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, and 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.)6

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

It lies in Heaven, across the flood
Of ether,7 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.8

Around her, lovers, newly met
'Mid deathless love's acclaims,
Spoke evermore among themselves
Their heart-remember'd names;
And the souls mounting up to God
Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bow'd herself and stoop'd
Out of the circling charm;
Until her bosom must have made
The bar she lean'd on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
Along her bended arm.

From the fix'd place of Heaven she saw
Time like a pulse shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove
Within the gulf to pierce
Its path; and now she spoke as when
The stars sang in their spheres.9

The sun was gone now; the curl'd moon
Was like a little feather
Fluttering far down the gulf; and now
She spoke through the still weather.
Her voice was like the voice the stars
Had when they sang together.

(Ah sweet! Even now, in that bird's song,
Strove not her accents there,
Fain to be hearken'd? When those bells
Possess'd the mid-day air,
Strove not her steps to reach my side
Down all the echoing stair?)10

"I wish that he were come to me,
For he will come," she said.
"Have I not pray'd in Heaven?--on earth,
Lord, Lord, has he not pray'd?
Are not two prayers a perfect strength?
And shall I feel afraid?

"When round his head the aureole11 clings,
And he is cloth'd in white,
I'll take his hand and go with him
To the deep wells of light;
As unto a stream we will step down,
And bathe there in God's sight.

"We two will stand beside that shrine,
Occult,12 withheld, untrod,
Whose lamps are stirr'd continually
With prayer sent up to God;
And see our old prayers, granted, melt
Each like a little cloud.

"We two will lie i' the shadow of
That living mystic tree13
Within whose secret growth the Dove14
Is sometimes 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 voice
Shall pause in, hush'd and slow,
And find some knowledge at each pause,
Or some new thing to know."

(Alas! We two, we two, thou say'st!
Yea, one wast thou with me
That once of old. But shall God lift
To endless unity
The soul whose likeness with thy soul
Was but its love for thee?)15

"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.

"Circlewise sit they, with bound locks
And foreheads garlanded;
Into the fine cloth white like flame
Weaving the golden thread,
To fashion the birth-robes for them
Who are just born, being dead.16

"He shall fear, haply, and be dumb:
Then will I lay my cheek
To his, and tell about our love,
Not once abash'd or weak:
And the dear Mother17 will approve
My pride, and let me speak.

"Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
To Him18 round whom all souls
Kneel, the clear-rang'd unnumber'd heads
Bow'd with their aureoles:
And angels meeting us shall sing
To their citherns and citoles.19

"There will I ask of Christ the Lord
Thus much for him and me:--
Only to live as once on earth
With Love,--only to be,
As then awhile, for ever now
Together, I and he."

She gaz'd and listen'd and then said,
Less sad of speech than mild,--
"All this is when he comes." She ceas'd.
The light thrill'd towards her, fill'd
With angels in strong level flight.
Her eyes pray'd, and she smil'd.

(I saw her smile.) But soon their path
Was vague in distant spheres:
And then she cast her arms along
The golden barriers,
And laid her face between her hands,
And wept. (I heard her tears.) 

Footnotes

1...Three lilies: See the first paragraph of the summary (above).
2...Seven stars: See the first paragraph of the summary (above).
3...Ungirt: Unfastened.
4...Meetly: Suitably.
5...Herseem'd: It seemed to her.
6...The thoughts of the young man are expressed in the parentheses.
7...Ether: Substance of which ancient thinkers theorized that the space of the universe was made. In the nineteenth century, some scientists believed that this formless, transparent substance was a medium through which light passed. In the twentieth century, scientists rejected the ether theory after Albert Einstein developed his Special Theory of Relativity, which centered on the speed and properties of light. Writers continue to use ether figuratively to refer to air, gas, and space.
8...Midge: Gnat.
9...Stars sang: Allusion to figurative language used by the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (580-500 BC). Pythagoras compared the mathematical harmony in the movement of celestial bodies to the harmonies in music. 
10...Within the parentheses are expressed the thoughts of the young man. He imagines he hears the voice of his beloved in the song of a bird.
11...Aureole: Halo.
12...Occult: Hidden, secret.
13...Bible references to the tree of life occur in Genesis, Proverbs, and Revelation (the Apocalypse). The poem appears to allude to the following references in Revelation:

2:7
7 He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him, that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God. 
22:14 (Focusing on the New Jerusalem) 
Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb: that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city.
22:1-2 (Focusing on the New Jerusalem)
1 And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 
Revelation 
Source: DRBO.org (Douay-Rheims Bible)
14...Dove: The Holy Spirit.
15...Stanza in Parentheses: The young man speaks, wondering whether God will admit him to heaven.
16...Just born, being dead: Paradox. Those who die are born to eternal life.
17...Mother: Blessed Virgin Mary
18...Him: God.
19...Citherns and citoles: Stringed instruments.
.
Now Available...............................Shakespeare: a Guide to the Complete Works...................................................
By the Author of This Web Site 

Plot Summaries of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background | Glossaries
Shakespeare's Theatre | Drama Terms | Essays | Analysis of the Sonnets | and Much More 
|
Publisher's Web Site Amazon.com

..
Study Questions and Essay Topics

1. Write an essay that compares and contrasts "The Blessed Damozel" with Poe's poem "The Raven." Both poems focus on lovers separated by death. Among the questions you should discuss are these: Which poem is more rhythmic and musical--that is, which appeals more to the sense of sound? Which relies more heavily on language that appeals to the sense of sight?
2. Identify two similes in the first two stanzas.
3. What is a "wrought flower" (line 8)?
4. Review Rossetti's painting of the Blessed Damozel and the predella (a panel containing a separate painting that appears below the painting of the damozel). Write an essay discussing whether the painting accurately reflects the content of the poem. 
6. Do you like the poem? Explain why or why not.
7. Rossetti uses alliteration in the following lines: 

Herself shall bring us, hand in hand
To Him round whom all souls
Kneel, the clear-rang'd unnumber'd heads
Find other examples of alliteration in the poem.
.

privacy policy