• Joseph Phelan


One of the pastimes of the Rossetti siblings was a game called ‘bouts-rimés’, in which they would compete with one another to compose sonnets from a set of rhymes. Many of the resulting poems were of fairly low quality, as William Michael Rossetti admits in mitigation of one of his own efforts which found its way into the Pre-Raphaelite magazine The Germ: ‘This sonnet was one of my bouts-rimés performances. I ought to have been more chary than I was of introducing into our seriously-intended magazine such hap-hazard things as bouts-rimés poems: one reason for so doing was that we were often at a loss for something to fill a spare page,’1 Sometimes, however, the spontaneity of the exercise produced a freshness and immediacy absent from more studied performances:
  • The spring is come again not as at first

  • For then it was my spring; &amp now a brood

  • Of bitter memories haunt me, & my mood

  • Is much changed from the time when I was nursed

  • In the still country. Oh! my heart could burst

  • Thinking upon the long ago: the crude

  • Hopes all unrealised; the flowers that strewed

  • My path, now changed to painful thorns & curst.

  • And though I know the kingcups are as fine

  • As they were then, my spirit cannot soar

  • As it did once: when shadows of a wood

  • Or thinking of a blossom that soon should

  • Unfold & fill the air with scent, would pour

  • Peace on my brow now marked with many a line.


Nineteenth Century Woman Writer English Poetry Prevailing Belief Italian Originator 
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  1. 2.
    Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems, eds R.W. Crump and Betty S. Flowers (London: Penguin, 2001), p. 854.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Jan Marsh ed., Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Collected Writings (London: J.M. Dent, 1999), p. 494.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    See William T. Going, ‘The Term “Sonnet Sequence”’, Modem Language Notes 62 (1947), 400–2, and ch. 6 below. I have tended to use ‘series’ rather than ‘sequence’ for sonnet groupings written before the last quarter of the century.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 13.
    Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), part II, ch. 8.Google Scholar
  5. 15.
    ‘Cavalcanti’ (1934) in T.S. Eliot ed., Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (1954; rpt. London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985), p. 170.Google Scholar

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© Joseph Patrick Phelan 2005

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  • Joseph Phelan

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