The narrator of D.G. Rossetti's poem The Blessed Damozel imagines his deceased lover in heaven calling to him so that the two can be together. Perhaps the central theme of the poem is the contrast and tension between earthly, romantic love and heavenly love of God. The poem, though told in first person, does not convey the thoughts of the narrator in the conventional way. Rossetti assigns most of the poem to a soliloquy that the narrator imagines his "damozel" speaking. He imagines his lover saying:

"There will I ask of Christ the Lord
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.

The thoughts of the narrator himself are hidden between parentheses throughout the poem — ending with his own wistful "(I heard her tears.)" This structure, moving between reflection and praise, might be seen as a take on religion itself. Though man attempts to present himself as insignificant, he projects his own desires onto the heavens.

Rossetti depicts this conflict between earthly and godly love we see at play in the accompanying painting, merging aspects typical of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with some typical of the Renaissance. The altarpiece frame itself is very reminiscent of those of the Renaissance, with a main image — of the lady- and a predella with the dreamy narrator below it. The images of lovers in heaven at the top of the altarpiece underscore Rossetti's transposition of earthly love onto the divine. Rossetti uses both heavenly and earthly imagery in the poem and the painting. Some symbols, such as "a white rose of Mary's gift" belong to both realms.

Questions

1. How does Rossetti's view of earthly and heavenly love contrast with the Renaissance view? What do the references to Renaissance art — e.g. the cherubim at the bottom of the frame — say about this?

2. Kierkegaard was active around the same time as Rossetti wrote his poem. To contrast, Kierkegaard believed earthly, temporal love impossible to sustain, and thought love for god the only type of true love. Rossetti seems to advocate the fusion of the two. Might Rossetti's poem be a response to Kierkegaard's statement? What might have been the contemporary reaction to Rossetti's attempt to merge the two?

3. It is unclear if the narrator and the lady were married at the time of her death. How would it change the religious dynamic if they were not?

4. Considering that the poem seems to use religion to fortify earthly love, rather than vice versa, what is its relation to Biblical Typology?

5. Especially considering Christina Rossetti's "Song," to what extent can one view "Damozel" as male egotism and anti-feminist, or forgive it as a young lover's romantic musing?

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Last modified 27 February 2008