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Christina Rossetti's "Remember"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Christina Rossetti

Introduction and Text of "Remember"

Christina Rossetti's "Remember" is a Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet with the rime scheme ABBAABBA in the octave and CDDECE in the sestet. The Petrarchan sonnet traditionally features a shift between the octave and sestet, and in this sonnet the shift, or volta, is signaled by the adverbial conjunction "yet." Breaking her engagement with her fiancé, the speaker in Rossetti's Italian sonnet requests that he keep the pleasant and discard the unpleasant.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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.

Reading of "Remember"

Commentary

The speaker is breaking her engagement with her fiancé and is asking of him that he keep the pleasant and discard the unpleasant about their relationship, likely a thought process she wishes to follow.

Octave: Request to Be Remembered

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.

The speaker is addressing her fiancé, from whom she is parting. She asks him to remember her after she has departed to that "silent land." After she severs her engagement with him, they will no longer converse. It will be to him almost as if she had died; she will exist in perpetual silence, which will fall between them at the end of their relationship. The speaker then refers to the simple act of handholding; after she has left the listener, he will no longer be able to "hold [her] by the hand." He also will not experience her temporary departures wherein she would "half turn to go," but then while "turning stay."

The fiancé had often detailed to her his plans for their future. The speaker does not castigate the man for planning their future, but she implies that she will be relieved no longer to hear his ideas. Thus she again reiterates her command, asking him to remember her, but "only remember" her. The speaker is not asking him to remember her fondly, for she is aware that such a command would be impossible. The speaker avers that after their separation there will be no need for matrimonial "counsel" and prayer for their marriage. She knows he will understand all these things, and it is likely she is comforting herself more with these sentiments than she is her partner.

Sestet: Maybe Forget a Little

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.

In the sestet, the speaker then allows for the possibility that the man might forget her "for a while." And she asserts that the forgetfulness might bring him grief, which she asks him not to employ. The speaker then says, "For if the darkness and corruption leave / A vestige of the thoughts that once I had," indicating that she believes the relationship was doomed by some unclean act. She implies that she will try to forget that act, but she knows that thoughts of it may creep into her mind.

The speaker therefore now wishes that her former beloved not be bothered by the poor earlier decision. She wants him to believe as she does that it would be more valuable for him to let go thoughts of the unclean acts of their relationship and just hold in memory good thoughts of her and thus be capable of showing happiness. An uncomplicated memory would be better for him than concentrating on any mistake which might cause him to "be sad." The speaker, by framing her regrets in terms of simplicity of selective forgetfulness and selective remembrance, attempts to provide comfort to her fiancé and also to herself as they separate.

Christina Rossetti

Questions & Answers

Question: What kind of sonnet is Christina Rosetti's "Remeber"?

Answer: It’s a Petrarchan sonnet.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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