The Problem with Long-Distance Relationships

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” is a poem about star-crossed lovers – literally. The titular damsel pines for her lover, waiting for the day he will join her in heaven so they can enter paradise together. Throughout the poem, the damsel is characterized as both spiritual and earthly, which emphasizes the divide between her place in heaven and her still-living lover’s place on Earth. She is described as holding three lilies, which represent purity and the Holy Trinity, and in her unbound hair are seven stars, which are a direct biblical reference. The only adornment on her dress is a white rose, which the Virgin Mary gifted to her (page 458). Each of these details establishes the damsel’s purity and innocence, as well as her unearthly nature.  

The poem has three distinct voices: the omniscient narrator, who describes the damsel; the damsel herself, who speaks out to her lover from heaven; the damsel’s lover, whose brief remarks occur within parentheses. In a way, this poem is a conversation between the heavenly damsel and her Earth-bound lover. Her lover’s parenthetical responses indicate how far removed he is from her, though their imagined communication emphasizes the extent of their love. When the damsel calls down to her lover, it is doubly emphasized that her voice “was like the voice the stars / Had when they sang together” (page 459). She is no longer an Earthly creature, but a celestial being.  

However, her lover imagines that he can hear her voice: “Even now, in that bird’s song, / Strove not her accents there, / Fain to be hearkened?” (page 460). He imagines feeling her presence as well, saying “Surely she leaned o’er me – her hair / Fell all about my face… / Nothing: the autumn-fall of leaves” (page 458). The lover’s imagination of the damsel in the natural world contrasts with her celestial description and highlights the distance between them. He is incapable of imagining her as something he doesn’t know – something unearthly. The only remaining Earthly trait of the damsel’s is her hair, which is “yellow like ripe corn” (page 458). This agricultural comparison is inextricably linked to Earth, and it contrasts with the other celestial descriptions, potentially representing her remaining tie to the Earth.  

When the lover’s responses are read separately from the narration or the damsel’s speech, the poem becomes about grief as well as star-crossed love. The damsel, having seen heaven, knows that they will eventually be reunited, though she wishes she didn’t have to wait. Her lover, however, has no such certainty. Ten years have passed since the damsel died, and while she still feels as though she just arrived in heaven, time has been passing as usual on Earth. Her lover has spent ten years mourning her death, and he still imagines her presence, which highlights the extent of their love and gives hope that their relationship will survive death.  

4 thoughts on “The Problem with Long-Distance Relationships”

  1. I really like how you draw out this idea that Rossetti’s poem reads like a conversation. I thought your argument was backed up by excellent evidence and your thoughts are really fleshed out and original!! I also really enjoyed how you tied this idea of conversation to distance. I think the different ways you read this paper (as a conversation, as about love, as about grief) proves for an awesome analysis and one that might make a cool final paper! Awesome job 🙂

  2. I appreciate your exploration of this poem; I feel like it’s a more positive interpretation than I initially made. Upon first read, I understood the poem to represent the allegiance the damozel feels to her lover even though she is in heaven (literal paradise). She remains beholden to her lover, while time can pass on Earth and he can move on, which I felt represented a sort of male possession. However, your acknowledgement of the lover’s persistent thoughts about her helps me see the poem as a more egalitarian commitment.

  3. The point you made about love in Rosseti’s poems is so interesting! I especially enjoyed this because it kind of reminded me of the external barriers that are often brought into these poems. For example, in Don Juan there is a barrier of language that also complicated things for the two (along with every other circumstance of their situation). I think when you were talking about how the speaker is imagining the woman as something he doesn’t know, it is similar to Don Juan’s situation because it is very easy to romanticize a situation when there are barriers like these that complicate the situation. It is easy to blame the circustance rather than possibly thinking the love just isnt as whole and perfect as youd like it to be.

  4. Dear coolshark,
    Your title made me chuckle, I love it. I can’t help but see another side to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem. Maybe I’m a pessimist but is this really love?? When you described the symbolism of white, I thought of naivety. Here we have the damsel who is now basically a celestial being who has been waiting 10 years to be rejoined with her lover on earth. Emphasis on 10 years. And I can’t help but feel that we’re getting a lot more dedication and less superficial reasons from the Damsel than her lover. When the damsel’s lover speaks of her, he really only mentions her physical beauty.

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