Rosetti's sonnet sequence is a microcosm of the world of the poet, with loves and losses, small remembrances, comments on life and its ultimate ending. The sonnet reaches for complexity with its concentrated form as the cycle seems to want to diminish some of those effects on behalf of a somewhat larger vision. Sometimes structural elements in a sonnet cycle can bridge this gap so that each sonnet doesn't fail serving the larger theme, and the larger theme doesn't explode quickly by sheer accumulation of the complexity in each sonnet. Rossetti does create structural elements that might alleviate some of these issues. His cycle is broken into two parts, which together indicate a progression, one titled "youth and change", the seconded called "change and fate". Each sonnet in the sequence has its own title. These are his large structural elements. As for the specifics of each sonnet, from what I remember of Petrarchan sonnet (it seems that most of these sonnets are Italian) typical sonnets of this type have a turn at the ninth line, in addition to certain rhyme schemes. What I think works best about these poems is their complexity, in relation to iambic pentameter and rhyme — but not the certain "sonnet-ness" of a turn. I ultimately feel as if the structural elements that Rosetti set up don't do such a good job of keeping the cycle together. Let's look at sonnet fifty-three for example.

Sonnet LIII: Without Her

What of the glass without her? The blank grey
There where the pool is blind of the moon's face.
Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
Of cloud-rack when the moon has passed away.
Her paths without her? Day's appointed sway
Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
Without her? Tears, ah me! For love's good grace,
And cold forgetfulness of night or day.

What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood's counterpart,
Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.

Questions

Is there a turn anywhere in the poem, if so, is it where it would be expected to occur? if not, does this affect the effectiveness of the sonnet?

How does the title affect the way one reads the poem? Does it contain the sonnet, does it contribute to the sonnet in some other way?

This poem is from the first part of the cycle, somewhat close to the end, does its placement here coordinate with the poem in any way that you can tell?

My ultimate question is, why a sonnet cycle, why not just a cycle of rhymed poems in iambic pentameter?


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Last modified 5 November 2003