‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti was written in 1849 when Rossetti was just 19 years old. She is touted to be one of the foremost women poets of the 19th-century Victorian era. Her work was lauded in her time as “in artless art, if not in intellectual impulse, is greatly Mrs. Browning’s superior”. In this famous sonnet, ‘Remember’, the poet introduces the themes of love, death, and reaction to one’s death. The poet has written this sonnet to a lover. It talks about their love, her death, and how she wishes him to react when she has left this world or “Gone far away into the silent land.”
Summary of Remember
In ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti, the poetic persona 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. However, in the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by asking the listener, who is presumably her lover, to remember her when she dies. This is something that she repeats several times always hoping that he won’t forget her when she’s gone. Their love will remain a light in the darkness. But, there is an interesting transition at the end of the poem. The speaker tells her lover that she wants him to remember her but not if it means they’re going to be sad.
Structure of Remember
‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti is an amazing poem with simple language and a great theme. Both these features work in tandem with the rhyme scheme, thus making it sound pleasant. The beauty of this sonnet lies not only in its choice of languages but also in retaining or maintaining a somewhat complex idea. However, ‘Remember’ is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured with the rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDD ECE.
The first half of the poem follows the pattern of a standard Petrarchan sonnet while the second half is quite original. Despite the different rhyme schemes, there are other aspects of this poem that should be familiar to lovers of sonnets. For instance, the turn or volta is placed halfway through the poem. Here, the speaker transitions away from her pleas for remembrance and into the realization that her memory might bring her lover pain and that they should, therefore, forget her.
The inventor of the Italian 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.
Literary Devices in Remember
In ‘Remember’, Christina Rossetti makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to enjambment, repetition, anaphora, and examples of metaphors. The latter is seen through the description of death as the “silent land”. This is a euphemism that is meant to make the prospective loss less frightening and depressing. Besides, the poet also highlights this metaphor, “the silent land” to place distance between them, and knows that after death there is no chance when he can “hold [her] by the hand”. The phrase is accompanied by another that works the same way, “gone away” and repeats the same words in the second line to emphasize the finality of death.
There is a good example of repetition, and anaphora, in the use of “Remember me” at the start of two lines. These lines start the two quatrains of the sonnet. The sections are based on the speaker’s desire to be remembered. There are also a couple of examples of enjambment in these lines. For instance, the transition between lines five and six as well as seven and eight.
Themes in Remember
In ‘Remember’, Christina Rossetti taps into themes of life, memory, forgetting, loss or death, and love. The latter is seen most clearly through the last lines of the poem. The speaker’s love for her listener is stronger than her desire that they remember her after she’s gone. She’d rather they be happy than maintain her memory, a marker of true love. Memory is one of the major themes as is seen through the repetition of the word “remember”. It raises questions about what it means to die if one is still alive in another’s mind. However, the speaker in the poem envisages herself dead or departed and speaks to her beloved left behind after her death. This is a very simple poem with a great message that all of us should apply to our lives. It is written in very simple language. The readers can easily access and identify.
Tone of Remember
The speaker of ‘Remember’ 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.
Analysis of Remember
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
The very first quatrain of ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti brings the subject of the speaker’s death and the painful separation of the two lovers. The poem has been written like a monologue directly addressed to the lover. In the sonnet the poet shows her urging her lover to remember her when she is “gone away,/ Gone far away into the silent land;”
However, in the first two lines of this sonnet, Christina Rossetti deals with the element of death and tries to make her lover understand that he needs not to remember her even after her death. She says that when she has died, she will go into the “silent land” or the barren land of death.
Moreover, the poet here makes use of a euphemism in the very first line when she says, “Remember me when I am gone away.” The euphemism here refers to the poet’s death. It may also be viewed as a metaphor, comparing death with the notion of undertaking a journey. This is the journey that starts from one world to the next, which, of course, relates to the main theme of the poem.
Whereas, She, in line 2 of this sonnet, makes use of another metaphor when she says, “Gone far away into the silent land”. It is to be noted here that the notion of eternal life is depicted as a ‘silent land’ which hints at the lost connection between the dead and living, kept only in the memory that’s fluid, transient, and insubstantial.
While Rossetti doesn’t make much use of several symbols in her poetic works, in this sonnet she makes use of the word “silent land” for eternal life. Here she might be indicating her Calvinist belief in predestination. Along with that, she might have also used the term “silent land” in place of heaven or hell as she is not aware of which eternal life she is destined to live in. This is just her assumption.
The language of this sonnet is so simple and meaningful that readers can also easily apply it to their life. The message that this sonnet wants to give is that death is inescapable, but it must not gobble up the lives of those who are still alive.
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
In these two lines of ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti, the speaker says why her lover should remember her. As at the time of leaving this earthly burden, it will be impossible for him to hold her by the hand. Nor can she come back from halfway and turn to bid adieu to her love. The argument is solid yet emotional. There is a sense of realism as well as the fear of death in the speaker’s tone. Whatsoever, the poet by referring to holding hands presents physical touch as a symbol of trust. Moreover, the poet wishes to turn back when she will be nearing her death as he was always there to hold her hands. They weren’t ever alone in this journey. Hence, in the future, she feels sad about her lonely journey to oblivion.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
The above two lines of ‘Remember’ suggest that Rossetti and her lover should have got married so that they could show their love for each other. In the above lines, the poet expects a lot from her lover and even suggests to him that he must not grieve over her death if he cannot remember her. She implores him to remember the days when they were together, cherishing each moment of their mutual love. As she won’t be there in the upcoming days after her death when her lover can tell her about their future. He will be lonely and she will be there only in his thoughts.
The use of the word “planned” is interesting here. Death is an unplanned destination that one has to take at any point in life. Mortals can plan things on which they have apparent control. But, death being absolute, is uncontrollable and unconquerable. When death knocks at the door, one not only has to open the door but also has to leave her earthly habitation. The destination to nonentity is a journey that none has ever planned or predicted of.
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Here, in ‘Remember’, the poet further says that it is of no use to counsel or pray later, i.e. when she is gone. Her lover can only remember the old days. In thoughts, she will be present, and in reality, the lover has to bear the earthly burden alone. It’s important to note here that 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.
In the four stanzas, each is 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.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
One could take this poem, ‘Remember’, contextually, as being spoken to a loved one while on a deathbed, 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.
However, her opinion changes near this volta of the poem. 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 fear of being forgotten to admit that this would be an ideal situation for them. She says what if he will forget her for a while, and then pretend to remember her by grieving over her death.
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
The eleventh line of ‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti, begins with a euphemism. Here, the poet says: “For if the darkness and corruption leave”. In this line, death is viewed as corruption and darkness. It is like a body decaying. The poet here is very excited and says that he should not take her death and his subsequent memory as a burden to him. Moreover, the poet is anxious about her lover even after she won’t be there to see or feel him. It is mere anticipation that brings out how much the poet cared for her beloved. Apart from that, the poet has thought about the ultimate many times before writing this poem. Hence, she says that her death will leave on her lover “A vestige of the thoughts” that once she had.
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Therefore, in ‘Remember’, she suggests that he should better ‘forget and smile.’ She continues with, ‘Better by far that you should forget and smile / Than that you should remember and be sad’. Here, the poet gives instructions to her lover by saying that he must go on with his life and should not keep thinking about her death. Rather he should “…forget and smile…than remember and be sad”.
It is interesting to note the use of the word ‘remember’ here. While acting as a quick key to the heart of the poem and making it easy to try and keep it in mind, the word 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.
To sum up, Rossetti had written this sonnet to her lover with the instruction and advice that he needs not be upset after her death. She advises him not to remember anything about her for she would rather know that he is happier than that he is, in a sense, dead while alive. The message of this poem must be applied by all to their lives, as well for it’s the ultimate solution to handle the death of the near and dear ones.
Historical Context of Remember
‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti is a poem written during the Romantic era. 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. 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.
Romantic poetry was largely built on the tenement of “memento mori” meaning “remember that you will die”. Thus, in many works of the era, readers find an almost overwhelming reference to 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.
About Christina Rossetti
Born in London in 1830, the poet of ‘Remember’, Christina Rossetti belonged to a wealthy family and was brought up as a pious Anglican. 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 Rossetti, 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.
Moreover, Christina Rossetti kept most of her poems around numerous themes starting from love to the seasons of the year. Besides, she is also well-known to make use of little visual detail in her poetry. She freed her ideas to speak up for themselves. Whatsoever, she is at times erroneously related to the women’s suffrage movement but she always liked and loved her place in life and believed that women’s rights were and Christianity at odds. Christina is also said to spend several years of her life in seclusion and bid adieu (died) to this world in 1894 as a well-known poet.
Lovers of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Remember’ should also seek out poems that deal with a similar subject matter. One of these is ‘How do I love Thee’, also known as ‘Sonnet 43’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her ‘Sonnet 14’ is another related poem that also deals with relationships, love, and loss. Other poems of interest might be ‘I Do Not Love You’ by Pablo Neruda and ‘Why do I love you, Sir’ by Emily Dickinson. Make sure to also check out the list of the Great Love Poems Ever Written and 10 Famous Short Love Poems.
You can also read about 10 of the best Christina Rossetti poems here.