The speaker, who may or may not be deceased, spends the lines of this poem discussing how influential their memory and spirit will be on “you.” The poem is written in a simple, easy-to-read language in fourteen lines or seven couplets.
Readers are likely to find themselves wondering whether or not the speaker is discussing the influence of her memory on her partner from the afterlife or if the two are separated in life, having gone through an emotional breakup. The answer is not revealed within the text. It is up to individual interpretation as to whether or not the speaker has passed away.
Explore But Not Forgotten
‘But Not Forgotten’ by Dorothy Parker is a poem about memory and its influence.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by suggesting that no matter where “you” go that she will always be there. The speaker is suggesting that her spirit and metaphorical presence will accompany her previous romantic partner no matter who they meet or where they travel. She sees herself and the impact she had on this other person in a positive light. It is going to take a long time for this person to “forget” her hands and the way she speaks. She even believes that this person is going to “tell later loves” about her.
I think, no matter where you stray,
You will not soon forget my hands,
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by using the phrase “I think.” As readers progress through the text, they should continually refer to this initial statement as it serves as a reminder that the rest of the lines are the speaker’s beliefs, not what she knows to be true. Throughout, the speaker implies that they are no longer in “your” life. It’s unclear whether or not they have passed away or if, perhaps, the two have simply separated for the rest of their lives. No matter what separated them, the speaker notes that throughout life, they are going to stay with “you.” The poet continues to use the second-person perspective in the next thirteen lines.
They believe that “you” may go to “sweeter lands” but that they will still be there. Their presence is entirely metaphorical and spiritual. They are going to reside within “your” heart and memory alone.
The use of the phrase “sweeter land” is a metaphor for what the speaker believes their intended listener is going to experience throughout the rest of their life. They may end up somewhere or with someone, which makes them happier than the speaker did in the past. But, this fact does not bother them. They know that “you will not soon forget my hands.” The speaker knows that they made a significant impact on their listener’s life and will maintain that influence for years to come.
Nor yet the way I held my head,
And smiling, in the secret night,
The speaker notes that their intended listener will not forget their hands, nor will they forget “the way I hold my head / Nor all the tremulous things I said.” These short and simple statements suggest that the speaker knows precisely how impactful they were on this person’s life. The two were incredibly close, likely romantic partners, and she knows the impact that her words and movements had.
Even if this person moves on to another love interest, the speaker’s presence will still be there “in the secret night” when no one else is around. Her influence will continue to exert itself, and the listener will see her “small and white / And smiling.” The use of the word “smiling” helps readers imagine the positive and peaceful influence the speaker sees herself as having. She is not going to serve as a malevolent spirit or memory within this person’s life.
And feel my arms about you when
By telling later loves about me.
The romantic connection between the two is made clear in line nine. Here, the speaker imagines that when “you” wake up, “you” are going to feel “my arms about you.” This is a memory they believe is going to be positive and long-lasting. Its impact is further emphasized by the poet’s use of a metaphor comparing day to a “fluttering” bird.
The poem concludes with four lines that summarize the speaker’s intentions and beliefs. They use the words “I think” again, reminding readers that these thoughts are what they believe, not what they know. They believe that this person is going to keep their image, even though they won’t physically be there, and tell “later loves about me.” This speaker is going to remain so influential in their past lover’s life that they will tell their future partners about her.
Below, readers can explore the most important themes in Dorothy Parker’s ‘But Not Forgotten.’
- Memory. Memory is the central theme in ‘But Not Forgotten.’ The speaker who is well acquainted with the person they’re talking to knows that no matter what happens in the intended listener’s life that they will always accompany them. This person will “hold me in your memory” and “keep my image, there without me” for the rest of their life.
The theme is also seen in the title. Parker quotes the well-known phrase “gone but not forgotten” but removes the first word “gone.” This puts the emphasis on memory rather than loss. It is one of the many reasons that this poem is far more hopeful and peaceful than it is sorrowful.
- Loss. In addition to memory, loss is also a primary theme Parker engages within her ‘But Not Forgotten.’ While it is never stated explicitly that the speaker has passed away, it is a possibility. Whether the speaker is dead and delivering these lines from the afterlife, or they have simply parted ways with a person to whom they are directing their words, both people have experienced loss. The listener is going to go on to have “later loves” that the speaker believes they will share her memory with.
Structure and Form
‘But Not Forgotten’ by Dorothy Parker is a fourteen-line sonnet that uses perfectly rhymed couplets. They follow the rhyme scheme of AABBCCDDEEFFGG. This pattern does not align with either of the most popular sonnet forms, Shakespearean or Petrarchan. But, it is far from unusual. Rhyming couplets are a part of most sonnets, and alternative versions of the forms popularized by Shakespeare and Petrarch are often used.
Within this piece, the poet also uses iambic tetrameter. This is a type of meter and one of the most popular metrical patterns in the English language. It occurs when the poet writes eight-syllable lines that can be divided into four sets of two beats. The sets of two syllables contain one unstressed sound and one stressed sound. For example, line one with the stressed in bold reads:
I think, no matter where you stray,
Another good example is line twelve. It reads:
You’ll hold me in your memory
Throughout this poem, Parker makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of more than one line. For example, “me,” which ends lines thirteen and fourteen. This can increase a feeling of rhythm and create an interesting example of repetition. In this case, the poet uses a perfectly rhymed couplet to close out their sonnet in the Shakespearean tradition.
- Repetition: can be seen when the poet repeats anything from a single image to a structure, line, or more. In this case, the word “me” is used five times within the poem. Four of these instances are in the last three lines.
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of more than one line. For example, “And” starts three lines, and “nor” starts two lines. “You” is also repeated twice as the first word in a line.
- Consonance: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound in a line. For instance, in “By telling later loves about me,” in which the poet included the “l” sound several times. This line is also an example of alliteration.
- Metaphor: can be seen when the poet makes a comparison between two unlike things without using the words “like” or “as.” In this case, the poet compares the “day” to a “fluttering” bird.
The speaker is a person, likely a woman, who has separated from her romantic partner. It’s possible, due to the speaker’s use of language, that they have passed away and are addressing their partner from the afterlife.
The tone is peaceful and contended. Although the speaker has separated, either through death or another means, from the person they love, they know their influence will remain strong. Their intended listener is not going to forget them anytime soon.
Dorothy Parker wrote the poem ‘But Not Forgotten’ to speak on themes of loss and memory. The poet suggests but does not confirm that the speaker is addressing a past lover from the afterlife within the lines.
Parker likely wrote this poem in order to engage with feelings of loss that many readers, including the poet herself, are familiar with. The speaker suggests that memory is stronger than death or distance. No matter how the two are separated, the speaker’s memory is going to remain a strong and influential part of their lover’s life.
Dorothy Parker’s writing was primarily focused on contemporary American life. She often wrote about gender and relationships. Initially, her verse was dismissed as “flapper poetry” unworthy of serious literary analysis.
Some of Dorothy Parker’s most famous poems are ‘The Danger of Writing Defiant Verse,’ ‘Love Song,’ and ‘Song in a Minor Key.’ Her collections of poetry include Enough Rope and Sunset Gun.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider exploring some other Dorothy Parker poems. For example:
- ‘A Certain Lady’ – is a fairly short poem in which the speaker mourns the fact that the person she loves does not love her in return.
- ‘Autumn Valentine’ – reveals two moments in the scope of the narrator’s pain — one when the pain was new and one when it had endured for a time in the shadows.
- ‘Inventory’ – a thoughtful and entertaining poem. It outlines what the speaker has in her life, would be wiser to know, better off without, and more.