Although Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Blake, and Shelley, dominate the Romantic era, there was a smaller group of poets who, influenced by the Romantics, demanded just as much attention. They were the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who milled around Romantic fame and produced work that has experienced a resurgence of interest in modern times. One of those poets is Christina Rossetti, poet to Remember, whose work was lauded in her time as ‘in artless art, if not in intellectual impulse, is greatly Mrs. Browning’s superior.
Remember by Christina Rossetti Summary
Romantic poetry was largely built on the tenement of memento mori; remember that you will die. Thus, in many works of the era, we find an almost overwhelming reference to death; death celebrated; death scorned; death in every form and capacity running rampant through the verses. As Romantics, they battered away the idea of scientific reading, and focused almost exclusively on death as a journey or a figurehead, and the act of dying as something intrinsically valuable. Christina Rossetti’s Remember follows this same pattern: the narrator encourages the unseen reader to remember her after her death, and it is only near the end of the poem that the narrator changes her mind (one can assume that the narrator is Rossetti herself) and allows him to forget her.
Remember Breakdown Analysis
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
The very pattern of the poem makes it easy to remember. Rossetti chose to repeat the word ‘remember’ throughout the poem, thus allowing the reader’s mind to grow used to this pattern of repetition; as one ‘remember’ fades, the other comes into play, segueing from image to image and allowing the reader to understand intrinsically, more than intellectually, the full experience of what Rossetti is asking. It can therefore be easily split into four stanzas, each categorized by a single verse wherein the word ‘remember’ appears. However, it is not just the theme of memory that is in play here; by ‘remembering’, the narrator hopes to overcome death. As has been mentioned in many poems of the Romantic era, the true glory of poetry was that one was made immortal through the lines written.
The Speaker of the poem is scared, not of death, but of her lover forgetting her. It is to her the most brutal thing that could happen to her – her tone wavers between conciliatory and contemplative, soft and weak, as she tries to implore her beloved to never forget her even when she has ‘gone far away into the silent land’. In the first few lines, she is adamant that she must be remembered at all costs, when she is no longer physically present to remind her lover to do so.
It is interesting to note that the use of the word ‘remember’, while acting as a quick key to the heart of the poem and making it easy to try and keep it in mind, actually loses strength upon repetition. It is as though the speaker is fading away with every reiteration of the word ‘remember’, and thus by the middle part of the poem, the word ‘remember’ doesn’t have the same punch of meaning as it had in the beginning. This can be taken as the narrator losing her will to force her lover to remember her, by hook or by crook.
However, her opinion changes near the end – or the volta, as it is known. Slowly, her words linger over the idea that ‘yet if you should forget me for a while’, it would not be a terrible thing. It would allow her lover to be happy, and the speaker overcomes her own fear of being forgotten to admit that this would be an ideal situation for them. She continues with, ‘better by far that you should forget and smile / than that you should remember and be sad’.
One could take this poem, contextually, as being spoken to a loved one while on a death bed, which could count for the slow, lilting pace of the poem, growing slower and slower as it reaches towards the volta. The volta is a key point of the poem, a climax where the poem’s central themes suddenly and almost inexplicably change, and the narrator is fine with being forgotten by her beloved.
This poem is written in the style of a Petrarchan sonnet. Petrarch was an Italian poet in the sixteenth century who wrote of courtly ideals, with the themes of noble, chaste love; it is not surprising that Christina Rossetti chose this for her poem, as her father was Gabriele Rossetti, a prominent Italian scholar, poet, and political exile who taught Italian and Dante to students in England.
Although it has been taken as a tried and tested pattern that the Pre-Raphaelites were all melancholy, death-obsessed, and miserable every waking moment, nothing could be further from the truth. Popular culture enjoys painting the Pre-Raphaelites as their preconception, that of poets wasting away from consumption and too much drink. Christina Rossetti, on the other hand, was different.
She was the youngest child of a very gifted, loving family, and her early childhood was very happy and devoid of hardship. She had three brothers and sisters, and received a very good education – practically unheard of at the time for women. Her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossettie, became an accomplished painter and poet, her sister Maria was a renowned Dante scholar, and her brother William followed her in the fields of art and literary criticism.