The Bio and History
Rossetti was the youngest of four children and the daughter of two Italian parents. Although she lived with her religious mother for her whole life, she followed in the footsteps of her father and brothers, who were excellent poets in their own right. From the beginning, she was destined to go down the road of poetry, but nobody thought she would be considered one of the best female poets of the Victorian age. (Source 1)
In the early 1860’s, Rossetti fell in love with Charles Cayley. They were engaged to be married until, in the late 60’s, she decided to cut it off because of their differing religious views. (Source 2) Many scholars believe that this poem, which was written in 1862, was written for Cayley in the event that Rossetti died while the two were together. Rossetti seemed to have an odd desire to write about death, especially her own, writing about it in many of her poems.
Many of Rossetti’s poems have an intense blend between love and death, and “Remember” is no exception. From the very first line, love and death are intertwined as if they are inseparable components of life, and this theme continues throughout the entire poem. It is the reader’s job to decipher which is more appropriate for each individual situation. (Source 3)
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 one I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
The Audio Version
Christina Rossetti was known for her contrasting themes of love and death that she put in most of her poems: “Remember” exception. From the first line, you can see Rossetti’s conflict between love and death and she continues to battle with it throughout the entire poem. She continues to switch back and forth line after line, for example “silent land” to “hold me by the hand”. Rossetti’s life followed a similar pattern: falling in live with Charles Cayley, calling off their engagement, and publishing Goblin Market and Other Poems, which was her greatest collection of work. The struggle between the good times and the bad in “Remember” could almost be a mirror image of the events of her life. (Source 4)
In the poem, she is clearly talking to a loved one saying that no matter what happens, whether it is death or separation, she wants the loved one to remember her. This poem was written during the period in which Rossetti was in love with Cayley, and it seems as if she is trying to tell him to always be prepared for the worse. “Remember” appears to be a pessimistic poem because Rossetti is acting as if she will die any day. She gives the impression that the end is near when in reality, she doesn’t die for another 32 years. (Source 5)
The octave of the poem is set up with the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA, but it is also set up because it has a sort of demanding tone. Three times throughout the first 8 lines, Rossetti says, “Remember me,” in what feels like a commanding manner as if she wants her legacy to live on through the ones she loves. Rossetti points out all the things they won’t be able to do when she is gone, and how awful it will be without her.
The first line of the poem is the most paradoxical line throughout the piece. As said before, Rossetti combines the elements of love and death into much of her poetic works. Here she is imploring that the lover always hold her close to his heart. It also begs the question, in 1862 when the poem is written, does she know that eventually she will call off her engagement to Charles Cayley? It makes one think that in a way she is both preparing for her death or for their separation.
“The silent land” could possibly allude to a religious land such as heaven, hell or purgatory. Because Rossetti was so close to her mother, who was very religious, some of that may have rubbed off on Rossetti and she decided to put it into her poem. Also the reference to “the silent land” cancels out the possibility that she is talking about a separation between her and he loved one. By talking about heaven or hell, she is most definitely referring to death.
The next line reverts back to the love side of the poem when Rossetti says, “hold me by the hand.” This illustrates her passion for the loved one she is talking to in the poem, presumably Cayley. The switch back to love goes back to what was said earlier about being a mirror of her life: constant struggles intertwined with relentless frivolities.
Often in society, people argue about the difference between the heart and the soul, but in line 4, Rossetti says that they are completely different, sometimes having opposite inclinations. “Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay,” conveys the message that the heart and the soul have opposite intentions here. The soul must turn to go and return to where it belongs whether that is heaven or hell. However, the heart knows where it belongs and that is to stay right along side the loved one. The heart does not want to leave this earthly world yet, nor does it want to leave its beloved behind. This could also be interpreted as, it is said that two hearts beat as one. So if one heart is leaving because it is dying then its other half is staying. The hearts don’t want to be separated, but they have been forced to by nature.
“No more, day by day, you tell me of our future,” refers to the future she had planned with Cayley. At the time the poem is written they are in love and like people in love do, they talked about their future together and what they might have in store. But, obviously, if she dies then they can’t have a future together. She asks him to remember what they talked about and what they had planned. Although those plans will do him no good with her being dead, she wants him to think about how great it could have been, how much fun they would have had, and how much their love would have grown.
Lines 7 and 8 seem to be transition lines. She still uses the command, “Remember me” in line 7 but right that, at the end of line 7 and in line 8, she says, “You understand it will be late to counsel then or pray.” It’s almost as if Rossetti is starting to get closer to her death as the poem progresses. She is starting to realize that she’s going to die and there is nothing that will stop that. Line 8 shows her acceptance of death. By accepting death, that opens her up to a whole new view of life. At the beginning of the poem, Rossetti bosses her loved one around and leaves final commands for him. But when she is finally staring death right in the face and she’s on the brink of death, she understands that’s not what it’s all about. Line 8 is a shift in the poem; it is the end of the octave and the beginning of the sestet.
The sestet seems to shed some more light on the imploring octave. The sestet has a CDDECE rhyme scheme which explains the sestet in itself. The sestet shows that Rossetti had a change of heart from the octave; she has scratched the original idea and gone with a new approach (and a new rhyme scheme). Instead of bringing up everything they can’t do when she is gone, she talks about going on without her and how everything will be okay. In line 10, she says, “do not grieve,” this shows her change of heart. Instead of demanding that she be remembered, she is saying that she wants to be remembered, but if her loved one is busy, she will understand that. Rossetti explains in the sestet that in the octave she was so demanding because she knows that she loved him (Him being Charles Cayley) so much. She now realizes that it is better for him to continue enjoying life with her in the back of his mind (but not erased from it) than to live in sorrow and never experience the true beauty that life has to offer.
“Yet if you should forget me for a while and afterwards remember, do not grieve.” This shows that Rossetti has become aware that it isn’t important if they are constantly missing you and that they are continuous miserable without you. She acknowledges now that it is okay to for her loved one to be happy even if she is not there. Rossetti adds the “do not grieve” to sort of cover up the commanding tone that she used earlier. By adding that in, she is admitting that she was wrong earlier in the poem about being demanding. Rossetti is saying don’t worry about it, it’s going to happen and it will be perfectly fine when it does.
Lines 10 and 11 are basically an apology from Rossetti to her loved one. She realizes that she was being demanding and that she wants to take back any, “vestige of the thoughts that I once had.” She even admits that they were brought about through “darkness and corruption” and now she knows better. The closer she gets to death, the more loving and the more kind she becomes. This reaffirms the point about love and death being intertwined throughout Rossetti’s poems. As the feeling of death grows closer in Rossetti, the feeling of love grows stronger. Rossetti shows that love and death feed and thrive off of each other. Everyone that is loved will die and everything that dies was loved. They go hand in hand and Rossetti shows that in this poem.
By the end of the poem, Rossetti has done a complete 180 degree turn. The words, “forget and smile,” are compassionate, loving, and caring; they aren’t commanding, threatening, or demanding. She’s is telling her loved one that she wants him to be happy. It is better to move on and look back fondly on what happened and to remember the good times for what they were than to hold on to them, never letting go, and wishing that you could have it all back. She’s telling him that it’s okay to let go and to move on, but when he does remember it, it’s okay to smile too. She doesn’t want him to ruin all the love they had by being miserable because he can’t bring that back. She wants him to be happy and to move on to do bigger and better things, taking the joys and the good times of his past with him as opposed to letting them drag him down.
This poem connects to the Return Stage of the hero journey because the hero, in this case Rossetti, is on the back nine and is headed home. Rossetti sees the end in sight, but she doesn’t celebrate it until the second half of the poem. In the first half she is still rough and rugged from the Road of Trials, but in the end she realizes that the end is near. Because she realized this, it makes her a true hero and that is her gift that she brings back into the world: to live your life to the fullest. Rossetti is saying that you can’t wait to death is breathing down your neck to start living, you have to start today.