Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "The Hill Summit" presents a narrator who must enact an allegory in order to grapple with a personal meditation on life's transience. While the story of a traveler's observations of the sun works through a religious landscape, a relationship is easily created in which Rossetti can speak with God, eye-to-eye, severely. By humanizing God to just the right extent, our traveler survives an eternal moment-- The earth , stopped when every natural element brings out every other's light and darkness. Here religion never once exists as subject matter but rather as a way to negotiate secular themes.

This feast-day of the sun, his alter there
In the broad west has blazed for vesper-song;
And I have loitered in the vale too long
And gaze now a belated worshipper.
Yet may I not forget that I was 'ware,
So journeying, of his face at intervals
Transfigured where the fringed horizon falls--
A fiery bush with coruscating hair.

And now that I have climbed and won this height,
I must tread downward through the sloping shade
And travel the bewildered tracks till night.
Yet for this hour I still may here be stayed
And see the gold air and the silver fade And the last bird fly into the last light.

Immediately the first two lines converge natural architecture ("the sun," "the broad west") with religious architecture ("feast-day", "alter," "vesper-song"). This overwhelming description passively contrasts with the run-down character introduced next, but such contrast seems necessary; indeed, Rossetti allows the "belated worshipper" a subtle self-consciousness that both recognizes his belatedness and remembers his past observations of the sun. And therein lies the paradox: Now standing right beneath it--beneath the sun, beneath God--this traveler cannot deny that he lives in a time that would make Him mean one thing, and only one thing for all, and yet he vows ("may I not forget") that he did see God as alive and mortal.

Rossetti leaves behind this memory of the sun anthropomorphized ("A fiery bush with coruscating hair") as his narrator reaches the hill summit, and from here on arises a question of just the moment itself. Split into two parts, the second stanza first moves toward the traveler's disillusionment along "the bewildered tracks," but then yields ("I still may here be stayed") to the earthly beauty of the given circumstance. No longer concerned with the religious, Rossetti now looks upon the sunset as evidence of the end of one fleeting time and the beginning of another.

Questions

1. In this poem the predictable rhymes and familiar rhythm of the sonnet form help balance out its complex allegory. Looking at the entire House of Life cycle, which Rossetti considered his great poetic achievement, how could you say the sonnet form answers the Pre-Raphaelite vision for poetry?

2. The last line leaves the reader with quite a haunting image. Which parts of the internal structure of the second stanza save the poem from total pessimism?

3. The word "may" seems to have several different functions here. For what purpose does Rossetti begin the traveler's memory with "Yet may I not forget" in line 5? Toward the end, "may" is coupled an unusual usage of verb ("I still may here be stayed"). To what effect does the poet precisely manipulate this language?

4. Compare "The Hill Summit" with "Sonnet LXVII, The Landmark." Both narrate a sort of journey using very similiar imagery, but how do they both navigate through time (whether differently or similarly)?

5. Of what importance is it to the Pre-Raphaelite movement that Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in this poem and in others, seems to become more and more focused on capturing the eternal moment?


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Last modified 4 March 2008