In 1868 the pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote a sequence of four sonnets entitled “Willowwood.” The poems involve two characters: a young man and a lute-bearing personification of love. The young man becomes so enchanted by Love’s music that, looking at the reflection in “a woodside well,” he begins to imagine rather vividly that he sees the face of his beloved reflected therein. That this, however, is a delusion becomes clear as Love begins to sing of the woes of all who venture into Willowwood.
Incidentally, Dante Rossetti was closely related to another preeminent poet of the Victorian Era. His sister, Christina Rossetti, later paid homage to her brother’s enigmatic sonnets in a poem of her own, aptly titled “An Echo from Willowwood.” Christina quotes the opening line from the third of her brother’s poems and channels his idea of the reflection in the water and the “bitterness” of Willowwood. There is, however, one key difference: In Dante’s sonnets, the young lady’s reflection seems to have been a hallucination on the part of the young man, but in Christina’s poem both lovers are present and gazing at each other’s reflection in a pool. Regardless, they are both keenly aware that, for reasons unknown to the reader, they must imminently part ways.
I first became familiar with Christina’s poem and was quite taken with its mysteriousness and colorful imagery. My search for the source of the quotation at its beginning led me to Dante’s sonnets. I therefore decided to set both Christina’s poem and the poem she quotes from Dante’s set—Love’s song about the woes of those who wander in Willowwood.