‘Remembrance’ by Emily Brontë is an elegy. This means that it was written in honor of something or someone lost. It is used as a way of remembering and memorializing that loss. The title works into this form quite clearly, especially as it becomes clear that the loss was not recent. It happened fifteen years ago.
The first stanza of the poem is the darkest in which describes her guilty feelings over her fading memory. She worries because her heart does not mourn as strongly or as powerfully for the lover that she lost fifteen years ago. She directs her words directly to this person, trying to explain to him what’s been going on in her life and why her feelings have shifted.
She knows that change is inevitable. The speaker is being carried along by the waves of time and her desires and needs are shifting. The poem concludes with a speaker explaining how she eventually had to train her soul to stop morning so heavily for her dead lover. If she did not, she would never be able to find peace in her life, much less joy. Now that things have changed she’s able to experience life without feeling as though she should hasten towards her own grave.
The mood shifts throughout this poem from clear-cut mourning and sorrow to slightly more hopeful and accepting. But, there is without a doubt continuously depressing imagery throughout. This includes sensory imagery such as the cold and dark.
There are several interesting themes in ‘Remembrance’ that Brontë spends time on. These include love and love lost, as well as time and change. The latter two come together to provide the backing for the feelings of guilt that follow the speaker through life. She’s lost her lover, which was distressing enough, and now she’s wracked with guilt as she worries over her memories and heart.
Time is best represented in this poem through the image of the “wave”. Just like a real wave, this metaphorical wave sweeps over everything and moves it along whether it wants to move or not.
‘Remembrance’ by Emily Brontë is an eight stanza elegy that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD, changing end sounds from stanza to stanzas. Additionally, the poem uses specific metrical patterns. Brontë mostly uses iambic pentameter but there are moments in which the stresses are anapaestic or spondaic instead.
Iambic pentamer refers to the number of beats per line and where the stresses fall. In this form, there are always five sets of two beats, or syllables, per line. The first of these syllables are unstressed and the second is stressed.
Brontë makes use of several literary devices in ‘Remembrance’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, caesura, and anaphora. The latter, anaphora, is one of the easiest literary techniques to recognize. It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “No” at the beginning of lines one and two and “All” at the beginning of lines three and four of the fifth stanza.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “fern” and “forever” in lines three and four of the second stanza as well as “From” and “Faithful” at the beginning of lines two and three of the third stanza.
Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might precede an important turn or transition in the text.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?
In the first stanza of ‘Remembrance’, the speaker begins by referencing the cold grave that her lover, now long dead, is buried in. It is covered up by piles of snow and “far removed” from her. These lines include contemplation of the current state of the speaker’s heart and how she has changed in the fifteen years since her lover has died. She directs the next lines of the poem to her dead lover, a technique known as apostrophe.
While he cannot hear her, she still dedicates her words to him. She asks a rhetorical question, not expecting to receive an answer. She wonders if the period of time that she’s lived through since has severed in her some portion of the love that she used to feel for him. She’s worried that her memory is fading and that what she remembers is not reality.
Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?
In the second stanza of ‘Remembrance’ there is another rhetorical question. Here, she continues to consider the current state of her memory. She reminds the reader that a lot of time has passed since her lover’s death. There are several words such as “no longer” and “now” that remind the reader that “now” is not “then”.Things have changed.
The speaker is moving away from the memories of this man who has died. Her heart no longer hovers “over the mountains, on the northern shore”. That place, a symbol for her lover, is much farther in the distance than she might in reality like it to be. This speaker’s emotional struggle is quite clear.
Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring:
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!
The third stanza of ‘Remembrance’ begins with another iteration of the phrase “cold in the earth”. This is followed by an important piece of information that fifteen years has in fact passed since this man has died. She uses natural imagery to chart the progress of time over those fifteen years. Take for example the brown hills that have “melted into spring,” a symbol of change. That same “change” is reiterated at the end of the stanza as well.
In lines three and four she refers to a “Faithful Spirit”. The spirit is faithful in that it “remember[s] / after such years of change and suffering”. Through this excited statement, she is alluding to the fact that she feels as though she has been unfaithful to this person. Because her memory is fading, she feels as though she’s doing something wrong. But, the reader should note that she is in fact writing this poem. So that means that she’s not quite as faithless as she fears.
Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!
The fourth stanza of ‘Remembrance’ is again directed to the dead lover. She asks him to forgive her forgetfulness while the “world’s tide is bearing her along”. She’s unable to escape from the tide that is life.
It is representative of the progress of time and the inevitable changes that come over one’s mind, heart, and physical life, as time progresses without a loved one there. She is “beset” by “other desires and other hopes”. These hopes obscure the past and her memories of this person. But, she adds in the end they “cannot do thee wrong”. Despite these changes, she is saying, they cannot totally destroy what the two had in the past.
No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.
The fifth stanza is a good example of anaphora. The first two lines begin with the same words and the third and fourth lines do as well. In the stanza, she informs her lover that “no later light has lightened up her heaven”. This is a roundabout, poetic way of saying that she has not had another lover since this person died. There has been no “second mourn” that has brightened her life.
She has remained in the darkness and night that was left behind when her lover died. She tells this person, rather dramatically, that any joy she had in life was given to him and now belongs in the grave with him. Her “life‘s bliss” resides in the “grave with thee”. The repetition of the phrase “all my life‘s bliss” emphasizes how sincere the speaker is in her beliefs. She truly thinks that this is the case, and even wants it to be true. If it was, she would certainly feel a bit of the guilt she is experiencing relieved.
But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.
Stanza six of ‘Remembrance’ tells the dead man that although her dreams, the man himself, has died, there is some hope. The mournful mood of the poem is slightly lightened in this stanza and the ones that follow. She tells this person that despair and darkness have not completely destroyed her. There’s something that comes after “ Bliss”. She is able to experience life “without the aid of joy”. There is some kind of pleasure to be taken from being alive even if that pleasure is without joy.
Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.
She explains to the dead man in the seventh stanza how after coming to this revelation she “check the tears of useless passion”. She felt as though the emotional disturbance she was experiencing was in the end not benefiting her. She was able to cast it off and “ween” herself from yearning after the dead lover.
She learned to exert a new control over her soul, stopping it from longing so strongly for the grave and for rejoining the dead man. She no longer hastens to meet her own end.
And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?
In the eighth stanza ‘Remembrance’ concludes. She adds that although her soul has changed somewhat she still has to keep an eye on it. She “dare not let it languish” or indulge too deeply in “memories rapturous pain”. If she drinks too deeply of the pain of her loss she will return to the depths of despair that she experienced in the past. She knows that if she engaged in this manner of thinking again she would never want to “seek the empty world again”.