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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

"Jenny" is a lengthy, dramatic monologue about a woman who is working as a prostitute narrated by a male customer. The narrator romanticizes and sympathizes with the role of prostitute throughout this poem. The excerpt below are stanzas 22-24 of the poem. In this portion of the poem the narrator comments women's innocence loss as well as the world of lust people reside in (which he is also shamefully a part of and that no one seems to be able to escape). It is also interesting to note that the first edition of Rossetti's Poems held within the British Library contains an inscription Rossetti made to Jane Morris, who was the muse of Rossetti as well as her husband William Morris. Rossetti and Jane Morris were involved in an affair over many years. 


     Like a rose shut in a book 

In which pure women may not look, 

For its base pages claim control 

To crush the flower within the soul; 

Where through each dead rose-leaf that clings, 

Pale as transparent psyche-wings, 

To the vile text, are traced such things 

As might make lady’s cheek indeed 

More than a living rose to read; 

So nought save foolish foulness may 

Watch with hard eyes the sure decay; 

And so the life-blood of this rose, 

Puddled with shameful knowledge, flows 

Through leaves no chaste hand may unclose: 

Yet still it keeps such faded show 

Of when ’twas gathered long ago, 

That the crushed petals’ lovely grain, 

The sweetness of the sanguine stain, 

Seen of a woman’s eyes, must make 

Her pitiful heart, so prone to ache, 

Love roses better for its sake:— 

Only that this can never be:— 

Even so unto her sex is she. 


     Yet, Jenny, looking long at you, 

The woman almost fades from view. 

A cipher of man’s changeless sum 

Of lust, past, present, and to come, 

Is left. A riddle that one shrinks 

To challenge from the scornful sphinx. 


     Like a toad within a stone 

Seated while Time crumbles on; 

Which sits there since the earth was curs’d 

For Man’s transgression at the first; 

Which, living through all centuries, 

Not once has seen the sun arise; 

Whose life, to its cold circle charmed, 

The earth’s whole summers have not warmed; 

Which always—whitherso the stone 

Be flung—sits there, deaf, blind, alone;— 

Aye, and shall not be driven out 

Till that which shuts him round about 

Break at the very Master’s stroke, 

And the dust thereof vanish as smoke, 

And the seed of Man vanish as dust:— 

Even so within this world is Lust. 

Title of volume of first printing
Privately Published
Page numbers in original volume

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Poems. London, Privately Published, 1870. British Library, www.bl.uk/collection-items/jenny-by-d-g-rossetti. Accessed 20 Nov. 2016.