'L.E.L ' - Synopsis and commentary


The female speaker explains that, whilst she is cheerful in public, in private she faces heartbreak due to feeling lonely and unloved. She contrasts the emotional coldness of her situation with the vibrant life that burgeons around her in springtime. Because the speaker appears happy and well dressed, observers do not comprehend her situation, but she realises that its truth is revealed to those in heaven. The advice there is that she should endure her earthly situation patiently, knowing that in heaven her craving for love will be more than satisfied.

Investigating L.E.L.

  • Think about the fascination with celebrities that exists today. What are the possible negative effects of this upon the individual?
    • What do you think would be most difficult to cope with?
    • How do you think that the media can distort an identity?
  • Why do you think that Rossetti chose to write a poem in memory of L.E.L.?
    • Do you think that she wanted to give her a voice?
    • Do you think that she wanted to associate herself with the earlier poet?
    • Do you think that she wanted to emphasise the destruction that focusing on superficial appearances can cause?



Rossetti composed L.E.L. in 1859 and first published it in Victoria Magazine in 1863. In 1866, she included it in her second volume of verse, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems.

More on the identity of L.E.L. (1802-1838):

More on the connection between Rossetti and L.E.L.:

Literary elegies

An elegy is a poem of mourning for the dead. The word elegy comes from the Greek word elegeia which is derived from the term elegos. This indicates both a mournful poem and a flute reed. In a traditional elegy, the speaker offers a lament for the person being remembered and expresses his/her grief. S/He then offers praise before ending the poem on a note of consolation.

Literary elegies are elegies written from one poet to another. The act of composing a poem to commemorate the death of another poet was popular amongst Victorian writers.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, L.E.L.'s Last Question

Rossetti's L.E.L. can be contrasted to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 1839 poem L.E.L.'s Last Question. In this, Browning has L.E.L. repeatedly ask, ‘Do you think of me as I think of you?' and emphasises the poet's lonely and darkened heart. She describes her as a ‘craver of a little love'. For more details on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, see Literary context > Victorian women's poetry.

Investigating L.E.L.

  • Although L.E.L. highlights the unhappy situation of the poet, it does not make any explicit reference to her death. Why do you think that this is?
  • What do you consider to be the main features of the poem?
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