Remember

Overview
If you take the title of this sonnet as an imperative then you’ve got an accurate summary of the poem. Rossetti commands the reader and perhaps a specific somebody to remember her when she dies. Don’t be tricked by the slight wobble at the end where she says that if remembering makes us miserable then we can forget her, she really wants to be immortalised in our remembrance.  
Remember

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.
    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.
    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.

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.

ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Published in 1862 as part of Goblin Market and Other Poems, this poem was actually written when Rossetti was only 19 in 1849. Although it might sound odd for a 19 year old to be contemplating her death and whether people (generally or specifically) would remember her, we need to appreciate that she already has some experience of the fragility of life with her dad’s sickness and suffered a nervous breakdown personally. Also remember that mortality was much higher in those days so dying young would not necessarily be a massive surprise.

Still, it’s a bit morbid for a teenager, but I hope you’ve come to expect such from our Christina!

Who could it be about/for? Well, a year earlier she had become engaged to a her brother’s buddy James Collinson and had not yet grown fed up of his religious indecision and broken the engagement (1850), so it would not be unreasonable to assume this is written about/for Collinson.

 Themes

Death! Well, a little bit. Although she writes from the perspective of death she is more concerned with being recognised and appreciated on earth. She wants to have someone who feels she is important to their life – contrast with ‘At Home’ and those selfish sods.

Content

Another pretty simple one so hopefully I can keep up my succinctness.

The sonnet opens with a clear instruction that we must remember her when she buggers off to a ‘far way silent land’, which we should probably assume means death, but could be an obscure threat that she is moving away to some sort of Buddhist sanctuary where the monks have sworn a vow of silence (don’t listen to me).

Presuming she is alluding to death, the reason it is silent is because she will no longer be able to communicate with the person to whom this is addressed. Not only this, but no more hand holding or tarrying before leaving each other (pretty X-rated stuff here Christina!). The second quatrain continues this idea, implying there will be no chance to imagine their future together or pray for each other.

A bit of a shift after our opening octave, in the sestet Rossetti says that she will let the addressed off if he forgets her for a bit, so long as he doesn’t completely forget her. In the final couplet she goes further and says that if he is just sitting around moping all day thinking of her, then it would be better if he forgets so he can find some happiness. A nice thought, but I suspect she really still would expect this person to remember her, she’s just trying to come across as a caring, loving so and so.

Language and techniques

Start with a comment about the repetitive use of imperatives in the poem. An imperative is an order and this poem is basically a continual order that the addressed must remember her – ‘Remember me’ is repeated three times just to make sure we don’t miss her purpose for the poem. She also includes an addition two mentions of ‘remember’, not in imperative form, to really ram this point home.

I’d also comment on the depiction of death here. She calls it a ‘silent land’, which should present a stark contrast to other poems where she talks about the glory and grandeur of heaven and desperately wants to forsake earthly existence in order to get up to the big cloud paradise in the sky. The silence implies an emptiness and that her death would leave her lonely and unable to be with the one(s) she loves.

You could also comment on who this poem is being addressed to and the nature of their relationship. It is clear this is meant to be about lovers, and young lovers at that. Rossetti mentions that he can no longer ‘hold me by the hand’ and talks of her ‘half turn’ when leaving, which shows an innocent relationship (no suggestion of anything sexual or depraved here) with a Romeo and Juliet notion of romance where the lovers can barely bear being parted. The modern equivalent of the ‘half turn’ scenario would be the ‘no, you hang up’ argument that haunts many young couples – I was always very good at this (by which I mean I would always hang up immediately upon any hint of an invitation to do so) much to the chagrin of my lady friends.

The youthful romance is also clear in the fact she reveals he would ‘tell me of our future’ each day, which conjures to my mind an idea of planning marriage, kids and a happy home that is always a pleasant early part of a relationship, which soon give way to the reality that you dread giving up your independence and freedom for all those awful burdens.

What about her change of tact? In the last two lines she claims it would be ‘better by far you should forget and smile’, there is a clear sense of self sacrifice that I would again associate with romantic love where each party tries to be selfless and put the other first. She doesn’t want to be a source of misery for her lover when she dies. However, I think she’d actually be a little satisfied as this poem is all about her continuing to be important to the addressed and if he couldn’t cope with the grief then I think she’d be happy that he was only forgetting in order to cope – not selfless at all Christina!

Structure

It’s a Petrarchan sonnet, which immediately connects it with romantic ideas and the subject of the poem is so tender that we have to associate it with a lover rather than just being a general hope that others will find some worth in her life.

The rhyme scheme follows a regular ABBA in the opening octave and a sestet CDDECE, which is a fairly standard form. The sestet also serves as a volta as Rossetti changes her tact a little and makes it clear that she does not want any wallowing; her lover is only to remember if he can do it and still enjoy his life. The regularity of the rhyme and also the fact it is written in iambic pentameter throughout lend the poem and calm and smooth tone that mimic Rossetti’s expectations for how her death should be treated: she doesn’t want her lover to be overcome by melancholy and grief, but rather she wants to remain a constant and important part of him.

Shmoop is quite good on this, but I hate the argument at the end about the rhyme reflecting the cyclical nature of life, I think it is overstating it, but I will leave you to judge for yourself.

Tone

Despite being concerned with death this poem is not written in a gloomy manner, but rather has a calm tone that reflects the extent of Rossetti’s affections and helps to communicate how important she considers her lover by demonstrating how much she wants him to remember her should she die.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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