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Filling in the blanks: music and performance in Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

While the enigmatic woman staring out from Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The Blue Bower (1865) continues to fascinate first-time viewers, the unusual instrument she fingers--a Japanese koto--is no less intriguing. The painting is certainly not unique among Rossetti's oeuvre; indeed, one of the most striking features of both his art works and his poems, as many scholars have noted, is the frequent inclusion of musical imagery. (1) The pictures are filled with bizarre instruments and odd scenes of music-making, while the verses are replete with musical terminology, titles, and allusions. While Rossetti's interest might be attributed to the Victorian mania for collecting and exhibiting musical artifacts--what Christopher Small terms the "presumed autonomous 'thingness'" of music (2)--his blatant disregard for historical accuracy in his visual depictions and poetic descriptions belies this explanation. Moreover, Rossetti had very little musical training; in fact, according to his assistant Henry Treffry Dunn, he was "indifferen[t] to music" and never played on any of the instruments he collected. (3) Why, then, did he repeatedly turn to music as an artistic paradigm for his paintings and poetry? I argue that Rossetti utilizes music, one of the most performance-oriented of all art forms, as a vehicle for positing his aesthetic theories about temporality and the interactive relationship between artist and viewer. In so doing, he challenges the long-held conception of art as material object and re-envisions it in terms of process--a model that operates through temporal constructs and requires the participation of an audience for its completion. (4)

Music's unique character as a performative art form that is actualized in time through the participation of a listener is particularly well suited to Rossetti's conception of art as a process. The Victorians themselves recognized the importance of the performative act: William Pole's treatise The Philosophy of Music (1895) characterizes music as a "mass of useless hieroglyphics until he [the composer] can get them interpreted and made known by the process we call performance." (5) Contemporary performance theory further supports this notion. A musical score, Christopher Small explains, is not music; it is merely a "set of coded instructions" to the performers for bringing music (that which is absent) into existence (presence). "If a musical work exists in the relationships between the sounds as performers make them and as hearers hear them," Small continues, "then it exists only in performance. Its identity and whatever meaning it may have are embodied in the act of musicking itself" (p. 113). His attention to relationships is insightful in highlighting the two key components of musical performance: its temporal sequence (the relationship between sounds) and its dependence on interaction with a listener (the relationship between performer and audience).

Rossetti's emphasis on sequential progression in time is not surprising. Thanks in part to the popularity of physicist Hermann Helmholtz's On the Sensa. tions of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music following its English translation in 1875, music was commonly understood by the Victorians as sound waves propagating through space in a time-dependent manner. But Rossetti is also interested in the interrelationship with the audience that such temporality implies. While the sound waves are initiated through the performative act, the task of converting these impulses via the brain into what we identify as musical sound is left to the listener. Without this translation process on the part of the listener, there simply is no music. Logically, then, as Richard Schechner asserts, "the performance is the domain of the audience," (6) since the involvement of the listener in deciphering the sounds is essential to the creation of a musical work's meaning. Similarly, Alice Rayner suggests that the term "audience" refers not to a group of people, but to an "act [of listening]" (7)--a distinction Rossetti seems to have understood in his approach to performance. Using music as a model, Rossetti's aesthetic project is thus to re-envision art such that the temporal process of unfolding and the audience's participation are as crucial to a work of poetry or painting as they are to a piece of music.

Schechner's theory of performance is useful as a framework for understanding Rossetti's aesthetic aims. He identifies "transformation"--of the narrative, the performers, and the audience--as the essential purpose and outcome of performative art. (8) Music, Schechner argues, is one mechanism for catalyzing such transformation via "doubl[ing]," a practice in which the performer imaginatively reconstructs himself "at another time in another place," thereby prompting "changes in mood and/or consciousness" on the part of the spectators. (9) In essence, narrative development in the story and illusionary rearrangements of mind-body in the performers result in transformations, whether temporary or permanent, in the audience. An effective performance thus uses its "double or incomplete presence" (its "gap[s]") to encourage an audience to "entertain alternatives" (Schechner, p. 190). If Rossetti is seeking a new artistic perspective on the part of his viewers/readers, setting up an alternative construct of space-time through musical analogies in order to "double" or open up a work's interpretive possibilities makes sense. I suggest that Rossetti accomplishes this doubling in his works by focusing on "impossible" or "missing" performances that generate that transformative space, ultimately pushing his audience beyond a state of passive observation to one of active co-creation while simultaneously reinforcing the importance of artistic process.

As an example of Rossetti's emphasis on temporal unfolding and audience participation as essential aspects of performance, we might consider his poem "During Music" of 1851. The title, of course, calls immediate attention to the temporality of the musical act, framing the poem itself as a performance conceived conceptually "within the brain" (l. 4). We read in the second stanza:
   What though I lean o'er thee to scan
      The written music cramped and stiff?
      'Tis dark to me as hieroglyph
   On those weird bulks Egyptian. (ll. 5-8) (10)

Initially the music exists only in "written" form "cramped and stiff"--that is, the iconographic symbols are there, but they are incomprehensible as mere "hieroglyph" that remains "dark." The poet then compares the potentiality of the lifeless forms on Egyptian tombs to be transformed into an afterlife recreation of mortal existence with the potentiality of the "stiff" musical signs to be transformed into sound and move the viewer/listener to an emotional response:
   But as from those, dumb now and strange,
     A glory wanders on the earth,
     Even so thy tones can call a birth
   From these, to shake my soul with change.

   O swift, as in melodious haste
     Throb o'er the keys thy fingers small!
     O soft as is the rise and fall
   Which stirs that shade within my breast. (ll. 9-16)

Significantly, it is only through the act of performance ("[t]hrob[bing] o'er the keys thy fingers small") that the visual symbols ("written music") are translated into musical "tones" and a "birth" results. This moment of artistic creation--a process that occurs during the enactment of the musical performance--is ultimately perceived by the listener, whose soul is subsequently "shake[n] ... with change." The listener thus moves from a position of observation (leaning over the performer to gaze at the music) to one of participation (feeling the change within). By extension, we might read the work itself as a poetic performance, in which the reader must take the "hieroglyphs" on the page and construct the poem's meaning by vocalizing the "dumb" signs into aural "tones." The final stanza's reference to a "rise and fall / Which stirs that shade within thy breast" thus points to the analogy between musical pitch and poetic prosody and the importance of the performative act in catalyzing the listener-reader's response.

Schechner's notion of music as a strategy of doubling is also illuminating in terms of Rossetti's dual role as author-artist and the complex interrelationship between his poems and his paintings. As Jerome McGann notes, Rossetti's texts are always "iconic," or meant to be "seen as well as read and heard," while his paintings ultimately remain literary, incorporating elements that "erode the viewer's inclination to organize perception in illusionistic terms." (11) If we therefore view Rossetti's paintings and poems as differing but complementary explorations (doubles) of the same concept (performance), we might consider the art works as introducing the problems of performative art and the poems as elaborating upon them. Appropriately, both thus function as theoretical "performances" of Rossetti's aesthetic ideals in relation to process.

Recent scholarship on Rossetti and music--most notably the work of Elizabeth Helsinger has centered on his employment of "attentive listening" and "imagined hearing" as strategies for reimagining poetry as song. (12) I would like to take the notion of imagined hearing one step further by examining Rossetti's frequent inclusion of inaccurate or missing instruments and impossible performances in his paintings. As an example, let us return to The Blue Bower. (13) While the painting's strange mix of decorative elements is perplexing, to say the least, the work's musical content is equally bewildering. Despite Rossetti's obsession with precise and accurate detail, evidenced in the woman's finely rendered jewelry and the painting's elaborate wallpaper background, the Japanese koto pictured here is significantly shorter than the actual six-foot instrument and incorrectly strung. (14) More importantly, the positioning of the woman's hands is unnatural--that is, the instrument simply could not be played as depicted. Typically the koto performer sits on the floor, using the right hand to pluck the strings with plectra and the left to change the pitches (Sadie, p. 466). In The Blue Bower, however, the koto rests on a waist-high table or ledge, the woman's body is angled incorrectly in relation to the instrument, no plectra are used, and both hands are shown poised to pluck along the bridge arc. As a single instance, these discrepancies are easily dismissed: Rossetti's propensity for collecting exotic instruments accounts for his inclusion of the koto, (15) while his limited musical background explains his errors in depicting the unusual instrument and its stylized performance. However, the frequent recurrence of inaccurate instruments and impossible performances in Rossetti's paintings makes it difficult to simply attribute such phenomena to the artist's carelessness. I argue alternatively that such occurrences are intentional, reinforcing Rossetti's advocacy of the importance of the artistic process.

Walter Pater, one of Rossetti's most perceptive critics, seems to have understood the artist's attempt to employ material objects (in this case, instruments) as symbols of the act of performance rather than as decorative implements in their own right. (16) In his essay "Dante Gabriel Rossetti" (1883), he astutely notes the artist-author's concentration on "one or two selected objects at a time" that are then "translated to a higher service"---objects that catalyze his "descriptive power in dealing with the inanimate world" and allow him to explore "what lies below the surface." (17) Considering Pater's observation in terms of Schechner's paradigm, I suggest that Rossetti uses these instruments as imaginary "doubles" that help to create an alternative space-time for the audience, thereby bringing about its transformation. Such a strategy helps to explain Rossetti's lack of attention to historical detail in his visual depictions; in fact, if his aim is to alter the viewer's perspective, manipulating reality is necessary in order to double the interpretive space and catalyze the audience's participation in the performance.

Inaccurate instruments and impossible performances are standard features of Rossetti's paintings. For example, the Arabic oud in A Christmas Carol (1867) is configured with two rather than five strings and a smaller soundbox and longer neck than usual (Sadie, pp. 689-690). The instrument in A Sea-Spell (1877) (18) appears to be another version of the koto, yet one even more imaginary than that of The Blue Bower; moreover, it would be impossible to play a koto in such a vertical orientation. The small positive organ in St. Cecilia (1856-57) is depicted without visible bellows or notably graduated pipes, rendering it incapable of producing sound. (19) A. J. Hipkins, when reviewing Rossetti's paintings and drawings in 1883, identified the instrument in La Ghirlandata (1873) as a type of double psaltery known as an "arpanetta," indicating that it was typically played on "both sides of a double sound-board" (p. 27). While it is difficult to determine whether the instrument is, indeed, an arpanetta or a triple-ranked harp, Rossetti's placement of the instrument, in either case, is backwards, with the shorter treble strings reversed from their normal position near the player's head. (20) In both The Bower Meadow (1872) and The Merciless Lady (1865), (21) the hands of the woman playing the psaltery are positioned for vertical strings, yet the strings are placed horizontally, thwarting any hope of an actual performance. As depicted in Roman Widow (1874), the act of performing on two lyre harps simultaneously, one in each hand without the other hand for stabilization, would be a dizzying feat. (22) Even in works including keyboard instruments, such as St. Cecilia, The Blue Closet (1857), and King Rene's Honeymoon (1864), the performer's hands are unnaturally poised resting on the black keys rather than on the white. Rossetti is simply too detail-oriented to have overlooked proper performance practices in these musical portrayals; moreover, though not a trained musician, his upbringing in a well-educated family implies a basic familiarity with musical performance, at least on more common instruments like violin, harp, clavichord, and organ. (23)

Curiously, Rossetti takes the notion of unplayable instruments one step further in many of his paintings by removing them completely from the pictorial space, while still suggesting their presence in absentia through performative hand positions. For example, in the ink-and-wash work How They Met Themselves (1851/60), in which two lovers are confronted by their ghostly doubles, the woman's hands are extended as if to play, as in the hand positions of St. Cecilia in Rossetti's The Palace of Art drawing. (24) The two male figures are noticeably similar in stance and positioning, so that the notion of doubling is at once apparent. The two females, however, though dressed similarly, have adopted entirely different stances, drawing attention to the right-hand figure's backward swoon and oddly extended hands. Although the woman's collapse might be attributed to the shock of seeing her doppelganger, her positioning is nonetheless peculiar; her hands, instead of falling limply to her side, are instead raised horizontally in front of her as if in preparation for a performance. Like Cecilia, her knees are bent, her head is thrust backward, and a male figure hovers protectingly over her; indeed, the parallels between the two versions are remarkable--with the exception of the missing keyboard in the doppelganger work. There is no suggestion of music in either the title or the art work, yet performance is implied as the focal point.

One of the most striking examples of this phenomenon may be seen in The Day Dream of 1880, in which the figure's hand positions and placement mimic those of the performing musicians in Veronica Veronese (1872) (reversed), A Sea. Spell, La Ghirlandata, and A Christmas Carol (1867), (25) although the painting is devoid of any instrumental references. In this case, the vertical tree branch functions much like the neck of a stringed instrument with the woman's right fingers spread along it as if on a fingerboard. Significantly, neither hand grips tree branch or flower stem with a solid grasp, but rather with a loose palm and splayed fingers--positions that would be more natural in playing an instrument. Similarly, My Lady Greensleeves (1863) is markedly analogous to La Ghirlandata, (26) except that the woman's hands are entwining her hair rather than plucking the strings of the harp. The chalk drawings Reverie (1868), Penelope (1869), and Silence (1870) all show hand positions that echo those of A Christmas Carol (1867), Veronica Veronese, and La Ghirlandata, although in each case there is no instrument depicted. In Penelope, the woman is shown in front of a tapestry frame with a shuttle in her hand; the weaving threads are drawn to resemble the strings of a harp, with the finished part of the tapestry functioning much like the headpiece of the harp. In Rossetti's two pen-and-ink drawings entitled Girl with a Musical Instrument and Girl Eating Cherries (c. 1870), (27) he depicts the same half-length woman with her head bent forward and her hands positioned nearly identically; in the first she holds a stringed instrument and bow with her right hand and plucks the strings with her left, while in the second she holds a cherry bough in her left and "plucks" the fruit with her right. The parallels are dramatic: in the second work, the tree branch has replaced the instrument, but the implied "performance" is the same.

So what are we to make of Rossetti's "missing" music? If Rossetti is interested in art as performative process rather than material object, implying the presence of instruments in absentia is a logical move in emphasizing the two components of musical performance that I have identified. In creating this illusionary dimension, according to Schechner's theory, Rossetti transforms the viewer by pulling him/her into the space of the picture. Rossetti's literal doubling of images with and without instruments thus challenges the viewer to "fill in the blanks" by visualizing what he/she cannot see, thereby, in George Henry Lewes's words, "render[ing] the invisible visible by imagination." (28) In this case, the observer, convinced that an instrument should be included in the painting, searches in vain for what must surely simply be hidden, ultimately imagining the missing object and creating the musical context to complete the work. This act of imagination compels the viewer to adopt a participatory stance, essentially taking on the role of performer, but it also prolongs the intensity, and thus the length, of the viewing experience. But Rossetti's portrayals of performances (whether real, feigned, or imagined) also address issues of temporality in more complex ways. Since music is paradoxically both ephemeral (vanishing instantaneously) and enduring (expressed in time), a painting of a musical performance, Anne Leonard suggests, is a way of simultaneously fixing and extending a moment--that is, by "simulat[ing] a musical experience for the viewer..., the spatial art of painting feigns an appropriation, however brief, of music's duration" (p. 278). In essence, Rossetti models the temporal process of art itself through his depictions of performances, thus expanding measured chronological time through the act of perception.

Rossetti's exposure to contemporary debates on visual perception may have influenced his predisposition for imagining that which is absent as well as his conception of the audience's participation in the temporal process of art. Given that until the final years of the nineteenth century, a musical performance was always a live, and thus primarily a visual, experience, (29) this connection between aural listening and visual observation is not surprising; listening with the mind's ear is similar to seeing with the mind's eye in terms of perception and imagination. While it is difficult to determine the extent of Rossetti's involvement in the scientific culture of his day, (30) he was certainly acquainted with the new theories of color perception posited by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe because of his familiarity with British artist J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) and his friendship with John Ruskin, both of whom clearly endorsed Goethe's ideas. (31) The publication of Goethe's Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors) in 1810, a significant portion of which was translated into English in 1820 by British painter Charles Lock Eastlake, signaled a radical departure from Isaac Newton's theories of color and light. While Newton had argued that color was strictly a physical sensation resulting from the refraction of light striking objects and entering the observer's eyes, Goethe noted that the presence of color can still be perceived even in the absence of light, implying that the eye is the producer of optical experience rather than simply the receiver of stimuli. (32) Jonathan Crary argues that Goethe's observations had two important implications for paradigms of vision in the nineteenth century: temporality was introduced as a necessary component of visual perception and the "presence of sensation in the absence of a stimulus" granted "perceptual autonomy" to the observer. (33) Significantly, these two characteristics--temporality and the role of the observer (or listener/ reader) in constructing a work--are also the essential components of Rossetti's model of performance.

Victorian notions of aural perception also help to explain Rossetti's fascination with music's temporal framework and his emphasis on postures of performance and listening, whether implied or portrayed, in his paintings. New research in physics, acoustics, otology, and physiology identified sound, including its "special cases" speech and music, as a prominent field of study in terms of both theoretical analysis and practical application. (34) In response, as Jonathan Sterne explains, Victorians consciously "harnessed, modified, and shaped their powers of auditory perception" through "techniques of listening" (Sterne, p. 2). While hearing was understood as a physiological response, listening was viewed as a technical skill, originating within the specialized fields of medicine and telegraphy, but eventually becoming a universally accepted sign of good breeding and refinement among the middle class (Sterne, pp. 98-99). Helmholtz's On the Sensations of Tone placed the science of hearing/listening within the realm of musical aesthetics, since Helmholtz claimed that it was the "theory of the sensations of hearing" to which music must look for the "foundation of its structure." (35) As individuals became adept and practiced listeners, concert and opera audiences increasingly approached listening to music as a private, silent, intellectual activity rather than a forum for social interaction (Sterne, pp. 160-161). Concentrated listening, like focused viewing in an art gallery, required an audience's full attention and deliberate unhurried time. For Rossetti, listening thus signifies the audience's collaboration in the artistic process--Schechner's "transformation" accomplished as the audience fills in the gaps and completes the work.

In Veronica Veronese of 1872, Rossetti introduces a further complication into his paradigm of performance by addressing not only the relationship between performer and audience, but that between composer and performer as well. While we might suppose that the sequence of music moves from composition to notation to performance, Small argues that this is not the case; on the contrary, he notes, even the composing process stems from the performative act. He explains, "Composing begins when a performer, liking what he or she has just done, repeats it ... and tries to improve it so that a more or less fixed sequence of sounds ... crystallizes out from the flowing stream." Composing thus evolves out of performance and is subsumed back into it, since the purpose of any act of composition is to "facilitate perform[ance]" (Small, pp. 113-114). Rossetti explores this temporal relationship problem in Veronica Veronese, although he does not offer a definitive solution.

The painting sets up a complex series of oppositions revealed in three slightly different accounts of the sequence of events. According to Rossetti's biographer H. C. Marillier, the French inscription on the frame, which he attributed to either Rossetti or Swinburne, was written to acknowledge the lady who, "after listening to the notes of a bird, tries to commit them to paper, and finally to reproduce them on her violin." (36) This description identifies three musical parties or symbols: the bird as the composer, the written notation as the score, and the lady as the performer, with the viewer implied as the audience. However, the frame passage itself, translated, reads:
   Leaning sharply forward, Lady Veronica quickly jotted the first
   notes onto the virgin page. Then she picked up the bow of the
   violin to realize her dream; but before taking down the suspended
   instrument, she remained still for a few minutes listening to the
   inspiring bird, while her left hand wandered over the strings
   searching for the supreme, still elusive melody. It was the
   marriage of the voices of nature and the soul--the dawn of a
   mystic creation. (37)

Finally, in a letter to Frederick Leyland, Rossetti describes his intent in the painting in terms similar to those of the frame inscription---except that there is no mention of the musical page or the canary; instead, the woman is "arrested by the thought of the moment, when she [is] about to play." (38)

The addition of the notation and bird in the frame passage is significant in setting up the musical analogues, yet the sequential relationship among canary, notated music, lady, and violin (or composer, score, listener, and performer) is unclear. It is difficult to ascertain who or what fills the roles of composer, performer, and listener, or just what the relationship is between composition and performance. Is Lady Veronica composing her own melody or simply notating the song of the bird--and is this the "elusive" music she seeks? Has the canary's warbling provided the initial catalyst and material for her creative project, or has the bird, interrupting her in the midst of composition, simply inspired her to move from reverie to performance? Perhaps the written score has already been actualized in the melody of the bird, since the concept of a "marriage" of nature and soul suggests a synthesis--the kind of temporal fusion Rossetti was seeking. Significantly, the woman's head is framed both vertically and horizontally between the two instruments of music: the violin, representing potentiality, and the bird, signifying actualization. Just as the violin is "suspended" from its wall mounting, Veronica's song is suspended between concept and manifestation; in this case, her confinement by the writing desk, violin, curtain, and birdcage may symbolize the inability of her song to reach actualization, since her performance is merely suggested. The bird, however, appears to be perched outside the confines of the cage--that is, the bars of the cage are behind it and do not seem to restrict its movement or ability to fly to freedom in any way. Rossetti seems to suggest that the music, represented and ultimately realized by the canary, cannot be contained within the spatiotemporal boundaries of the chamber (or the painting) once the performative act has been initiated, but the specific progression of the temporal sequence is left for the viewer to interpret.

Rossetti's sonnet "The Day-Dream (For a Picture)" (1880), written in reference to the aforementioned painting with its "absent" instrument, similarly addresses the complexities in positing art as a process unfolding in time and space. The poem describes a bird "[p]erched dark" and "deep"--interestingly, a reference for which there is no counterpart in the accompanying art work. More importantly, this robin is further characterized as a song thrush whose melody is juxtaposed against the silence of nature.
   The thronged boughs of the shadowy sycamore
      Still bear young leaflets half the summer through;
      From when the robin 'gainst the unhidden blue
   Perched dark, till now, deep in the leafy core,
   The embowered throstle's urgent wood-notes soar
      Through summer silence. (ll. 1-6)

The visual opposition of the "unhidden blue" sky and the bird's concealment "deep in the leafy core" and the aural opposition of soaring "wood-notes" and "summer silence" underscore the importance of the presence-absence strategy favored by Rossetti. Curiously, the music comes "[f]rom when" the robin is perched, not from where, perhaps alluding to the intersection of temporal and spatial elements: the bird, a visible representation of music, is hidden within the boughs of the tree until his song, an audible manifestation of music, breaks out of the "shadowy sycamore," no longer confined by the spatial boundaries of branch, tree, poem, or painting. It is as if the music, implied by the woman's hand positions in the painting, has been actualized by the bird's performance in the poem. The aural and visual aspects of Rossetti's metaphor are thus represented not only by song and bird, but by painting and poem as well--a sort of doubling that defies genre boundaries in its performative approach. In the final lines of the poem, we read: "Lo! Tow'rd deep skies, not deeper than her look, / She dreams; till now on her forgotten book / Drops the forgotten blossom from her hand" (ll. 12-14). The "forgotten book" of both poem and painting may thus allude to the inadequacy of mere symbols on the page to represent the temporal process of art, particularly in light of the book's visual echo of the piece of unrealized sheet music in Veronica Veronese. (39)

As evidenced, the notion of performance is an integral component of much of Rossetti's poetry, both in the temporal unfolding of the poems as the reader progresses through them and in the complex relationship set up among poet, poem, and reader/audience. We might regard the poems as verbal elaborations, or doublings, of the performance issues introduced in the paintings. Just as Rossetti flattens the perspective of his paintings through nearly excessive detail in order to draw the viewer into the pictorial space, he often fills his poems with carefully constructed, but seemingly unrelated, images to force the reader into the poetic space. Pater describes this quality as "particularization" or "definition of outline" and cites it as one of Rossetti's defining characteristics. (40) As Richard Stein points out, Rossetti often uses language decoratively, choosing words individually for their sounds or allusive associations so that they seem to exist as "disembodied details," demanding that the reader participate in "decoding" the "puzzle." (41) Rossetti himself described the reader as the "most imperative" personality with which the poet must identify, adding that the relationship between poet and reader "must be a part of the very act of production." (42) Rossetti clearly regarded the reader as an essential and integral aspect of the process of poetic creation, participating in the poem's performance not as observer, but as co-constructor.

Rossetti's emphasis on process also helps explain his seemingly ambiguous approach to poetic form. He shows a marked affinity for formal structures, particularly the Petrarchan sonnet, consciously adhering to symmetrical rhyme and metrical schemes and carefully incorporating balanced oppositions, much as he does in the compositional format of his paintings. William Michael Rossetti wrote in a diary entry of May 27, 1869 that "[Rossetti's] practice with poetry is first to write the thing in the rough, and then to turn over dictionaries of rhyme and synonyms so as to bring the poem into the most perfect form." (43) Yet ultimately, Rossetti advises, sonnets should be judged solely on "the brains and the music" rather than adherence to particular structures. (44) Stein argues that Rossetti reconciles these two apparently contradictory positions by "insist[ing] on the importance of structure, to remind us that even the most seemingly spontaneous poetry is, by definition, artificial" and thus requires a "self-conscious" reader (p. 165). In effect, Rossetti makes no attempt to mask the artifice, but instead openly acknowledges the poem's performative function and the necessity of including the reader as part of the performance. (45) In Schechner's terms, Rossetti is simply using the artificialities of poetic prosody as another doubling strategy to create a transformative space for the reader.

Even Rossetti's lifelong habit of revision, applicable to both poems and paintings, may be viewed as a sort of dramatic performance; the continual refinements, reworkings, and reconstructions reveal his interest in a fluid artistic vision that is constantly in progress, yet never achieved in any final form. In a letter to Jane Morris dated August 30, 1869, Rossetti states that his poetic strategy is to "attain confidence first in the plan of any work" and then "to aim at rendering it faultless by repeated condensation and revision." (46) William Michael Rossetti, in a diary entry dated September 19, 1869, similarly referred to his brother's "system of verse-writing" as "Gabriel's continual revising of his old poems" (qtd. in Baum, p. 7). In the same vein, nearly fifty of his paintings might be counted as new performances of old material. (47)

The House of Life sequence is replete with terminology related to musical performance, including references to instruments (hautboy, harp, lute, monochord), performers (minstrel, daughters of the daybreak, bird, sirens), techniques (modulation, choral consonancy, wave, echoes, silence), and compositions (voluntary, air, tune, strain, song, ditties, dirges, vesper-song) in addition to musical titles ("Broken Music," "The Song-Throe," "The Monochord," "Death's Songsters"). Moreover, the course of love and its manifestation, one of the principal themes of The House of Life sonnets, is frequently described using musical metaphors; for example, it is equated with "married music" in "The Love-Letter" (XI.8), "rapturous undersong" in "Youth's Antiphony" (XIII.14), "sweet confederate music... fill[ing] full the echoing space" in "A Day of Love" (XVI.8, 7), "music's visible tone" in "Heart's Compass" (XXVII.5), and "sweet music welled" in "Broken Music" (XLVII.8). (48) Just as in the paintings, music (the presence of sound) and silence (its absence) are often coupled in unusual and imaginative ways. In "Silent Noon" (XIX), the speaker describes the pastoral scene as "visible silence," and the lovers' moment of shared joy as "[t]his close-companioned inarticulate hour / When twofold silence was the song of love" (ll. 8, 13-14). Similarly, in "Her Gifts" (XXXI), the poet refers to his beloved's mouth as "imply[ing] / All music and all silence held thereby" (ll. 6-7). Even in sonnets expressing loss, such as "Stillborn Love" (LV), unrealized love (in this case, a reference to Rossetti's stillborn child) is expressed as a force that, although "mute," "hears" from afar the sounds of "choral constancy" (ll. 6, 7, 8)--another striking juxtaposition of sound and silence.

But Rossetti's interest in performative constructs goes far beyond his overt musical imagery and allusions. The artist's focus on musical instruments to represent an aesthetic ideal finds a poetic corollary in the frequent repetition of the sea as a symbolic landscape feature. While such an emphasis may reflect Rossetti's preference for imagery evoking the immensity or incomprehensible nature of the universe, the choice is also suggestive in terms of its musical analogue: the sea, much like music itself, is a spatiotemporal construct of sound without perceptible boundaries. In a theoretical sense, of course, the sound of the sea does not constitute music; indeed, Victorian Edmund Gumey, rehearsing Helmholtz's arguments, classified all non-tonal sounds, including everything in nature, as "noises." (49) But because sound functions as the musical element of poetry in its creation of aural patterns, the sea, when viewed as an agent of sound, offers striking allusive possibilities. Although music had historically been regarded as a temporal art, (50) Rossetti's frequent employment of the sea as a symbol suggests his conception of music not only as sound that occurs in time, but as sound that fills space. (51)

"The Sea-Limits," first published in The Germ in 1850 and included as the final work in the House of Life "Songs" section of the 1870 Poems, is a fine example of the way in which Rossetti uses the sound of the sea to suggest the temporal unfolding and fusion of time and space essential to a performative construct, even when there is no specific mention of music. The first three lines introduce the theme of the poem--the sea as a symbol for the enigmatic continuity of existence--and set up the musical analogy.
   Consider the sea's listless chime:
   Time's self it is, made audible,--
   The murmur of the earth's own shell. (ll. 1-3)

The move towards performance is readily apparent: the notion of time unfolding is materially manifest in the rhythm of the sea, just as the temporal progression of the poem (its performance) is actualized through the "audibility" of its rhythmic and sonic structures. Moreover, the cyclical patterns of human experience are suggested by the repetitive "chim[ing]" of images and sounds throughout the poem; sound, in fact, is the foundation of both thematic content and technical execution in the work. As the poem continues, the recurring alliterative and sibilant "s" sounds, echoing the sound of the water, function as a sort of drone musical backdrop for the poet's exploration of the fundamental questions of mortality:
   Secret continuance sublime
   Is the sea's end: our sight may pass
     No furlong further. Since time was,
     This sound hath told the lapse of time. (ll. 4-7)

The symmetrical abbacca rhyme pattern of this first stanza (and of each of the succeeding stanzas) calls attention to the thematic importance of the words ending lines 1, 4, and 7: we note that it is the "chime" of "time" that is "sublime."

We read that the sound of the waves has continued to mark "the lapse of time" since "time was," indicating that there is no beginning and no end to the repetitive patterns that constitute existence (or that comprise the poem itself); indeed, the sea's most noteworthy quality, as we are told in the second stanza, is its power of "[e]nduring" as it repeatedly tolls out its "painful pulse" (ll. 10, 12). The speaker (or artist) completes this reiterative soundscape by adding a spatial component in the final two lines of the stanza: "Last utterly, the whole sky stands, / Grey and not known, along its path" (ll. 13-14). While the "whole sky ... not known" certainly alludes to the incomprehensible nature of the universe, it also points to Rossetti's recognition of the spatial dimension of sound--a notion that is underscored by Rossetti's double play on the word "lapse" (l. 7) as that which pauses in time while paradoxically marking distance ("laps").

In the third stanza, the reader is encouraged to listen to the sounds of both the sea and the woods. We are told that ultimately these two "voices," characterized as "twin solitudes," will resonate as "one sound alike," suggesting the presence of music:
   Listen alone beside the sea,
      Listen alone among the woods;
      Those voices of twin solitudes
   Shall have one sound alike to thee:
      Hark where the murmurs of thronged men
      Surge and sink back and surge again,--
   Still the one voice of wave and tree. (ll. 15-21)

The juxtaposition of "solitude" and "sound" in this stanza is significant in terms of the spatiotemporal construct that comprises music, since "solitude" is usually regarded as an element of place, whereas "sound" is associated with time. Additionally, if the sea signifies existence in time, and the woods symbolize a presence in space, the fact that their voices are "twins" with "one sound alike" suggests that, in reality, there is no difference between the two realms, which simply function as two halves of the same whole ("the one voice of wave and tree"). Again, Rossetti's double play on the word "wave" in reference to both sea and sound calls attention to the poem's musical overtones and reinforces the performative construct.

In the final stanza, the speaker again urges the reader to listen, but this time it is to the sound of the sea (the "secret" of line 4 and the "echo" of the "sea's speech" in line 25) contained within the hard outer covering of the seashell.
   Gather a shell from the strown beach
      And listen at its lips: they sigh
      The same desire and mystery,
   The echo of the whole sea's speech.
      And all mankind is thus at heart
      Not anything but what thou art:
   And Earth, Sea, Man, are all in each. (ll. 22-28)

The obvious connection between the seashell of line 22 and the "earth's own shell" of the first stanza creates the poem's own cycle of regeneration and points to the interlocking patterns of repetition (the words sea, shell, time, murmur, listen, surge, sound, whole, heart, earth, and men/man recurring in multiple lines and stanzas) that reinforce the performative prosody of the poem. Significantly, the shell of the final stanza functions metonymically as an "echo of the whole sea's speech," representing the entirety of the ocean and, in turn, the unity of existence, but also suggesting the echoing patterns of "speech" presented throughout the poem--"murmurs" that "[s]urge and sink back and surge again" (l. 20) in an endless cycle. The poem's final line suggests that perhaps the shell's "secret," then, is the notion that in the end, there really are no "limits" (spatial or temporal bounds) to the earth, sea, or human experience; all three are subsumed within an endless circle of universal consciousness. As the poem, and thus the performance, ends, we are simply back to its beginning in the chiming of the sea.

From the outset, the poem's structure presupposes the involvement of the reader in the process of creation. The opening invitation to an implied auditor to "[c]onsider the sea" (l. 1) acknowledges the reader's forthcoming role in the experience/poem and employs the characteristic frame for a dramatic monologue, the most "performative" of all Victorian poetic genres. The third and fourth stanzas begin in a similar fashion, as the listener/reader is asked to "[l]isten alone" and then to "[g]ather a shell" (ll. 15, 22). The chain of thought thus moves from contemplation ("consider") to passive activity ("listen") to full participation ("gather"), suggesting an increasingly active role on the part of the reader as a co-creator of the experience and of the poem. As noted, the performative stance of the poem is also underscored by Rossetti's focus on its sonic components: musical allusions appear throughout in the words chime, audible, murmur, sound, quiet, pulse, listen, voice, wave, and echo, and the sounds of the language are used to create a musical cadence and temper the pace of the poem. More importantly, however, Rossetti's understanding of music as a philosophical concept underlies the poem's exploration of the synthesis of spatial and temporal realms into one unity--the harmony of experience represented in the reader's perception of the sea's (and the poem's) cyclic process of performance. As Helsinger argues, Rossetti's poetry ultimately suggests that "aesthetic perception--listening for and through the music of poetry--can grasp something otherwise elusive about the nature of time and space" (Helsinger, p. 418).

Much like the paintings that imply an instrument or a performance, but do not actually depict one, Rossetti's sonnet "The Monochord" (LXXIX) (1870) uses the image of a monochord as a structural and symbolic construct, but does not actually refer to it outside of the title. William Michael Rossetti claimed that Theodore Watts told him the idea for the sonnet came to Rossetti "on an occasion when he was listening to music," resulting in the adoption of the musical title "monochord." (52) Although the poem's text was later revised for inclusion in The House of Life, its subtitle "Written During Music," connecting the work with temporal process and the earlier poem "During Music," was retained unaltered from the original version. (53)

The attribution of the monochord's invention to Pythagoras and its emphasis on acoustics, tuning, and mathematical ratios make it an especially rich symbol in conjunction with Rossetti's aesthetic project. (54) Appropriately, the monochord is both an actual instrument and an ideal of harmonic proportion, thus simultaneously representing the material and the conceptual. In addition, until about 1700, the monochord was frequently used to represent the unity (deriving from its single string) between mankind and the universe (55)--a connection Rossetti would surely have considered in light of the poem's focus on universal questions of existence. The poem is divided, much like the monochord's single string, into four questions, although none of them is answered. In contrast to the measured, controlled intervals produced on the monochord, the questions themselves are of cosmic proportions, dealing with enigmatic issues of life and death. The ultimate question, paradoxically, is whether human experience can be contained or bound--in this case, by death--or if, as an alternative, artistic vision provides the power to transcend the confines of material existence.

Despite its apparent absence in "The Monochord," music functions as an important structural element through implication and allusion. The poem's first line once again combines the visual and aural metaphors of sky (the "vast vault") and sea ("ocean's sound"), and both are evocations of the immensity and incomprehensibility of space and time:
   Is it this sky's vast vault or ocean's sound
      That is Life's self and draws my life from me,
      And by instinct ineffable decree
   Holds my breath quailing on the bitter bound? (ll. 1-4)

Significantly, in Rossetti's original 1870 version of the poem, the opening line read, "Is it the moved air or the moving sound," alluding even more strongly to the poem's musical connections in the references to "air" (a melody or musical composition) and "moving sound" (Rossetti Archive).

The poem's movement from the speaker's (and thus the reader's) state of confusion and uncertainty to one of tentative solace highlights the temporal process of art. The opening question may be interpreted in two different contexts, referring either to the power of art (suggested by the material evocation of landscape) or the power of the universe (suggested by the immensity of space and time) to sap the life and energy of the artist (to "draw ... my life from me"). Either way, the question expresses a state of despair as the speaker is, by "ineffable decree"--a power beyond words--left "quailing on the bitter bound." Ultimately, this bleak framing of the situation is rejected (indicated by the "[n]ay" beginning line 5) and replaced by the second question, which in turn becomes a reformulation or transformation of the first--another indication of the poem's/poet's focus on process:
   Nay, is it Life or Death, thus thunder-crown'd,
      That 'mid the tide of all emergency
      Now notes my separate wave, and to what sea
   Its difficult eddies labour in the ground? (ll. 5-8)

The new question or framing is more bounded and tempers the overwhelming despondency of the first three lines through a recognition of the importance of the individual within the greater human context of "Life or Death." In this case, the speaker observes that despite the incomprehensibility of the universal struggle, his/her "separate wave" and to "what sea" it "labour[s] in the ground" is now "note[d]," with wave, ground, and notes alluding to the implied music. The relationship of parts to whole, or individual experience to overall human or cosmic consciousness, is especially significant in light of the monochord metaphor: the string is divided both visually and aurally, but symbolizes an overall unity of balance and sound.

The sestet initiates a pronounced shift in tone as the poem progresses towards the climax and resolution of its performance.
   Oh! what is this that knows the road I came,
   The flame turned cloud, the cloud returned to flame,
      The lifted shifted steeps and all the way?--
   That draws round me at last this wind-warm space,
   And in regenerate rapture turns my face
      Upon the devious coverts of dismay? (ll. 9-14)

The beginning phrase of line 9 ("Oh! what is this") becomes the syntactic frame for both the third and fourth questions, suggesting the monochord's principle of division and harmony through the structural derivation of two questions from one set of words. The speaker still seeks the identity of the operative power in his/her life, but now focuses more intently on his/her particular pathway ("the road I came") as a reflection of the uniqueness of individual experience.

The poem's final question moves to an evocation of the restorative energy as a "wind-warm space"--a synesthetic fusion of sound and sight that "draws round" instead of "draw[ing] from" (ll. 12, 2; italics mine). (56) Because this higher force now gives rather than takes, it provides "regenerate rapture" to repel "devious ... dismay." What began as a destructive power that drains and inhibits artistic creativity has now been reconfigured as a revitalizing source of comfort and solace, reflected in the speaker's (and the poem's) movement from a position of tenuous inquiry ("Is it[?]") to one of rejection ("Nay") to one of optimistic affirmation ("Oh!"), in each case indicated by the opening word of the question. Although technically the poem ends in a question, the final lines are thus presented as a statement and a solution. If the restorative creative force (the "this" of line 9) is art (specifically, poetry), the sonnet ultimately "draws round" itself and regenerates through its own performance, thereby forging its identity as one harmonious vibration of sound in an almost literal way. In essence, the sonnet becomes the monochord through the reader's process of interpretation. Just as the reader imagines the missing instruments in the paintings, he/she must create the monochord (significantly, another instrument) and complete the poem through the act of reading.

Rossetti's poem "For an Allegorical Dance of Women by Andrea Mantegna" (1849) refers directly to music, although its subject is dance--appropriately, another art form that exists only through a temporal process of performance. Rossetti's cryptic statement that "this picture would appear to have been in the artist's mind an allegory, which the modern spectator may seek vainly to interpret" (57) suggests that it is not the painting's allegory that resists explanation, but rather Rossetti's poem. Just as the viewer wrestles with Mantegna's visual puzzle, the reader works to decipher the poem's elusive meaning, thereby participating symbolically in the dancers' performance as a co-creator of the poetic work.

The opening lines indicate that the aesthetic moment of elucidation is achieved only through a coalescence of time (hearing the music) and space (seeing the rocks and sea).
   Scarcely, I think; yet it indeed may be
      The meaning reached him, when this music rang
      Clear through his frame, a sweet possessive pang,
   And he beheld these rocks and that ridged sea. (ll. 1-4)

The specificity of "this music," "these rocks," and "that sea," particularly in contrast to the non-referential "him" and "it," suggests a particular experience that causes an emotional response. Moreover, the music, signaling "meaning," rings "through his frame"--a double allusion to the body of the figure/artist/ viewer/reader and to the literal frame of the painting. If the word "frame" refers to the physical boundary, the notion of enclosure explored in the paintings becomes particularly relevant; as in The Blue Bower, once the visual and aural are combined, the meaning (or music) can no longer be restricted within any spatial constraints. As in Veronica Veronese, it is unclear whether music is the catalyst for meaning or the embodiment of meaning. Is it the physical experience of hearing the music and seeing the rocks that brings Mantegna, Rossetti, the viewer, or the reader to the point of illumination with an aesthetic response, or is it the music itself, symbolizing the coalescence of meaning, that contains the "secret of the wells of Life" (l. 12) and translates mere suggestions into textual forms?

In the following lines, the speaker indicates that the enigmatic "he" understands in a moment of impression (feeling the hair) rather than through intellectual means (tracing the number of feet--either those of the dancers or those of the poetic line--or knowing the dancers):
   But I believe that, leaning tow'rds them, he
      Just felt their hair carried across his face
      As each girl passed him; nor gave ear to trace
   How many feet; nor bent assuredly
   His eyes from the blind fixedness of thought
      To know the dancers. It is bitter glad
         Even unto tears. (ll. 5-11)

This momentary epiphany does not, however, indicate full comprehension; on the contrary, its "meaning" remains "secret":
          Its meaning filleth it,
        A secret of the wells of Life: to wit:--
      Theheart's each pulse shall keep the sense it had
   With all, though the mind's labour run to nought. (ll. 11-14)

The speaker suggests that although the wells (linked with the "tears" of line 11) are full, we apprehend this fullness only in terms of what is missing: the void, the lack, and the silence--an interesting parallel with Rossetti's paintings in which the presence of music is implied, paradoxically, through its absence.

The visual placement of "to wit" in line 12, offset as it is by two colons and a dash, sets the poem up for the explanation we expect in the final couplet, yet are ultimately denied. Just as the meaning fills space and time, but can never be fully accessed, the experience of pure feeling ("the sense it had") remains in the heart, but can never be intellectually understood or processed, since "the mind's labour run[s] to nought." The opposition between "each pulse" (significantly, a musical term) of the heart and the cumulative "all" of the final lines suggests that the overall impression is retained only in individual moments of sensation, so that in the end, the only enduring presence is pure experience. The temporal nature of experience (the process of art) is further emphasized by the fact that this is a sonnet composed in response to the poet's experience of viewing the painting, subsequently replicated in the reader's experience of deciphering the poem. Rossetti has thus effectively doubled (or tripled) the performative space, thereby, as Schechner suggests, presenting the reader with multiple alternatives for interpretation. The "music" of the poem, then, brings out the power of the iconographic symbols on the page by translating them into an aesthetic experience for the reader--the artistic process I have identified as performance.

As an art form dependent upon a temporal process for its existence and the participation of a listener for its completion, music provides a unique philosophical and structural paradigm for Rossetti's explorations into the temporal process of art. His framing of image and text in terms of musical performance constitutes a theoretical response to questions about the spatiotemporal dimensions of art and the collaborative relationship between artist and audience. If, as Schechner argues, performance is really a strategy of transformation directed towards engendering change in the observer, Rossetti's employment of performative constructs points to his efforts to open up multiple avenues for creating or deciphering meaning in a work of art. While he does not always provide definitive answers to the performance issues he raises, he does contribute significantly to the discourse of aestheticism in Victorian Britain in framing art not as a material object, but as an interpretive process--one in which we, as his audience, must ultimately "fill in the blanks."


(1) See Dianne Sachko Macleod, "Rossetti's Two Ligeias: Their Relationship to Visual Art, Music, and Poetry," Victorian Poetry 20, nos. 3-4 (Autumn-Winter 1982): 89-102; Kirsten H. Powell, "Object, Symbol, and Metaphor: Rossetti's Musical Imagery," The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 2 (1993): 16-29; Suzanne Fagence Cooper, "Aspiring to the Condition of Music: Painting in Britain 1860-1900," in Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies, vol. 2, ed. Jeremy Dibble and Bennett Zon (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate, 2002), pp. 251-277; Suzanne Fagence Cooper, "Playing the Organ in Pre-Raphaelite Paintings," Music in Art 29, nos. 1-2 (Spring/ Fall 2004): 151-170; Henry Johnson, "Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Japan: The Musical Instrument Depicted in The Blue Bower and A Sea Spell," Music in Art 30, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Fall 2005): 145-153; Phyllis Weliver, "The 'Silent Song' of D. G. Rossetti's The House of Life," in The Figure of Music in Nineteenth-Century British Poetry, ed. Phyllis Weliver (Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005), pp. 194-212; Karen Yuen, "Instruments of Ambivalence: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Aural Anxiety after 1860," in Victorian Soundscapes Revisited, ed. Martin Hewitt and Rachel Cowgill (Leeds: Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, 2007), pp. 145-160; Elizabeth Helsinger, Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2008); Elizabeth Helsinger, "Listening: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Persistence of Song," Victorian Studies 51, no. 3 (Spring 2009): 409-421; Angela Leighton, "On 'the hearing ear': Some Sonnets of the Rossettis," Victorian Poetry 47, no. 3 (Fall 2009): 505-516; Alexander Wong, "D. G. Rossetti's Transfigured Life: 'With Compassed Mysteries Musical,'" The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 20 (Fall 2011): 25-42; Jorge L. Contreras, "Poetics and Layers of Meaning in Rossetti's Forced Music," Victorian Poetry 50, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 189-205.

(2) Christopher Small, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1998), p. 4.

(3) Henry Treffry Dunn, Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and His Circle (Cheyne Walk Life), ed. Gale Pedrick with prefatory note by William Michael Rossetti (1904; repr. New York: AMS Press, 1971), pp. 27-28.

(4) I do not mean to imply that Rossetti was the first to suggest the concept of art as a process requiring a listener/reader. As Anne Leonard points out, the German Romantics, including Novalis, Schelling, and Schlegel, had already explored a similar idea with regard to poetry, while Schopenhauer's concept of music as a "projection of the Will" posited the listener as a "quasi-generator of music." "Picturing Listening in the Late Nineteenth Century," The Art Bulletin 89, no. 2 (June 2007): 276. Novalis wrote: "The true reader must be an extended form of the author," while Schlegel stated that a book is incomplete without the contributions of its readers. A. Leslie Willson, ed., German Romantic Criticism (New York: Continuum, 1982), pp. 68, 119-120.

(5) The Philosophy of Music, 6th ed. with intro, by Edward J. Dent (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1924), p. 1. Pole continues, "Whenever music becomes a matter of public interest, as in concerts and operas, performance is the principal attraction; nearly all the eminent musicians whom the public know, they know only as performers; and the great mass of musical teaching and learning that goes on in private has performance in view, and nothing more" (p. 2).

(6) Richard Schechner, Performance Theory, rev. and expanded ed. (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 70 (italics mine). Schechner differentiates between "drama" (the written text or musical score), "script" (the transmission of the drama/score), "theater" (the performative event itself), and "performance" (the interaction of performers and audience), with performance including and subsuming all of the other domains (pp. 70-71).

(7) Alice Rayner, "The Audience: Subjectivity, Community and the Ethics of Listening," Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 7, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 6, 20. Rayner distinguishes among the audience modes of the "I," the "we," the "you," and the "it," but suggests that each of these roles similarly requires the listener's involvement (pp. 7, 11, 13).

(8) Schechner notes that his theory of performance contrasts with that of Victor Turner, who locates the "essential drama in conflict and conflict resolution" (p. 191).

(9) Schechner, pp. 191-192. Schechner posits music as only one of many possible make-believe "doubling" mechanisms for transformation. Other elements of staging, such as costumes, masks, gestures, and incantations, can also serve the same purpose.

(10) The Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1911; repr. New York: Adler's Foreign Books, 1972), "During Music," ll. 5-8.

(11) Jerome McGann, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game That Must Be Lost (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2003), pp. 72, 67.

(12) Helsinger, p. 409. See also Leighton, "On 'the hearing ear.'"

(13) To view The Blue Bower, see All Rossetti art works can also be viewed on the Rossetti Archive at

(14) The koto typically has only thirteen strings and the movable bridges are not placed equidistant. Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (New York: Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1984), p. 466. Johnson, p. 148.

(15) According to Dunn, his collection included instruments "old and mostly stringed--mandolines [sic], lutes, dulcimers, barbarous-looking things of Chinese fashioning which I imagine would have been a great trial to the nerves to hear played upon" (p. 27). Johnson suggests that Rossetti might have seen examples of Japanese instruments at the Great Exhibition of 1862, which included 623 items of Japanese art sent from Edo by Sir Rutherford Alcock; in fact, Johnson argues, he may even have acquired an actual koto and used it in his painting (pp. 150-151). A. J. Hipkins claimed that a "small Japanese 'goto'" was sold with a mandolin "at the sale of Rossetti's effects." He mentions that it was "played by the Japanese with plectra," so it is probable that he is referring to the koto. "The Musical Instruments in Rossetti's Pictures," The Musical Review: A Weekly Musical Journal, January 13, 1883, p. 27.

(16) I do not mean to suggest that Rossetti's motive for incorporating musical instruments into his paintings was purely aesthetic. As Dianne Sachko Macleod points out, Rossetti was well aware of the commercial appeal of musical instruments as decorative objects, particularly in the works marketed to Frederick Leyland (an amateur musician). But, as Macleod notes, Rossetti's nod to the commercial market does not preclude his use of instruments for other purposes, including as a representation of "the poetic, or ideal element in his aesthetic" (pp. 98-99, 101).

(17) Walter Pater, "Dante Gabriel Rossetti," in Walter Pater: Three Major Texts (The Renaissance, Appreciations, and Imaginary Portraits), ed. with intro. by William E. Buckler (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 532-533).

(18) To view A Sea-Spell, see

(19) The positive organ also requires two players to operate: one to pump the bellows and the other to play the keyboard (Cooper, "Playing the Organ," p. 157). The angel in this portrayal is kissing Cecilia and is in no position to pump, even if bellows were visibly present.

(20) An arpanetta is typically placed "with the shortest strings at closest reach." Alexander Pilipczuk, "Arpanetta," Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, accessed 17 June 2011, The triple-ranked harp did not appear in the British Isles until the seventeenth century and was still considered a novelty (Sadie, pp. 140, 144-145).

(21) To view The Bower Meadow, see search-the-collection/mcgweb/objects/common/webmedia.php?irn=303. To view The Merciless Lady, see

(22) Hipkins points out that the tortoise-shell belly of the seven-stringed lyre held in the woman's right hand would have "marred the tone, notwithstanding the box-like bridge"--in other words, the instrument as depicted would not be capable of producing sound (p. 27).

(23) William Michael Rossetti states that although the Rossettis "were not a musical family," they did attend the opera on a semi-regular basis. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti (London, 1889), 1:188. In addition, Rossetti mentions visiting the Crystal Palace at Sydenham (see William E. Fredeman, ed., The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2002-present], 2:54.60), which housed displays of instruments and provided venues for orchestral concerts. Michael Musgrave, The Musical Life of the Crystal Palace (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995), pp. 20, 29, 67-81. Karen Yuen notes the "explosion of musical activity" in Britain during Rossetti's lifetime, including the increasingly sophisticated concert life, the establishment of music societies, the growth of instrument making and music publishing, the proliferation of music journals, and the frequent reporting on music in the general press, as evidence that the author-artist could not help but be exposed to music on a day-to-day basis. Karen Yuen, "Bound by Sound: Music, Victorian Masculinity and Dante Gabriel Rossetti," Critical Survey 20, no. 3 (2008): 79-80. Similarly, Leanne Langley points out that there were approximately 200 English music journals in circulation during the nineteenth century, as well as significant numbers of music reports (essays, book reviews, and musical analyses) in the general press. English audiences were, according to Langley, "the most broadly sophisticated musical consumers in Europe," with a concert life that was "more advanced than that of either Paris or Vienna." It was thus highly likely that Rossetti was informed as to basic musical practices. "The Musical Press in Nineteenth-Century England," Notes 46, no. 3 (March 1990): 584-585.

(24) To view How They Met Themselves, see img/pdp/pdp2/1424.jpg. To view St. Cecilia, see moxons-tennyson-saint-cecilia/.

(25) To view The Day-Dream, see gabriel/. To view Veronica Veronese, see http:// To view A Christmas Carol (1867), see

(26) To view My Lady Greensleeves, see To view La Ghirlandata, see

(27) To view Girl with a Musical Instrument, see musical-instrument/. To view Study of a Girl Eating Cherries, see

(28) George Henry Lewes, "The Principles of Success in Literature," in Rosemary Ashton, ed., Versatile Victorian: Selected Writings of George Henry Lewes (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1992), p. 229. Helsinger similarly describes Rossetti's attempt to achieve a "heightened imaginative perception" by using art as a "guided incitement to attend to both what is and what is not ... within the grasp of the senses" (Poetry and the Pre-Raphaelite Arts: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2008], p. 25. As Kate Flint points out, the increasing ability of the camera lens and the microscope to reveal what the human eye could not see ironically underscored the importance of imagining with the mind's eye (The Victorians and the Visual Imagination [New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000], pp. 30, 62-63).

(29) Leonard, p. 267. See also Alisa Clapp-Itnyre, Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs: Music as Social Discourse in the Victorian Novel (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 2002), pp. xxiv-xxv. The early phonograph (a home recording device) was first mentioned by the English press in January of 1878; the first recording of a public concert in England was made on June 29, 1888 at the Handel Festival in the Crystal Palace (John Picker, Victorian Soundscapes [New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003], pp. 112-113, 119).

(30) Scientific knowledge was disseminated in Britain primarily through the popular press in newspapers, periodicals, and journals, a large number of which Rossetti read. Laura Otis, "Introduction," in Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology, ed. with intro, by Laura Otis (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), pp. xvii, xix. Rossetti's letters mention British Quarterly, Fraser's Magazine, National Review, London Review, Spectator, Telegraph, Shilling Magazine, Morning Post, Saturday Review, Fortnightly, Westminster Review, New Monthly Magazine, Academy, Athenaeum, Contemporary Review, and Pall Mall (see Fredeman, vols. 1-5 from 1854 to 1871).

(31) Like Goethe, Turner was interested in the importance of the observer in constructing the presence of nature through the structural laws of color, evidenced in his painting Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) (1843). Michael Bockemuhl, J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851): The World of Light and Colour, trans. Michael Claridge (Cologne: Taschen, 2000), pp. 61, 84, 92. In his treatise "The Elements of Drawing" (1857), Ruskin, too, noted the importance of the observer's active role in visual cognition, stating: "The perception of solid Form is entirely a matter of experience. We see nothing but flat colours.... The whole technical power of painting depends on our recovery of what may be called the innocence of the eye." The Works of John Ruskin (London: George Allen, 1903-12), 15:27.

(32) Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Goethe's Theory of Colours, trans, with notes by Charles Lock Eastlake, repr. (New York: Gordon Press, 1975), pp. 20-21, 16-17. Similarly, Johannes Muller, whose writings laid the foundation for much of the mid-nineteenth-century work in physiological optics, proposed that an observer could perceive the presence of light even in its absence. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), pp. 89-90.

(33) Crary, p. 98. Scientific research on afterimages also resulted in the invention of a host of optical devices, the stereoscope being the most significant, with broad popular appeal as forms of entertainment in Victorian culture (pp. 104-124). While Rossetti's letters reveal that his mother owned a stereoscope (Fredeman, Correspondence, 3:63.36), his acquaintance with other optical devices of his day is a matter of conjecture. He does mention attending the International Exhibition in Paris and the Crystal Palace Exhibit at Sydenham, where he would have had ready access to the latest innovations in visual perception. See Fredeman, 2:55.54, 55.57, 55.58, 54.60.

(34) Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 2003), pp. 23, 42. See also Picker for an illuminating discussion of the role of sound in Victorian life.

(35) Hermann Helmholtz, On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music, 2nd English ed., trans, from the 4th German ed. by Alexander J. Ellis, intro. by Henry Margenau (New York: Dover, 1954), p. 4.

(36) Marillier claimed that although the subject for the painting, as conveyed in the French inscription, was purportedly taken from The Letters of Girolamo Ridolfi, such a work probably never existed. Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Illustrated Memorial of His Art and Life (London, 1899), p. 171.

(37) Translation is my own. Original French text found in Virginia Surtees, The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonne (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 1:128.

(38) Val C. Prinsep,"A Collector's Correspondence,"Art Journal (1892): 250.

(39) The book also connects the act of listening with that of reading, both functions of an "audience." See Garrett Stewart, The Look of Reading: Book, Painting, Text (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 2006).

(40) Pater, "Dante Gabriel Rossetti," p. 530. See also, Herbert Tucker, "Of Monuments and Moments: Spacetime in Nineteenth-Century Poetry," Modern Language Quarterly 58, no. 3 (September 1997): 269-297, for an illuminating discussion of Rossetti's poetic strategy of "shape-shifting" as a corollary to his attention to surface detail in his paintings.

(41) Richard L. Stein, The Ritual of Interpretation: The Fine Arts as Literature in Ruskin, Rossetti, and Pater (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 188, 196.

(42) Quoted in William Sharp, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Record and a Study, repr. ed. (New York: AMS Press, 1970), p. 406.

(43) Quoted in Paull Franklin Baum, ed., The House of Life: A Sonnet-Sequence by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, intro, and notes by Paull Franklin Baum (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1928), p. 7.

(44) T. Hall Caine, Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Boston: Roberts Bros., 1898), p. 248.

(45) One of the most obvious examples of his interest in artificial poetic constructs occurs in Rossetti's poem "Chimes" (1871), in which any sense of narration is lost in the chains of alliterative "refrains," noteworthy primarily for their musical quality. Each stanza is organized around one letter of the alphabet and one principal word (honey, bee, butterfly, love, beauty, buried, hurry), which is then gradually transformed throughout the eight lines of the stanza into every possible textual variation. Phrases and compound words recur throughout each verse, but generally in slightly different syntactic orders and combinations, creating an "echo" effect through the interlocking patterns. The poem is clearly meant as a technical tour-de-force--a performance--to demonstrate Rossetti's skill in manipulating meter, rhyme, and language.

(46) Fredeman, Correspondence, 2:69.143.

(47) David Wayne Thomas, "Replicas and Originality: Picturing Agency in Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Victorian Manchester," Victorian Studies 43, no. 1 (Autumn 2000): 72.

(48) Sonnet numberings are taken from the House of Life sequence published as part of the Ballads and Sonnets of 1881.

(49) Edmund Gurney, The Power of Sound (1880), intro, by Edward T. Cone (New York: Basic Books, 1966), p. 27.

(50) In 1781 Jean-Jacques Rousseau had firmly insisted that "the domain of music is time; that of painting is space." "Essay on the Origin of Languages," in On the Orion of Language, trans. John H. Moran and Alexander Gode (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1966), p. 62.

(51) As Tucker observes, Victorians typically conflated time and space, evidenced, for example, in their obsession with railway timetables that illustrated how "temporal succession might be laid out visibly as a spatial field translating minutes into miles." Similarly, geological formations were viewed as a spatial representation of the passage of time, while astronomical space was perceived to be a temporal construct (something destined to "end") (pp. 270-271).

(52) William Michael Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Designer and Writer (London, 1889), p. 240.

(53) Jerome McGann, general ed. Rossetti Archive (Charlottesville, VA: Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia, 1992--). http://

(54) Yuen notes that Rossetti may have become acquainted with Pythagorean theories of music, widely published and disseminated in France, during his 1840s trips to Paris and Boulogne, or through his father's interest in Pythagorean mysticism ("Bound by Sound," p. 84).

(55) Cecil Adkins, "The Monochord," Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed 25 February 2006,

(56) Jerome McGann notes Rossetti's play on the numerous definitions and uses of "draw" in the poem, observing that the poet is simultaneously "drawing" analogies between iconic and textual modes of expression to imbue the poem with multiple layers of meaning (Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game, p. 81). The artistic connotations of the word "draw" connect it with the word "ground" (significantly, also a musical term) in line 8, suggesting that the sonnet's project is to define the ideal "ground" that Rossetti believes underscores all artistic experience. McGann, Rossetti Archive. The use of the word "notes" in line 7 frames music within the equation, conflating visual and aural images into one unified whole represented by the image of the monochord.

(57) Quoted in Stein, p. 137.
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Author:Wood, Lorraine
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Dec 22, 2013
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