Rossetti’s Memory is a poem that explores the difficulty she faces in struggling with the connection between earth and heaven. Although Rossetti feels the love on earth, she decides to reject that part of her human connection, instead of devoting herself to God. While she suffers from this choice, a part of the love she feels never dies. The poem is written across 8 years, the first part being written in 1857 and the second in 1865. Although 8 years have passed, the love Rossetti felt still lives on, ‘buried yet not dead’. This poem explores Rossetti’s faith, and the length she will go to devote herself. You can read the full poem Memory here.
Memory Analysis – Part 1
Part 1 of the Memory displays Rossetti weighing up her two choices: her love on earth or her faith. While the choice bereaves Rossetti, she ultimately chooses her religion over her love on earth.
This first stanza explores Rossetti’s immediate reaction and emotions after deciding to give up her love. By beginning Memory with ‘I’, instantly the poem takes on personal sentiment. Rossetti uses this pronoun to reflect the intimate nature of the poem. By using the verb ’nursed’, Rossetti takes on the form of a carer, looking after love and holding it close. By beginning the poem in such an intimate manner, we instantly are told how dear she considers her love.
Yet, there is an air of mystery and rejection which is also explored within the first stanza. Instead of naming her love, she instead uses the object pronoun. Without having a previous context, the poem is confusing, as the reader is not sure what exactly ‘it’ is. Rossetti has this layer of distance to her love, having rejected ‘it’ and therefore trying to dissociate from it.
Stanzas Two & Three
At this point in the poem, Rossetti has already used ‘alone’ 4 times. The repetition of the lonesome state permeates through the poem both through direct naming, ‘alone’, and also the tone which Rossetti’s writing evokes. The use of ‘silent’, ‘not a word’, ‘I stood alone’, ’shut the door’, all culminate to paint the atmosphere of the poem as one that is incredibly depressing and lonely. For Rossetti, although she feels like she has done the right thing in choosing her faith, it is not a decision without consequences.
Again, the constant repetition of the pronoun ‘I’, allows the poem to take on an incredibly personal feel. Rossetti is displaying her heart through this poem, and the solitude she has chosen is one that pains her. The finality of ‘but silent made my choice’ Is grave within the poem. The following end stop and the emphasis placed upon the line due to the meter and rhyme compound to elevate this quiet acceptance of the truth.
Stanzas Four & Five
The double repetition of ‘None know the choice’ compounds the sense of isolation that Rossetti feels. Even after she has made this decision, she still feels that she alone bears the weight of her choice. She is totally isolated, furthered by the contextual background of being a spinster within Victorian society. She placed her faith before love and before the expectations of her society.
The violence displayed within the last stanza is Rossetti’s mechanism for displaying her rejecting her love. The beginning of stanza 5 uses harsh plosive ‘b’ sounds to begin the stanza with a vocal force, which is reflected by the content. The semantics of ‘broke’, ‘blow’, ‘laid it’, ‘crushed’ are all violent and reflect the power of her moment of rejection.
Although she follows through with her rejection of love, it seems to only bring her despair. The final double repetition of ‘grows old’ is a reflection of her depressive idea of growing old as a woman without love. As she has dedicated herself to her religion, she suffers. Time is passing as she cannot see her solitary and depressive state changing. The final word of this part is ‘grieve’, one that compounds the sentiments of the section into a singular entity.
Memory Analysis – Part 2
This section takes place 8 years after Rossetti wrote the first part. The poet has come to terms with the love she rejected but still thinks about what could have been. She no longer feels the pain of Part 1, and looks with excitement to the possible future she could have.
Stanzas Six & Seven
There has been a shift from past to present tense, Rossetti is now writing and reflecting within the moment. She describes how she has constructed a tiny place within her heart that the love can reside in. The descriptive ‘blessed memory’ sitting atop a ‘throne’ gives a sense of majesty to the love she rejected. It is obvious to see how much she valued the love, which makes her show of faith all the more impressive. Rossetti did not make the choice lightly, and in keeping her faith she has memorialized her past love.
This room she has devoted to love is one ‘whereinto no one enters’, she again displays her complete commitment to her faith. She has rejected all forms of love, actually rejecting three proposals throughout her life, and has decided to be alone forever. Yet, her ‘life centres’ on this notion of love locked away within her heart. After all this time, there is still an important part of Rossetti in which this love continues on.
Rossetti presents the passage of time, ‘winter comes and goes’, ‘lavish summer’, to display that the love does indeed live on. Within her heart, love is unaffected by the seasons and external change. While she chose faith, she still acknowledges the impact her love had, and still continues to have.
Perhaps the most important line within Memory stems from within this stanza. ‘One buried yet not dead’ perfectly summarises Rossetti’s own feelings about her now lost love. Although she decided to forsaken love, it still lives on, ‘buried’ deep within her heart – ‘not dead’. Yet the love no longer pains her as it did within the first part of this poem. In the first half, the tone is depressive and sombre, whereas in this part there are glimmers of hope and a sense of contentedness. For example, ‘I no more bow my head’ is a reference to how she no longer says away from the memory of her former lover. She has come to terms with her loss, although difficult, and is happy with how things have worked out.
Christina Rossetti paints herself as having grown old within this stanza. She uses the adjective ‘worn’ and describes her life as being in ‘autumn’, a season related to death and decay. Rossetti sees that she is drawing near to the end of her life and interestingly, this is a thought that gives her comfort. Her religious beliefs mean that she believes she will be together with her former lover in ‘Paradise’ after she dies.
The final line, split off from the rest of the poem, ‘when we’re together’ is a flash of certainty. Rossetti believes that her lover will be reunited with her once they are both dead, her devotion having been proved. In an ultimately bleak poem, Rossetti’s final display of contentedness is beautiful. She does not morn, instead, she waits for the moment in which she can be with her lover again.