'Song (When I am dead, my dearest)' - Language, tone and structure

Language and tone


There is a marked amount of repetition in Song:

  • Whilst the first verse ends, ‘And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget (lines 7-8), the second ends ‘Haply I remember, / And haply may forget (lines 15-16). By prefacing the words ‘remember' and ‘forget' in the same way in both instances, there is a blurring of the distinction between memory and forgetfulness
  • The first three lines in the second verse begin, ‘I shall not' (lines 9-11). The repetition of this phrase highlights the transformation of the speaker's senses after death. S/he is no longer able to ‘see', ‘feel', or ‘hear' earthly phenomena. Rather, his/her concerns will shift away from the earthly environment.


Throughout Song Rossetti also uses alliteration and sibilance to create a song-like tone:

  • Phrases such as ‘sad songs' (line 2) highlight the melancholy voice of the speaker. The soft ‘sh' sounds in the words ‘shady' and ‘showers' reinforce his/her weary tone
  • The description of ‘green grass' is sensuous and offers a comforting promise.

Investigating language and tone

  • Think about the voice that emerges through the poem. Does this voice bring out any particular emotions?
    • To what extent are you able to identify with the poetic speaker?
  • Is there any evidence to suggest that the speaker is actually a woman?
    • Would a difference in gender mean that you read the poem any differently?
    • Do you consider that the speaker displays traits traditionally ascribed to a male or female voice?

Structure and versification


The first verse of Song is written in iambic tetrameter, with the first foot inverted in l. 1, 3 and 5. This creates a song-like rhythm. This is strengthened by the regularity of the second stanza, broken only by the trochee that starts the penultimate line.


In Song, the use of enjambement creates a sense of spontaneity and reinforces the idea that the speaker is freely expressing his/her ideas. In particular, the lines, ‘And dreaming through the twilight / That doth not rise nor set' (lines 13-14) demonstrate the free flow of thought that the poem expresses.

Investigating structure and versification

  • Read the first verse again closely, thinking about its rhythm. Which other words does the poem emphasise through the rhythm of that the metre creates?
    • Which words are linked to one another through the metre?
  • Like A Birthday, the poem is written in a 16 line form, divided up into 2 stanzas
    • Can you identify any further similarities in form?
    • Can you identify any differences?
  • How does the metre in each of Song (When I am dead, my dearest) and A Birthday differ?
  • What does the structure contribute to the poems?
    • Does it affect the tone in which the poems are read?
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