The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” is about a woman looking down upon her lover from heaven. The woman wants to be with her lover for eternity but knows that it can never happen. She feels that if the two of them unite in one and pray, then every wish can come true.

The Blessed Damozel

BY DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI

The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary’s gift,
For service meetly worn;
Her hair that lay along her back
Was yellow like ripe corn.

Herseemed 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 leaned o’er me -her hair
Fell all about my face…
Nothing: the autumn-fall of leaves.
The whole year sets apace.)

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, 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.

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

And still she bowed herself and stooped
Out of the circling charm;
Until her bosom must have made
The bar she leaned on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
Along her bended arm.

From the fixed 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.

The sun was gone now; the curled 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 hearkened? When those bells
Possessed the midday air,
Strove not her steps to reach my side
Down all the echoing stair?)

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

“When round his head the aureole clings,
And he is clothed 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, withheld, untrod,
Whose lamps are stirred 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 tree
Within whose secret growth the Dove
Is sometimes felt to be,
While every leaf that His plumes touch
Saith His Name audibly.

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“And I myself will teach to him,
I myself, lying so,
The songs I sing here; with his voice
Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
And find some knowledge at each pause,
Or some new thing to know.”

(Alas! we two, we two, thou sayst!
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?)

“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.

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

“Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
To Him round Whom all souls
Kneel, the clear-ranged unnumbered heads
Bowed with their aureoles:
And angels meeting us shall sing
To their citherns and citoles.

“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 gazed and listened and then said,
Less sad of speech than mild, –
“All this is when he comes.” She ceased.
The light thrilled towards her, filled
With angels in strong level flight.
Her eyes prayed, and she smiled.

(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.)

Analysis of Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was born in London in 1828. He was the eldest son of a family of Italian expatriates. As a young child, Rossetti wanted to be a painter. He illustrated literary subjects in his early drawings.  Rossetti went on to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which sought to introduce a new type of collaboration between different kinds of artists, bringing poetic vision, attention to detail, and serious themes of their works into British contemporary art. He also extensively read Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry.

“The Blessed Damozel” was first published in 1850. It is a dramatic lyric poem consisting of 24 stanzas of six lines each. The tone of the poem is romantic yet depressing. After reading Poe’s “The Raven” about a person who mourns the passing of his beloved, a woman named Lenore, and going through Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in which the writer’s first romantic endeavor takes him all through purgatory and also heaven during his imaginary course through the realm, Rossetti conceived the idea for this poem.

The theme of the poem is undying love. Even though the death of one woman has separated her from the man she loves, the love between them as well as the hope that one day they will reunite in heaven lives on. “Damozel” is an archaic word and the poetic version of “damsel” which refers to a young unmarried lady.

The woman in the poem feels that since she cannot reach her lover, her lover needs to reach her. She says that she has prayed for their union and then stops for a while and worries that her lover has not prayed yet. She asks God and wants to learn whether it is true that the strength of two lovers is perfect. If it is true, then she feels afraid that something terrible has happened to her lover, or that her lover has forgotten her or is no longer in love with her.

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