The Synergies of Mind and Muse: Reflections on Nineteenth-Century Thought and a Comparative Analysis of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Poem and Painting the Blessed Damozel and Claude Debussy’s La Damoiselle Elue

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 63)


This paper intends to explore the ekphrastic and melopoetic aspects of poetry, and for this purpose will concentrate on a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, entitled “The Blessed Damozel,” which is representative of the late nineteenth century — a period intensely preoccupied with the orchestration of the arts. I have chosen this poem for two reasons: Firstly, “The Blessed Damozel” is best read within the context of visual and musical art: Between 1871 and 1879 Rossetti himself executed a painting on the same subject, and when Débussy came across the poem in a collection of English verse translated by Gabriel Sarrazin, Les Poétes modernes de l’Angleterre, it inspired him to compose La Damoiselle élue, first performed at the Sociétè Nationale in April 1893 and subtitled a poème lyrique. Secondly, I will argue that the poem is highly ambiguous: Abounding in visual and auditive images, its central curve of feeling is paradoxically the annihilation of sound and sight. If Mikhail Bakhtin argued in an early essay that the poetry of Baudelaire and Verlaine, both of which Debussy had also set to music, exemplifies the disintegration of the lyric into lyrical mannerism, characterised by the failure of a voice that “suddenly feels itself to be outside any chorus,”1 a similar process is taking place in Rossetti’s poem: Voice and figure become utterly solipsistic through the dismantling of melos and opsis.


Auditive Image Early Essay Musical Idea Musical Pattern Poetes Moderne 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov, eds, Art and Answerability: Early Essays by M. M. Bakhtin (Austin: Texas UP, 1990), p. 171. Bakhtin’s use of chorus changed in the course of his writing. I will use the term as employed in his essay on “Lyrical Hero and Author” (pp. 167-72).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1957; repr. London: Penguine, 1990), p. 275.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    L. J. Potts, transi., Aristotle on the Art of Fiction (Cambridge: UP, 1968), chap. I—IV, pp. 17-21; 65-8.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    M. H. Abrams, ed., The Norton Anthology of English Literature (6th ed., New York; London: Norton, 1993), Vol. I, pp. 499-500. My italics.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Fritz Janschka, ed., Vom Denken der Dichter, Die bibliophilen Taschenbücher 493 (Dortmund: Harenberg, 1986 ), p. 46.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    John Purkis, The World of the English Romantic Poets: A Visual Approach (London: Heinemann, 1982), pp. 117-18. See also George Robert Lewis’ painting Hereford, Dynedor and Malvern Hills from the Haywood Lodge (1817).Google Scholar
  7. 15.
    E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., The Works of John Ruskin,London: George Allen, 39 vols., 1903-12.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Robert Snell, Théophile Gautier: A Romantic Critic of the Visual Arts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), pp. 63, 87.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    La Presse,October 2, 1850. Quoted after A. Richard Turner, Inventing Leonardo (Berkeley, Los Angeles: California UP, 1994), p. 101.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Leigh Hunt, Literary Criticism,ed., Lawrence Huston Houtchens and Carolyn Washburn Houtchens (New York: Columbia UP; London: OUP, 1956), p. 491. My italics.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Cf. Attila Csampai and Dietmar Holland, eds., Der Konzertführer: Orchestermusik von 1700 bis zur Gegenwart (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1987), pp. 390, 606, 655.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    Cf. James A. W. Heffernan, Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (Chicago; London: Chicago UP, 1993), p. 192.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    A German translation of the poem is printed in Gisbert Kranz, ed., Gedichte and Bilder: Anthologie und Galerie (München: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, 1975), p. 231.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    My references to this essay are from Jennifer Uglow’s edition, Walter Pater: Essays on Literature and Art (London: Dent; and Totowa, N. J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1973), pp. 43-7.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    John Addington Symonds, Essays Speculative and Suggestive (London: Smith, 1907), pp. 335-44. All further references to this essay will be given in brackets.Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    Miroslav Holub, The Dimension of the Present Moment (London, Boston: Faber & Faber), p.Google Scholar
  17. 29.
    Manfred Pfister, “The Dialogue of Text and Image: Antoni Tapies and Anselm Kiefer,” in Bild und Text im Dialog,ed. Klaus Dirscherl (Passau: Rothe, 1993), p. 321.Google Scholar
  18. 38.
    “The Grain of Voice,” in Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms; transi. Richard Howard (Berkeley, Los Angeles: California UP, 1991), p. 269.Google Scholar
  19. 39.
    Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language (1974; transi. New York: Columbia UP, 1984), pp. 25-30.Google Scholar
  20. 44.
    Gary Saul Morson and Caryl Emerson, eds., Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics (Stanford: UP, 1990), p. 191.Google Scholar
  21. 45.
    Cf. Holquist and Liapunov, op. cit.,p. 167. Further references to this essay will be given in brackets.Google Scholar
  22. 47.
    Hans Joachim Moser, Musikgeschichte in hundert Lebensbildern (Stuttgart: Vollmer, 1958), p. 827.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SalzburgAustria

Personalised recommendations