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by Christina Rosetti
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.
Remember is a sonnet by Christina Rosetti, written in iambic pentameter, with an ABBA rhyme scheme for the first 8 lines. The last 6 lines have a rhyme scheme of CDD ECE. The first eight lines are thus relatively standard for a Petrarchan sonnet with respect to rhyme scheme but the last six lines are unique. Petrarchan sonnets are written with the first eight lines referred to as the octave and the last six referred to as the sestet. Typically, in this type of sonnet, the sestet portion represents begins with a subject matter change called a volta.
With respect to the sonnet’s subject matter, the Speaker herein gives instructions to her lover for after she dies. The poem begins with the repetitive instructions to remember her. The poem’s volta begins with the word “Yet” in line 9. After eight lines of pleas and instructions to be remembered, beginning with the volta, she begins to counsel on what to do in the event her love forgets her. Thus the sestet portion of the poem focuses on giving permission to her lover to forget and let her go. The final two lines of the poem complete that thought by arguing that it is “better by far” to forget her altogether, and remain happy, than to remember and be sad.
In a sense, the poem is a study of the grieving process of the Speaker after her own death. At first her wish is to be remembered. She seems to fear being forgotten. However, starting with the Volta, the Speaker is able to consider leaving her lover in a state of permanent grief as the result of her absence. She decides as the poem concludes that forgetting her, moving on, and being happy again, is better than being sad.
Rosetti’s repetitive use of “Remember me when” to begin lines is called “anaphora.”
Anaphora is a rhetorical device that features repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences, phrases, or clauses. Anaphora works as a literary device to allow writers to convey, emphasize, and reinforce meaning. This word repetition at the beginning of each phrase in a group of sentences or clauses is a stylized technique that can be very effective in speeches, lyrics, poetry, and prose.
Rosetti describes death in Line 1 as “gone away.” This phrase, in place of simply speaking of death outright, is called a euphemism.
Euphemism is a figure of speech commonly used to replace a word or phrase that is related to a concept which might make others uncomfortable.
The effect of using the euphemism within the poem is that she avoids the permanence of her own absence. The Reader knows that she is describing a permanent change – namely death. However, the use of the euphemism gives the Speaker’s use of the command to remember her more weight as it evokes the feeling of a love still not too distant.
She adds to the euphemism with the metaphor, “the silent land.”
A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things.
She seems to use this metaphor, in place of heaven or hell, because the ambiguity of her location adds to the sense that she is merely absent rather than gone for good. A trip is a thing one might return from. We see in her word choices a denial of her new reality and through that denial we see her desire to keep her connection to her lover left behind. More importantly, we see her fear that her lover might let go of his connection to her.
Rosetti also uses enjambment in lines 5 and 6, 7 and 8, and again in 11 and 12.
Enjambment is a literary device in which a line of poetry carries its idea or thought over to the next line without a grammatical pause.
Using enjambment typically rushes the reader on to the next line. Here the result is pleasant with respect to pacing. Sometimes, though, the enjambment may be utilized intentionally to leave the reader feeling discomforted and rushed.
Remember is a beautiful poem, well constructed, with a timeless theme, that uses simple clear word choices.