‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti, Full Summary & Analysis
By Mohamed Zayed, a Linguist
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 planned:
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.
‘Remember’ is a sonnet by the Victorian English poetess Christina Rossetti. It is a mixture of melancholy and light cheerfulness. This mixture is found in many of Rossetti’s poems. The introduction line of the poem implies a loving, yet melancholic atmosphere. The conflict which the poetess reflects in her poem is part of her everyday personal dilemmas. She is someone who is always letting her devout Christian beliefs take control over her life.
In her poems, Rossetti appears to be obsessed with two main notions: meeting her creator, and her agonizing illnesses. The poem at hand sheds light on this mood of thinking in a framework of an odd love affair. It is a love affair in which the poetess claims that she—the lover—may not be truly in love with her lover the way he love her. But since her death is near, she gives little attention to the whole issue of love.
The focus of the poetess in this case is how her lover will ‘remember’ her after she is gone. Hence, the title is highly symbolic and suggestive. She is wondering at how he will remember her: Will her remember her as someone whom he never know whether or not she truly loved him and the resulting pain that follows such notion? Or will he remember that she loved him more or less the same way he adored her? Many critics claim that the poem is a passage between true worlds: the world of the love of man and the world of the divinely love on the one hand and the world of beauty and the world of death on the other hand. It is rather a conflict between the physical and the sensory on the one hand and the transcendent and spiritual on the other.
The two opening lines of the poem evoke the idea of separation and departure. The apparent reason for that departure is the near death of the beloved, the poetess herself. She states that she will be going into the “silent land” which is a symbol of cemetery or the cold atmosphere of the grave. Yet, the speaker wishes to be well remembered. The speaker reveals her uncertainty whether she shares true lover with her lover. In line 5, the speaker repeats her call for her lover to ‘remember’ her. He can talk to her about the future that he imagined for the both of them. The speaker chooses the word “you” in “you planned” to reflect her uncertain feelings further towards her lover which reflects that she has not given much thought to their relationship in the long run for the rest of their lives, otherwise she would have chosen “we”.
Lines 7 and 8 represent the end of the first octave or eight rhyming lines of the sonnet. The poem final part—the sestet—does not provide a conclusive view of the whole affair. Once again, the speaker repeats her wish of being remembered. It seems rather like a plea. She tells her lover that the only way to make her alive with him long after she is gone is by honoring her memory since it will be too late to plead or pray for her.
Yet, in lines 9 and 10, the poetess shocks her readers with her introduction of the word “forget” which contradicts with the previous part of the poem and even the main idea of “remembering” her. She gives in to the idea that her memory may slip away from the mind of her lover from time to time. If this shall happen, she tells the lover not to be saddened as a result or “grieve”. In this part of the poem, it is found that the poetess is being realistic for the first time about their relationship and the likelihood that the lover will go on with his life, not dwelling on her memory, a woman whom he once loved and lost.
In lines 11 and 12, the poetess provides a justification for her request from her lover to be both remembered and forgotten. She says that the memory of her death may leave “darkness and corruption” in the life of the lover since he may recall that the thoughts of his beloved may have been those of leaving him and ending the relationship before her death. But she did not have the chance to do so. Such “vestige” or tracing of her intention would hurt him, hence tainting her memory after death.
In the last two lines of the poem, the poetess seeks to establish equilibrium to serve the function as a final resolution. She seeks to evoke the message that if a lover of a dead person is in pain because of the deceased’s memory, then it is better for the living to forget the dead. The poetess does not want the lover not to mourn her. On the contrary, she just does not want him to be pained by the likely ideas of her intention to leave him when she was alive.
As for the major themes of the sonnet, it can be noticed that the themes of imperfect love, death as well as equilibrium are dominant. As for form and structure, this sonnet follows the Petrarchan rhyme scheme in general. The sonnet contains 14 lines which are divided into an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the last six lines). In this type of sonnet, the octave serves the purpose of acting as a rising action which presents a vision or a question that becomes the subject or the focus of the poem whereas the sestet provides a resolution or an answer to the aforementioned question of the octave. A Petrarchan sonnet follows the rhyme scheme (a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a) for the first eight lines and (c-d-e-c-d-e) for the final six.