Christina Rossetti, selected poems Contents
- A Better Resurrection
- A Birthday
- A Royal Princess
- At Home
- Cousin Kate
- Despised and Rejected
- Goblin Market
- Good Friday
- Jessie Cameron
- Maude Clare
- Shut Out
- Song (When I am dead, my dearest)
- Summer is Ended
- The Convent Threshold
- The Lowest Place
- To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy
- Winter: My Secret
'Remember' - Language, tone and structure
Language and tone
- The first two imperative verbs are placed at the start rather than the end of the first and fifth lines
- In the middle of the seventh, the strength of the request is modified by the word ‘Only' on its third appearance
- It is further qualified in adverbial sub-clauses by ‘And afterwards' and ‘Better .. you / Than .. you' in the sestet, losing its association with ‘me'.
Further repetition with variation is seen in:
- ‘gone away / Gone far away', which reinforces the distance that is growing between the speaker and her lover and emphasises the boundary that exists between life and death
- ‘if you should forget / Better … you should forget', which turns the possibility of forgetfulness into an imperative.
The voice of the speaker is controlled but increasingly tentative, revealing as well as concealing meaning. The certainties of being able to remain with the beloved (l.4), of audible advice and prayer (l.8) are replaced by vestiges of memory amidst increasing forgetfulness. The speaker even changes the message s/he wants to give to the beloved. The command to remember is replaced by the suggestion s/he is happy for the beloved to forget.
Investigating language and tone
- What indications are there that the speaker's statement (that it would be better for the beloved to forget than to remember and be sad l.13-14) is genuine?
- How would you describe the tone of the speaker?
- Can you identify any places where the tone changes?
- What is the effect of using direct and simple language?
Structure and versification
The act of turning forms a key structural pattern in Remember. In the first line, the speaker asks the beloved to remember the speaker once s/he has ‘gone away'. It is not until the mention of the ‘silent land' in the second line that it appears this is a euphemism for death. S/he recalls how, in previous meetings, there was reluctance to turn away from the beloved, yet this is now a necessity that they both must deal with. Alternatively, the idea of ‘staying' can be seen as a reference to remaining in the memory of the beloved.
In line 9, the volta (or turning point of the Petrarchan sonnet), the speaker's tone changes. Turning from the instruction to remember, s/he suddenly chooses to accept that s/he may be forgotten and declares that it would be far better that the beloved forgot and was happy than remembered and was sad. At the same time, the assumed happy past of the lovers is perhaps shaken by the idea that the thoughts the speaker ‘once ... had' should be forgotten because they were not entirely positive.
More on the volta: A volta is a term that is used to describe the shift in ideas as a sonnet moves from the octave to the sestet. Often, the six line sestet presents an answer or a solution to the problem outlined in the eight line octave.
The traditional metre of a sonnet is iambic pentameter. Used here, the regularity of the iambic beat reinforces the sense of control the speaker attempts to establish over the matter of death and the beloved's reaction to this, something s/he suggests s/he has little control over. The inversion of the first foot in l. 2, 7 and 13 hints at the passion which is fighting for expression. However, the strict pentameter lines convey the enclosure and restraint of the speaker as s/he suggests that s/he has more to express but cannot find the appropriate words in which to do so.
The iamb is a rising foot and its consistent use emphasises the progressive movement of the speaker's thoughts as s/he comes to a realisation that s/he may be forgotten. Throughout Remember, Rossetti combines the repetition of words with the effect of the metre to highlight several important movements. For instance, whereas the pronoun ‘I' is stressed twice in the octave (lines 1, 3), it remains unstressed in the sestet and the word ‘had' is stressed in its place, highlighting the passing of a particular identity (line 12).
The rhyme scheme of the octave consists of two enclosed quatrains: abba, abba. The enclosure of the rhyme scheme reflects the retention of a person's ‘thoughts' that the speaker describes as existing in the memory of the beloved.
The rhyme scheme of the sestet runs cddece. By beginning with a cdd rhyme and then breaking into a different pattern, it emphases the shift of the speaker's thoughts. The disruption of the expected pattern may also hint at the intrusion of uncomfortable ‘thoughts' of the speaker (proceeding from a ‘dark' place), the memory of which would sadden the beloved.
By joining ‘had' and ‘sad' (lines 12, 14), Rossetti structurally highlights the disjunction between remembering and forgetting.
Investigating structure and versification
- Note that the word ‘if' is stressed twice in the sestet. What is the effect of this?
- Consider the words that are rhymed. How can they be linked to create another level of meaning?
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