The model for this piece was Alexa Wilding. Begun in 1875, A Sea Spell was intended to illustrate the lines from Coleridge's poem, Kubla Khan:
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw.
Later when it was finished Rossetti described the imagary in a sonnet:
Her lute hangs shadowed in the apple tree,
While flashing fingers weave the sweet-strung spell
Between its cords; and as the wild notes swell,
The sea-bird for those branches leaves the sea.
But what sound her listening ear stoops she?
What netherworld gulf-whispers does she hear,
In answering echoes from planisphere,
Along the wind, along the estuary?
She sinks into her spell: and when full soon
Her lips move and she soars into her song,
What creatures of the midmost main shall throng
In furrowed surf-clouds to the summoning rune:
Till he, the fated mariner, hears her cry,
And up her rock, bare-breasted, comes she die?