Introduction to the Poet:
Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems.
Of all Victorian women poets, posterity has been kindest to Christina Rossetti. Her poetry has never disappeared from view, and her reputation, though it suffered a decline in the first half of the twentieth century, has always been preserved to some degree in Rossetti’s lifetime opinion was divided over whether she or Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the greatest female poet of the era; in any case, after Browning’s death in 1861 readers saw Rossetti as the older poet’s rightful successor.
Christina Rossetti was born in Charlotte Street (now 105 Hallam Street), London, to Gabriele Rossetti, a poet and a political exile from Vasto, Abruzzo, and Frances Polidori, the sister of Lord Byron‘s friend and physician, John William Polidori. She had two brothers and a sister: Dante Gabriel became an influential artist and poet, and William Michael and Maria both became writers. Christina, the youngest, was a lively child. She dictated her first story to her mother before she had learned to write.
Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father, who had her study religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and would have a deep impact on Rossetti’s later writing. Their home was open to visiting Italian scholars, artists and revolutionaries. The family homes in Bloomsbury at 38 and later 50 Charlotte Street were within easy reach of Madam Tussauds, London Zoo and the newly opened Regent’s Park, which she visited regularly; in contrast to her parents, Rossetti was very much a London child, and, it seems, a happy one.
In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves’ Disease, diagnosed in 1872 suffering a nearly fatal attack in the early 1870s. In 1893, she developed breast cancer and though a tumour was removed, she suffered a recurrence in September 1894. She died in Bloomsbury on 29 December 1894 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
The poem is a heartfelt cry of a beloved on the deathbed that resonates with the lovers all around the globe creating a pathetic image that strikes the heart of many, with its soulful and wonderful diction.
The setting of Remember:
The poem is set probably on the death bed of a poet when she speaks to her lover for remembering her. However, with the death, the lover might reconcile in her reminiscence and thus dwell with her memories.
She further says the kind of place death is. She describes it as a place for solitude, thus saying a “silent land” where the dreams of future aren’t discussed and couples do not hold hands. This signifies her love, deeply.
Poetic Devices in Remember:
The poem is written in Iambic pentameter and is a sonnet. The octave of “Remember” follows your basic ABBA ABBA scheme, while the sestet has the unique, but still perfectly legal, scheme CDD ECE.
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Holding the hand, here is an imagery that shows a sense of care and possession among lovers. By using the image of hand-holding in Remember, Rossetti suggests a kind of possession. By indicating that her lover will no longer be able to hold her by the hand the poetess means to say, he will no longer be able to possess her.
Darkness and corruption in the poem refer to physical decay. The poetess means to say, after her death the melancholy feelings associated with the loss of the body will remain, while the sweet memories during her lifetime will persist.
The silent land is the land where there is no disturbance only presence of tranquillity. However, the silent land is a place of melancholy after death, too. This is because, in this silent land, there are no holding hands, no lovers talking of the future plans and thus a melancholic place indeed.
The word “Remember” has been repeated many times to portray the importance and the significance that she should be remembered and recalled, even when she is dead.
A euphemism is a nice way of saying something not so nice. Death is referred to as a silent land, thus euphemism is used.
“ When you can no more hold me by the hand,”
This is clearly an alliteration repeating the ‘h’ sound.
Summary of Remember:
The poem begins with:
“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.”
This clearly depicts the poetess wants her beloved to remember her when she is gone away, that is when she goes to the ‘silent land’ or the land of death. She will not be able to communicate with her beloved anymore and will be not possessed by him, that is, he cannot hold her hand when she turns to go but look back to get a last glimpse of the beloved.
“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.”
Here, the poetess tries to say that when she is no more when the lover cannot plan for a wonderful future with her, she requests him not to forget her. However, because of the immense love for her beloved, she says not to pray for her: or counsel for her. Rather, she should be a part of his memory.
“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.”
Lastly, the poetess says even if the lover forgets her for a while because the life after death is unknown: the remaining thoughts that she possessed should be forgotten and the lover should smile rather than remembering her and being sad.
Critical Analysis of Remember:
The poem is intricately associated with a feeling of love and advice for the beloved. The poetess wants to be remembered by her beloved but does not want to sadden him. On the death, which is a silent abyss, a world where the lovers cannot communicate and the relationships are bounded, where two souls in love cannot discuss ideas and plan for a wonderful future together, will be where the poetess would reside. The wonderful development of the sense of love is the key note of the poem.
The poem also deals with longing. The longing to be remembered, recalled and remain as a memory is evident. Life goes on and after her death, slowly and steadily the lover might forget her. On one hand, she doesn’t want to be wiped out from the memory of the beloved and on the other hand, she needs to be loved but doesn’t want the beloved to remain sad.
This amazing contrast brings out a true charm and does wonders to the poem.
Central Theme of Remember:
Remember can be read as highlighting the passive role of women in the Victorian society.
The act of possessing her, talking about the future that he had thought with her, all acts as a symbolism that the decisions were imposed on women.
In the light of this, perhaps the speaker’s inner thoughts come from a ‘dark’ place and are rebellious and resentful of this treatment. They may well trouble the beloved, who can only smile if he ignores them.
Considering the high mortality rate in Victorian Britain, it is fair to suppose that, like Rossetti herself, most of her early readers would have had some experience of death, whether of a parent, sibling, friend or lover.
The poem is an outcome of that experience.
Love is a predominating theme of the poem. The poetess is so much in love with the beloved that she wishes to be in his memory even after her death. Every moment and throughout the poem, the poetess expresses this desire to be loved.
The dearth desire of being in the memory is also suppressed by the desire for the happiness for the beloved and thus, in the end, she suggests that he should remember her, but not grief and be sad about her.
The tone of Remember:
The tone of the poem is melancholic with the combination of a longing. The longing is one of the desire to be remembered and the poem brings out the sense really appropriately. The tone also focuses on love and with the gradual movement towards the end of the poem, the intensity of love for the beloved is beautifully portrayed via the tone of the poem.
The words of a lover on the deathbed, this poem is a universal expression for the unfortunate people who had faced experiences of the death of their close ones and also touches the heart of readers, making this heart-rendering poem one of the best of Rosetti’s work.
Contributor: Bidisha Das