View from

Rossetti’s Notebook (1862-1869)

(La Ghirlandata (detail), 1873, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery)

“Nonetheless, a worm/had eaten its way through any number/of Gabriel’s lines, some of his best./He had to reconstruct them from memory,/or compose them anew.”

Gabriel tucked his manuscript book

of poems into Lizzie Siddal’s coffin,

just before the interment. Yes,

she had probably killed herself,

though Gabriel’s friends had made

away with whatever note

she had written. The black dog

of melancholy had long had its teeth

in her; her child had come stillborn;

and Gabriel’s attentions—as always—

had been divided. Of all the things

that distracted him from Lizzie—

the painful progress of his art,

the nights out on the town

with Solomon and little Swinburne,

the beautiful models—it was easiest

to regret the poems he had spent

so many hours working and reworking.

So many of them, too, had been addressed

to her. A sacrifice was called for,

and Gabriel offered up the manuscript

book. It was the least he could do.


Seven years later he had second thoughts.

The poems in that notebook, he knew,

were among his best, and he had

no other copies of them. A man

in London was ready to print his work,

if he had enough to make a proper book.

It was what Lizzie would have wanted,

his friends assured him. Strings were pulled.

Gabriel was far away when the grave

was opened and the notebook rescued.

All in the coffin was found quite perfect,

reported the factotum into whose hands

the business had been entrusted. Did he mean

Lizzie’s pale skin was still smooth, her hair

still the auburn-gold curtain that once

entranced Gabriel, Millais, and Holman Hunt?

Probably not: just that no one had been there

first. The book came to Gabriel

some days later, still damp and reeking

of disinfectant. Lizzie had held it close,

protected it. Nonetheless, a worm

had eaten its way through any number

of Gabriel’s lines, some of his best.

He had to reconstruct them from memory,

or compose them anew.


Mark Scroggins’s first four books of poetry and selections of other work have been collected in Damage: Poems 1988-2022, which was released with Dos Madres Press in 2022. He is at work on a long serial poem, the first section of which, Zion Offramp 1-50, was published last year with MadHat Press. Zion Offramp 51-100 is expected late in 2024. He was written or edited three books on the poet Louis Zukofsky and a study of the British fantasist Michael Moorcock. His essays and reviews have been collected in three volumes, most recently Arcane Pleasures: On Poetry and Some Other Arts, published with Selva Oscura in 2023.

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