A Paraphrase:

Tenses are congruent with Rossetti's usage.

0. Untitled--A sonnet sequence records the fullness of a specific and unchangeable portion of time, whether revelatory of life or death.

Youth and Change

  1.  Love Enthroned--Love, unlike all other desired experiences, is changeless, superior, unaffected by loss.
  2. Bridal Birth--The Lady, conscious of love quickening within her, felt like a mother gazing at her newborn. Yet the mature love prepares the lovers' sleeping couch, and his death will leave behind presences and signs to enlighten and comfort them.
    [This is an odd sonnet, as surely the death of love could not be described as a "nuptial change" or apt to leave behind only shared and pleasant emotions.]
    Till to his song our bodiless souls in turn
    Be born his children, when Death's nuptial change
    Leaves us for light the halo of his hair.
    [If it is the lovers who die, retaining love's spiritual children (that is, a spiritual love) to lighten physical decay, then the analogy of the growing child is ruptured; still this seems a probable reading.]
  3. Love's Testament--You who embody to me love and merge with my identity, what honor to you and gain to me when you have drawn my unhappy soul up to your own.
  4. Lovesight--Do I see you most when your features are revealed by daylight or when I sense your soul quietly while sitting with you in shadow? If there were no images of you anywhere in the world, I should be conscious only of despair and death.
  5. Heart's Hope--By what unknown wisdom shall I express our union, so intense and sacred that I cannot distinguish your spiritual and physical natures from each other, nor our love from a divine force? I desire to convey to all this inclusive emotion, as tender and strong as the memory of past happiness.
  6. The Kiss--To kiss my lady compensates for future decay and degradation of the body. I felt a child when touched by her, a man when embracing her, a spirit when perceived by her, and a divinity when united to her physically, in a conjoining of passion and deity.
  7. Nuptial Sleep--After a long kiss the lovers reluctantly fall apart, still reaching toward each other. They sleep and their minds wander elsewhere; he wakes and is surprised and awed that she is still beside him.
  8. Supreme Surrender--After waiting years for this to happen, the longing lover lies beside the woman who inspired this desire, her conquering heart itself conquered ("Lies the queen-heart in sovereign overthrow.")
  9. Love's Lovers--Some women prefer trivial or fickle accoutrements of love; the lady loves its essence, and therefore she creates its immortality.
  10. Passion and Worship--The lady acknowledges two modes of love, a daylight passion and a moonlight worship, presumably a quiet, sad, reverent emotion.
  11. The Portrait--Love, let me completely reveal my beloved in this picture. It is done, her physical and spiritual capacities are portrayed, so that in future time she can be known only through my presentation.
  12. The Love-Letter--Letter, reveal her silent and musical soul. I would wish to have seen her in the moment of writing when her soul reached out to mine for words to express the fullest love.
  13. The Lovers' Walk--As all blends in a perfect summer day, so the lovers lean on each other and love, as the blue sky rests on a placid sea.
  14. Youth's Antiphony--Happy the lovers who spend hours remote from worldly duties and interests, discussing their love and kissing, united in a rapturous emotion.
  15. Youth's Spring-Tribute--At this border between winter and spring respond to my kiss, for those who in this ambivalent moment are cold are love's rejects.
  16. The Birth-Bond--Just as children of an earlier marriage feel mutual, silent affinity within a family, so I feel you are closer to me than mere physical life, my soul's other self.
  17. A Day of Love--Her presence in this usually lovely place dispels misery; we talk, kiss, and sit silently remembering the past.
  18. Beauty's Pageant--What alterations in nature can excel the beloved woman's moods? Her movements clothed love, creating joy for one all the more unhappy in her absence, and sorrow for those that cannot see her.
  19. Genius in Beauty--No other gift of genius or natural beauty can excel her human beauty. As in a poet the yearnings of youth are preserved for life, so her beauty will not be wronged by the years. This may mean either that the beloved does not age or that the picture will preserve her beauty.
  20. Silent Noon--As we are silent together in the grass, we appropriate to ourselves this hour of shared love.
  21. Gracious Moonlight--As night reveals the moon, my unhappiness emphasizes your worth, gathering all beauty to itself and dispelling grief.
  22. Love-Sweetness--What sweeter than her physical characteristics, except her earnest and fervent perception of spiritual kinship?
  23. Heart's Haven--We seek refuge from our distresses and ills, answering to each other's spirits; love rests and protects us.
  24. Love's Baubles--What from the hands of others were shameful or soporific baubles of love, from her were the bearers of passionate and serene love.
  25. Pride of Youth--Just as children sorrow lightly for the dead, so a new love has no pity for old passions. Alas for change and for Youth's casual neglect of past love!
  26. Winged Hours--The hours before we meet are as a singing bird approaching my soul, in your presence his love notes are clear, yet sometimes we are distracted from hearing them by our many happinesses. What will it be when I cannot hear that songbird, and know that she also watches for it in vain?
  27. Mid-Rapture--You are the beloved cause of joy and comfort to my tired spirit; how can I answer worthily your word or your gaze, in which I am mirrored and overshadowed?
  28. Heart's Compass--At times you seem to embody the meaning of all things; this is love, and yourself. Love stakes your essence against the powers of darkness.
  29. Soul-Light--Your are an incomparable object for love; after rapture something still yearns within you silently from the inner presence of love. Even as a traveler enjoys the progressive shifts of day, so my soul is moved to love the varying aspects of your love.
  30. The Moonstar--Lady, as a star is overshadowed by the moon, your loveliness only reveals the superiority of my beloved.
  31. Last Fire--Love, what is the evening glowing through our spirits with the happiness of all possession? Heave your breast more quietly as we rest, free from care, and dream of past happiness. Many are the days of bleakness; at least this one day was filled with love and peace.
  32. Her Gifts--Her qualities are grace, simplicity, a shadowed glance, pallid face, a mouth suggesting silence and music, golden hair, a columnar neck, kind hands and soft feet; yet her name is more significant than these.
  33. Equal Troth--Since I am less worthy than you, I must necessarily love you more, but your love is the more worthy because of its source.
  34. Venus Victrix--When you respond lovingly, you have the stateliness of Juno or Pellas and the beauty of Venus. I ask them if they claim the prize meant for you, but love grants it instead to your sweetest name, the Venus Victrix or Helen of my heart.
  35. The Dark Glass--I cannot understand the range of my own love. Shall I, after birth and death and darkness, experience love at the end of all existence? I am insignificant to love, but through you even my temporal, limited self is granted his presence and power.
  36. The Lamp's Shrine--At times I seek a fault in you to forgive, but love does not permit this; I can only seem unworthier in comparison to your excellence, which my heart delights to emphasize by revealing its own poverty.
  37. Life-in-Love--Your life, which otherwise would be a continual unhappiness and regret, is revived in this woman. Similarly half-alive is the hair which reminds of past passion and that life in death's darkness which is lightened by preserved golden hair.
    [Unless one imports biographical knowledge, the identity of the "you" of the octet with the dead body in the darkness is unclear. The analogy is odd, because the first "even so" seems to imply "even so little" and the second "even so" seems to mean "even so much." The first "even so" couldn't plausibly be read as "even so much" since Rossetti emphasizes that it is a "poor" tress of hair, a minimal token of a more important past. But perhaps he is saying that the only surviving love token is preferable to nothing, just as the first love should prefer survival in another to total extinction, and as the corpse's hair retains a form of attenuated but impressive life. On the other hand, to read the second "even so" as "even so little" contradicts the sonnet's final affirmative image.]
  38. The Love-Moon--How can you look into her eyes without guilty remembrance of the dead who was once all to you, for whom you now scarcely weep? Be pitiful, love; I confess that you have come to me in two forms, but cannot these be two phases of the final and complete experience of love?
  39. The Morrow's Message--I asked if tomorrow could be worse than today; when the answer was yes, I asked for death. Silence spoke, stating that my lady's triple greeting had dispelled death.
  40. Sleepless Dreams--Why do I feel the desire of my youth again, so that I cannot sleep? Would love pretend to give solace? No, I know that the lonvely night is filled with mockery and grief.
  41. Severed Selves--Two who could love and unite deeply are sundered. May we hope for the one brief hour of love together, which leaves only a weakened dream?
  42. Through Death to Love--We see death's terrors, yet what better presence can accompany my heart in death than the power of love?
  43. Hope Overtaken--I had lost hope, then learned that I had reason to hope again. Had I not been wavering, we might have joined our paths all this while. Oh hope, lean close to me for now our time is passing--Your voice and name are hope--alas, it is too late.
  44. Love and Hope--One good hour has come to us at last; do not ask whether after death we shall awake to love or find our hope scorned at the last.
  45. Cloud and Wind--Should I fear your death or mine most? If after your death I followed after your soul, might I not find farewell and bleakness in your eyes? And if I die before you, shall I watch helpless as you weep, or worse, not even perceive your own final disillusionment at death?
  46. Secret Parting--As we talked of our uncertain future, she faltered in kissing and looked abstracted, then kissed more earnestly, her mouth expressing her inner being. Of our future, our attempts to be reunited in spirit, only those may know for whom love is a silent secret.
  47. Parted Love--How can this time of desolation without her be described? Remain the passive victim of memory, until your emotions tear at you while your body submits.
  48. Broken Music--As a mother eagerly doubting and hoping to hear again her child's first word, my soul has awaited love's sound. But however desirous, the soul is only permitted an entreaty to hear it again.
    [This sonnet seems syntactically confusing. Are the "song," "moan," "sweet music" and "sweet tears" the expressions of the beloved, or merely metaphoric qualities of the song of love?]
    'Mid doubts and fears
    Thus oft my soul has hearkened; till the song,
    A central moan for days, at length found tongue,
    And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears.
    But now, whatever while the soul is fain
    To list that wonted murmur, as it were
    The speech-bound sea-shell's low importunate strain,
    No breath of song, thy voice alone is there,
    O bitterly beloved! and all her gain
    Is but the pang of unpermitted prayer.
    [Literally line 12 laments the presence of the beloved's voice in contrast to the song of love--one would assume these two synonymous. Perhaps these lines regret the absence of any breath of song--that is, her voice alone--so that the soul's reward is only an unanswered prayer. The "she" reference to the soul is also confusing, as it suggests the persona of the beloved. One of Rossetti's traits is an obsession with introducing intermediary presences and personae between himself, his own emotions, and the beloved; sometimes these are emphasized above the lovers themselves, who seem merely servants and pawns of imagined deities and metaphysical agencies. It is a courtly love convention to speak of the worship of love, with the lady merely that individual whom love has chosen and destined for the lover's attention, but Rossetti applies this conceit so literally that a personified abstraction, not a person, often seems the principal object of emotion and hope.]
  49. Death-in-Love--An image seeming to be love overpowered me; a woman appeared revealing his identity with death and with herself.
  50. Willowwood I--Love and I looked at each other silently across a well; his song was her voice, and I wept. He cleared the waters to reveal her face and, as I stooped, her lips.
  51. Willowwood II--Love sang, but a painful song of memory, summoning our silent and repressed past. We recognized our past and it us; as we kissed we moaned in pity for ourselves, "For once alone!" Then love sang.
  52. Willowwood III--All you in Willowwood, how much you will suffer before any relief! Alas, if only those in this condition could die, and not be held perpetually unsatisfied!
  53. Willowwood IV--As petals slowly drop away, her face fell back, and I know not if love knows whether I may meet it again. As I drank from the water, love leaned over me in pity, and I and she were covered in his halo.
  54. Without Her--Her absence renders her mirror, dress, pathways, and pillow desolate, but the heart's desolation cannot be conveyed, that of the benighted struggler up a steep hill.
  55. Love's Fatality--Love and desire are bound together, one serene, one fiery with mad hope. Desire bemoans love's lost freedom and his own enchainment as love's ill fate.
  56. Stillborn Love--Where abides the hour that could have been yet was not? As a child its parents, it will greet its creators on an immortal shore.
  57. True Woman: Herself--How strange to be a being more desired than the seasons, flowers, wine or music! How strange to be unfathomable to man, possessed of a secret character veiled by heaven.
  58. Her Love--She embodies love, therefore she loves him, responding to his passionate fervor, yet to a stranger's passion returning brittle coldness. They unite, her spirit answering to his ardor, yet perhaps at dawn or dusk she desires most to hold his hand.
  59. Her Heaven--If heaven rejuvenates, he who acknowledges her as heaven will have perpetual youth. All on earth passes, but the promise of one form of heaven remains to lovers perpetually conscious of the beginning and end of physical love.
  60. Love's Last Gift--Love told the singer that he had given him many gifts, all of which will pass; he then gives a final and deathless gift, to have sung the praise of love.
    Change and Fate
  61. Love's Last Gift--As a separate person results from the blending of two parents, loe and pain are transformed by art to create abundant song.
  62. The Song-Throe--Singer, your song must result from your own pain, self-revelation, and passion; pride produces an empty utterance. Apollo is not your servant but the hunter who wounds you; your cry when pierced may similarly affect others.
  63. The Soul's Sphere--The soul envisions an infinite array of images--of beauty, love, and the compressed memories of an agonized death.
  64. Inclusiveness--As guests at an inn change, and each in turn experiences new phenomena, or as people age and change roles, so that the young father will die mourned by what had been his infant son, and the woman sought in marriage appears to her child only as a mother, so the same environment may be remembered by persons who have led opposite lives; the virtuous will remember from heaven what the lost, in vain, remembers from hell.
  65. Ardour and Memory--Ardou loves the qualities of spring and summer, the shifting of clouds or streams, the dawn, the growing rose; but when the season has altered and the rose fallen, the rose tree stem will still flush with remembered emotions of happiness and regret.
  66. Known in Vain--As two who are suddenly struck silent in realizing the awesomeness of their love, so are ambition and will silently astounded to see that life has passed, misspent; who can follow their painful path to death?
  67. The Heart of the Night--Man passes through cycles to death; alas, how soon the sprit returns to its original condition and the flesh to dust. Oh Lord, renew my fainting will, that despite past omissions I may yet work and see your face.
  68. The Landmark--Was the obscure, low well the point of turning for my life? I had thought it would be clearly, formally marked. I must return thirsting through the night, yet in the blackness I'll thank God that I can still journey towards this goal and walk the same pathway.
  69. A Dark Day--Today's darkness may presage new trouble or merely hold memories of the night on which I lost you. Sharp shrubbery sheds smooth leaves on the pathway, and the thistle, gleaned, produces down for a soft marriage bed.
  70. Autumn Idleness--In autumn fullness the hours pass from morning into night; I walk at noon beside my shadow, restlessly yearning, not knowing my proper path.
  71. The Hill Summit--At sunset I pause in the vale, too late to worship at the sun's mountain altar. Yet in journeying toward him I saw at intervals his glorious face. I must now descend through confused paths, but for an hour I may watch the fading of the golden and silver light, the disappearance of the last bird.
  72. The Choice: I--Enjoy our revels, love, for your singing will dispel all sense of time. Kiss me, and think how strange are those who gather weatlth or learning in preference to our sensual harmony. They labor but cannot die, for their lives were empty and repulsively self-contained.
  73. The Choice: II--Fear God and await his return to earth; perhaps he comes now. Don't trust human achievements or he will not deliver you.
  74. The Choice: III--Reflect and achieve; while you lie lazily waiting to benefit from the labors of others, realize that you are no worthy recipient of others' earnings. Rise and look outwards to the sea; reality extends far beyond your power to attain or imagine it.
  75. Old and New Art: St. Luke the Painter--Honor St. Luke, the legendary inaugurator of religious art; at first Christian art feared to deviate from stereotyped symbols, but then it realized it could convey the presence of God in color. After a decadence, religious art became empty artifice, but in these last days she might still regain her original purpose.
  76. Old and New Art: Not As These--The poet-painter feels proud contempt for the unintellectual and those limited only to one ability, since he is not like them; instead, look to what might be done, compare yourself with the great artists of the past--you are not like them either.
  77. Old and New Art: The Husbandmen--Although God's first laborers cannot be equaled in the present, do not be slack, for perhaps you are the one who may be first through faith and will, giving to their past efforts a worthy future.
  78. Soul's Beauty--I gazed upon beauty, encircled by all metaphysical powers, and whose eyes draw all to her. This is that lady Beauty, whom all of your life you have eagerly pursued and praised as she fled from you.
  79. Body's Beauty--Lilith reportedly drew men to her by the mysteries of her webbed, golden hair. Whom cannot she ensnare? As young Adam looked at her, he was smitten and succumbed, one of her golden hairs encircling possessively his heart.
  80. The Monochord--What power is drawing my life to it, watching my struggles, progression and shifts? It comforts me, then casts me upon dismay.
  81. From Dawn to Noon--As a child cannot analyze his parents' qualities until later life, so often after a completed action one wonders whether the original motivation had been the desire for clear knowledge or instead an attraction toward the unknown's mysterious quality.
  82. Memorial Thresholds--What can compare in strangeness to the scenes of memory? I return to the immortalized place, amid alien crowds. If a door is not again opened to me, filled with the former presence, I will be totally destroyed.
  83. Hoarded Joy--I said, Wait to pluck life's fruit, there is time; it fell--hurry to pick the last clusters before autumn overwhelms us with sorrow.
  84. Barren Spring--In the year's cycle spring comes to me again but my life is bound with the dead life of a past season. I turn from the new flowers and wait until last year's last lily is totally shriveled.
  85. Farewell to the Glen--Why should I say farewell to you, whose future will be smooth and undisturbed, while mine will be more bitter than it was once by other streams. You will be better off hearing the sounds of children and lovers than the sighs of a lonely man listening to the trees whisper frightening prophecies.
  86. Vain Virtues--What is hell's most pathetic conquest? Virtues superseded by a sin are like virgins, now herded together shuddering into the pollution of the pit. Once they were beloved of God, but not even their conquerer watches them now as they sink defiled, for he intently awaits his own lust's object, the sin which corrupted them.
  87. Lost Days--What embodies the lost days of my life? Are they nourishment turned to clay, squandered coins to be repaid as debts, drops of blood on the murderer's feet, or water which torments but never moistens the wretchedly thirsting throats of the damned? I cannot see them but after death they will appear to me as murdered selves, announcing that I am trapped forever in my own inadequacies.
  88. Death's Songsters--When Helen sang temptingly to the Greeks within the Trojan horse, Ulysses held the mouths of his comrades. Similarly, lashed to the mast, he listened to the Sirens until their voices died away. Soul, do you not also find heaven in the songs of death, and is not victory under such conditions a disgrace?
    [This is a very ambiguous sonnet. The last lines,
    Say, soul--are the songs of Death no heaven to thee,
    Nor shames her lip the cheek of Victory?
    could mean that for a man to resist such allure reveals a shamefully mean spirit, or contrariwise, that the beautiful song is shamed by the cruelly predatory motives of the singer. The couplet seems a loose inversion of "Death, where is thy sting, grave, where is they victory?"]
  89. Hero's Lamp--Hero, the lamp you are lighting for passion will tomorrow be an unlighted offering for the dead Leander. The sun will rise on an ebbing storm and your dead bodies; to the sunless skies of the afterlife your love will be relegated, the pale proselyte to death. The lamp will remain unlit until a happy lover can light it, which may be never--for, brother, what did love bring to you or to those two?
  90. Trees of the Garden--You who have passed through death and the deaths of others, is death an emptiness, an unknowable mystery of ill? No, ask the earth instead, the felled trees or transient sapling, under what powers the stars will travel still when they are shriveled.
  91. "Retro Me, Sathana!"--Do not tempt me, Satan, since the temporal order and universe will be totally destroyed. You can destroy and win praise on earth; leave me to walk the narrow paths of virtue. On your broader path you will await the coming of wrath until time ends.
  92. Lost on Both Sides--As the death of a mutually loved woman may unite two antagonists, so the warring ambitions which have destroyed a soul's happiness now share peaceably its vacant recesses.
  93. The Sun's Shame: I--When I see the mockery and confusion of all good things, the frustration of longing, the rewards of evil, then I notice also that the morning and evening are ashamed of the intervening day.
  94. The Sun's Shame: II--As an old chieftain might view the young and vow to use fully the added years if he could only regain youthfulness, but is aware that death and nothingness will come instead, so the spirit of the world views the natural world's green rebirth with a lament, saying, I feel shame for my old desires while you, despite your spiritual bleakness, are returning happy into spring.
  95. Michelangelo's Kiss--Old Michelangelo confided to one other that his deepest grief was his failure to kisss Colonna's face as she died. O great artist! Often the soul which struggles earns little, for its claim was so humble. Yet do not complain; what may not death hold for the lowly soul? And do you expect that it will hold better for yourself?
  96. The Vase of Life--Life has not experienced a slow human progression of successive fates, but already understands all that is and will be--effort, gaiety, sorrow, pale death, as though he had turned a vase around to reveal its various pictures. He has filled the vase with blood, tears, and emblems of promise and love, and would have destroyed it ruthlessly had not fate decreed it for his burial urn.
  97. Life the Beloved--As you remember a dead friend in his prime, so life presents hopeful images even though in fact your life's hope is buried under winter frost.
  98. A Superscription--Look at me, I am what might have been, what life once promised. What once was the shape of life and love is now only a shadow threatening final misery. I am quiet now, but should you experience the brief advent of peace, I will smile and draw your attention to my cold, unceasing destruction of your emotions.
  99. He and I--How can this alien presence live within me; what is his source; why does he interpret everything mournfully? How can I perceive him and intuitively understand his silent, negative judgment? How can the things which have comforted me appear to him lifeless? Or am I confusing myself and him? This new self laments everything in my life, weeping in my place, or rather, it is I who weep.
  100. Newborn Death: I--Today death seems a child to me, not frightening, so that I might lose my resentments in its mild eyes. Will you still be a child as you accompany me into death, or a grown daughter to stand beside the waters of death with me, so that I may drink oblivion from your hand?
  101. Newborn Death: II--Life, you were a joyful woman with whom I wandered and whom I loved, oblivious of death. Do you now only bring me death as a child? Our child was once love, song, and art; did these die that you might instead bear me death?
  102. The One Hope--When even regret has died and all is empty, what can soothe the still-continuing grief? Will peace be unattainable, or will my soul pass to a new and green land where it may pluck the flower of comfort? When the soul seeks grace in that golden air, let it find one name only, that of hope.