As one of the earlier poems to spring from the pen of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Blessed Damozel” is also one of the most influential of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. A dramatic lyric poem comprising 144 lines separated into 24 stanzas in its final form, a distinctly different poem first appeared in print in 1850 in The Germ, a short-lived but especially robust journal devoted to works highlighting the writers of the burgeoning Pre-Raphaelite movement. Over the years, Rossetti would go back to the poem for revising on several occasions.
Equally inspired by The Divine Comedy and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” the titular character—damozel essentially being an archaic form of the more familiar damsel—thus becomes a kind of cross between the Beatrice that guides the great epic poet Dante through from hell to paradise and that lost maiden whom the angels named Lenore.
Among the key elements which were to shape the thematic foundation of Pre-Raphaelite poetry to be found in “The Blessed Damozel” are symbols harkening back to medieval ritual sacraments, a preference for writing about Platonic love rather than Romance and an intense focus on minute details as a means of providing insight into character and event. For Rossetti in particular, this early effort clearly charts an origin point of a motif to which he would return often: the blurring of the line between life and death and past and present.
Although Rossetti would make a habit of pairing up poems and paintings sharing the same title and subject matter, “The Blessed Damozel” holds the distinction of being the only instance he completed a draft of the poem before setting to work on the painting.
Perhaps due to the inherent musicality of the rhythm of the verse, “The Blessed Damozel” has gone on to inspired many musicians to adapt it for composition. In 1888, Claude Debussy debuted his piece titled “La Damoiselle élue” which was inspired by the poem. The piece seemed to be particularly enticing to composers in the first decade of the 20th century with no less than different adaptations premiering within two years of each other.