In "The Blessed Damozel" Dante Gabriel Rossetti illustrates the gap between heaven and earth. The damozel looks down from Heaven, yearning for her lover that remains on earth. Through imagery Rossetti connects the heavenly damozel to things of the earth, symbolizing her longing but emphasizing the distance between the lovers. She stands on God's rampart, which is

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.

Though distanced so far from the earth, her hair is "yellow like ripe corn." Rather than declare her ethereal beauty, Rossetti depicts the damozel's appearance through earthly detail. She may be far from her lover and fixed in Heaven, but her appearance and her gaze, like her heart, is grounded with her beloved on earth. Even Rossetti's description of the space between the two lovers is an attempt to unite Heaven and earth. He calls the ether a "flood" and the rampart above the ether a "bridge," both images of inherently earthly qualities — water and the manmade construction that crosses it. The passing of day and night belows her are "tides" tinged by flame and darkness. The earth is so far from heaven it looks "like a fretful midge" — small, agitated, and a sharp contrast to the peaceful stillness of Heaven.

This picture of the space separating the lovers mirrors Rossetti's description of the damozel's eyes. Just as the ether is a flood, her eyes "were deeper than the depth of waters stilled at even." The damozel sees only the distance from her beloved, and through most of the stanzas, she prays for and imagines their union together, rather than immersing herself in Heaven. Heaven is fixed, while the earth spins fretfully, and in an ironic twist, the damozel's gaze is fixed upon the earth. Rossetti creates a poignant sense of her longing by depicting her gaze and her heavenly position through earthly images, and in effect, he gives the reader a glimpse of the heavens from the damozel's unreachable position.

Questions

1. The poem poses a parallel to Dante and Beatrice in La Vita Nuova. How does Rossetti twist the role of Beatrice in the damozel?

2. The damozel's beloved speaks in the poem, and he seems to sense her and know her thoughts even though they are separated by life and death. What effect do these parenthetical interjections have on the poem? Why did Rossetti give the damozel's lover a voice?

3. Rossetti connects heaven and earth through the water imagery, but he also weaves images of circles ("circling charm," "circle-wise sit they") and light ("lamps are stirred continually," "deep wells of light") throughout the poem. How do these images function? What other contrasts between Heaven and earth does Rossetti use?

4. Rossetti often mentions the stillness of the damozel's gaze. Does this bear any significance for his fair lady portraits, whose mysterious gazes are central in the compositions? Are the visual representations similar to his poetic representation of the damozel?

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Last modified 14 October 2004