Compiled by Michael J.
key term in the title, damozel, is an archaic word for damsel
(maiden, unmarried young woman). Other archaic words with the same
are damosel, damoiselle, and demoiselle. All of
words descend from the Old French word dameisele. Rossetti's
of damozel perfumes the poem with an air of medieval romance.
adjective blessed suggests that the damozel deserves
as a saint. In Roman Catholic theology, a deceased candidate for
receives the title Blessed before his or her name. Of course,
word may also simply signify her goodness and holiness.
Blessed Damozel” is a dramatic lyric poem of 144 lines in 24 six-line
Dates and Sources
Gabriel Rossetti completed the first version of “The Blessed Damozel”
1847 and published it in the February 1850 issue of The
Germ, a journal of the pre-Raphaelite movement in painting and
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
Allighieri's Divine Comedy, in which the author's first love, Beatrice,
escorts him from Purgatory to Heaven during his imaginary journey
the realms of the afterlife. The damozel of Rossetti's poem is thus a
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.
to the influence of Poe, Rossetti told his biographer, T. Hall Caine,
he wrote "The Blessed Damozel" as a sequel to "The Raven," saying, "I
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,
give utterance to the yearning of the loved one in heaven."
and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Gabriel Rossetti was an accomplished painter as well as a poet. In
he and two other painters—John
Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt—founded
the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in rebellion against painting techniques
that they regarded as rule-bound and highly academic—or,
in other words, artificial
than natural. Other disenchanted artists joined them, and in January
they began publishing a short-lived journal devoted to their central
to depict their subjects with the sincerity and moral earnestness of
practicing before the rise of the painter Raffaelo Sanzio (1483-1520),
popularly known as Raphael, during the flowering of the Renaissance.
gained public acceptance after the prominent art critic John Ruskin
admiration for their work. Rossetti applied pre-Raphaelite principles
his poems, including "The Blessed Damozel," embracing romantic, highly
emotional language often centering on medieval and religious themes.
of the pre-Raphaelites argued that their work was unduly
of the Poem: Undying Love
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
and sixth lines of each stanza rhyme according to vowel sound (as in place,
face, and apace in the fourth stanza), spelling
or "eye rhyme" (as in even and seven in the first
and consonant sound (as in hers and years in the third
The meter varies, but most lines contain seven to nine syllables. The
lines are in iambic tetrameter. In this format, a line has four pairs
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
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
The BLESS..|..ed DAM..|..o ZEL..|..lean'd OUT
pre-Raphaelite principles, Rossetti wrote “The Blessed Damozel” as a
uncomplicated depiction of the kind of innocent young love that
in the days of the chivalric code. The poem presents a romantic,
atmosphere as a virginal young woman—claimed recently by death—stands
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
the physical imagery of earth. Thus, while the seven stars of the
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.
to fathom the pain of the separated young lovers, Rossetti emphasizes
vastness of the gulf separating them:
of God's house
That she was
By God built
The which is
So high, that
She scarce could
emphasize the loneliness of the lovers, he presents an image of lovers
united in Heaven:
of the Poem
Blessed Damozel leans out from a golden banister on the outermost
separating heaven from space. Her eyes are deeper than the bottom of
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
These young women included Alcyone, Celaeno, Electra, Maia, Merope,
and Taygete, who attended the goddess of virginity, Artemis. After they
died, they became stars in the heavens.
hangs loosely about her. No embroidered flowers adorn the robe. But
to it is a single white rose, a gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary in
of the damozel's faithful service to Heaven. Her hair, the color of
corn, flows onto her back.
.......It seems to
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
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
his face. Alas, though, it is nothing but the fall of the autumn leaves
as time moves on.
on a rampart built by God around heaven. So high is this place that
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
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
greeting each other. Other souls are just now rising to heaven, like
to look down into the vastness of space, yearning for her earthbound
man. She sees time raging on ineluctably as the sky darkens and a
moon appears. She speaks: "I wish that he were come to me / For he will
come. . . ."
.......When he does
someday in a white robe with a halo around his head, they will go
into heaven and bathe in the wondrous light of God. There, in that
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
of the tree of life, where the Holy Spirit—in the form of a
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
that they contain.
earth wonders whether God will invite him to enjoy endless unity with
beloved. The damozel, meanwhile, says that after her beloved arrives in
heaven they will visit groves where Mary abides with five handmaidens
weave golden threads into white cloth used to make the robes of the
dead born into eternal life. The damozel will speak with pride of her
for the young man, and Mary will approve and will take them to the
where all souls kneel around God while angels sing and play their
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
will come to pass, she believes.
he sees her smile. But then she casts her arms down on the golden
and weeps. He hears her tears.
By Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The blessed damozel lean'd out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the
Of waters still'd at even;
She had three
in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were
Her robe, ungirt3
from clasp to hem,
No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary's
For service meetly4
Her hair that lay along her
Was yellow like ripe corn.
she scarce had been a day
One of God's choristers;
The wonder was not yet quite
From that still look of hers;
Albeit, to them she left, her
Had counted as ten years.
(To one, it is ten years of
. . . Yet now, and in this
Surely she lean'd o'er me--her
Fell all about my face ....
Nothing: the autumn-fall of
The whole year sets apace.)6
It was the rampart of God's
That she was standing on;
By God built over the sheer
The which is Space begun;
So high, that looking downward
She scarce could see the sun.
It lies in Heaven, across
as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and
With flame and darkness ridge
The void, as low as where this
Spins like a fretful midge.8
Around her, lovers, newly
'Mid deathless love's acclaims,
Spoke evermore among themselves
Their heart-remember'd names;
And the souls mounting up to
Went by her like thin flames.
And still she bow'd herself
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
Time like a pulse shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her
Within the gulf to pierce
Its path; and now she spoke as
The stars sang in their
The sun was gone now; the
Was like a little feather
Fluttering far down the gulf;
She spoke through the still
Her voice was like the voice
Had when they sang together.
(Ah sweet! Even now, in
Strove not her accents there,
Fain to be hearken'd? When
Possess'd the mid-day air,
Strove not her steps to reach
Down all the echoing stair?)10
"I wish that he were come
For he will come," she said.
"Have I not pray'd in
Lord, Lord, has he not pray'd?
Are not two prayers a perfect
And shall I feel afraid?
"When round his head the
And he is cloth'd in white,
I'll take his hand and go with
To the deep wells of light;
As unto a stream we will step
And bathe there in God's sight.
"We two will stand beside
Whose lamps are stirr'd
With prayer sent up to God;
And see our old prayers,
Each like a little cloud.
"We two will lie i' the
That living mystic tree13
Within whose secret growth the
Is sometimes felt to be,
While every leaf that His
Saith His Name audibly.
"And I myself will teach to
I myself, lying so,
The songs I sing here; which
Shall pause in, hush'd and
And find some knowledge at
Or some new thing to know."
(Alas! We two, we two, thou
Yea, one wast thou with me
That once of old. But shall
To endless unity
The soul whose likeness with
Was but its love for thee?)15
"We two," she said, "will
Where the lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens,
Are five sweet symphonies,
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
Margaret and Rosalys.
"Circlewise sit they, with
And foreheads garlanded;
Into the fine cloth white like
Weaving the golden thread,
To fashion the birth-robes for
Who are just born, being dead.16
"He shall fear, haply, and
Then will I lay my cheek
To his, and tell about our
Not once abash'd or weak:
And the dear Mother17
My pride, and let me speak.
"Herself shall bring us,
hand in hand,
round whom all souls
Kneel, the clear-rang'd
Bow'd with their aureoles:
And angels meeting us shall
To their citherns and citoles.19
"There will I ask of Christ
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
Less sad of speech than mild,--
"All this is when he comes."
The light thrill'd towards
With angels in strong level
Her eyes pray'd, and she
(I saw her smile.) But soon
Was vague in distant spheres:
And then she cast her arms
The golden barriers,
And laid her face between her
And wept. (I heard her
lilies: See the first paragraph of the
stars: See the first paragraph of the
It seemed to her.
thoughts of the young man are expressed in the parentheses.
Substance of which ancient thinkers theorized that the space of the
was made. In the nineteenth century, some scientists believed that this
formless, transparent substance was a medium through which light
In the twentieth century, scientists rejected the ether theory after
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.
sang: Allusion to figurative language
used by the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras
BC). Pythagoras compared the mathematical harmony in the movement of
bodies to the harmonies in music.
the parentheses are expressed the thoughts of the young man. He
he hears the voice of his beloved in the song of a bird.
references to the tree of life occur in Genesis, Proverbs, and
(the Apocalypse). The poem appears to allude to the following
The Holy Spirit.
an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him,
overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the
of my God.
on the New Jerusalem)
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
on the New Jerusalem)
me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the
of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street thereof, and on
sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits,
its fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing
of the nations.
in Parentheses: The young man speaks,
wondering whether God will admit him to heaven.
born, being dead: Paradox. Those who
are born to eternal life.
Blessed Virgin Mary
and citoles: Stringed instruments.
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and Essay Topics
1. Write an essay that
contrasts "The Blessed Damozel" with Poe's poem "The Raven." Both poems
focus on lovers separated by death. Among the questions you should
are these: Which poem is more rhythmic and musical--that is, which
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
3. What is a "wrought flower"
4. Review Rossetti's
painting of the Blessed Damozel and the predella (a panel
a separate painting that appears below the painting of the damozel).
an essay discussing whether the painting accurately reflects the
of the poem.
6. Do you like the poem?
or why not.
7. Rossetti uses alliteration
shall bring us, hand in hand
Find other examples of
round whom all souls
Kneel, the clear-rang'd