Christina Rosetti’s Remember is a lover’s plea to her beloved expressing her desire to be remembered after her death, thus depicting the common human need to survive death by being immortalized in a lover’s memory.
The poem starts with Rosetti talking about a time when she would no longer be able to be with her lover, when they are no longer able to hold hands and makes plans for their future together, when death would have taken her from him and she would have departed from this world. She wants her memory to live on in her lover’s heart and thus in some manner stay with him even when she physically cannot. She doesn’t want that time to draw near and she’s reluctant to leave him behind but she knows it is inevitable. So she tries to console him beforehand knowing that he would take her death very hard, she tells him that he did all he could and that no amount of seeking help or praying would be able to bring her back from the dead. She wants her lover to be able to think of her without dwelling on the ‘what if’s’ and she absolutely does not want him blaming himself.
In the third stanza the poet realizes the futility of her request: she is aware that the world is such that it is inexorable that her lover will one day look behind on the days they spend together and recall only the faults of their relationship. In his memory she would be reduced to a weak pathetic shadow of her former self, tarnished by the immoral and decadent world. Thus she alters her earlier request, preferring to be forgotten rather than be remembered in a way that would cause her lover anguish. She wants him to be happy and move on if her memory causes him sorrow.
Set in the structure of a sonnet, Remember follows an abba rhyming scheme in the starting octave with the third stanza and ending couplet having a cddece rhyme. Written in the first person narrative, the poem’s tone also varies with Rosetti’s request. In the beginning it is insistent when she’s appealing to her lover to keep her alive in his memory, then it turns consoling when she wants to comfort him and by the end it has turned somewhat dejected when she realizes that he cannot remember her faithfully and she chooses instead to be forgotten.
A straightforward poem which does not rely heavily on literary devices, the impact of ‘Remember’ is in its simple language. It’s heartfelt and genuine; like the love that the poet harbours for her beloved. Death is metaphorically described as the ‘silent land’ in contrast with the vitality and music of life. Other than that there are a few instances of alliteration in ‘When you can no more hold me by the hand,’ and ‘Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay,’ which lend an internal rhythm to the poem.
The poem showcases a common desire in all of us, that to escape death and oblivion by living on in the memory of those we love. But it is also a comment on society as the poet is aware of how the passing of time and the influence of the world would be such that her lover will not be able to protect her memory from being tarnished and blemished with time. She is aware of this, and she chooses to be forgotten, thus voluntarily choosing obscurity instead of being remembered in such a way. This final wish could be an expression of her absolute love that she does not want her lover to hold on to her if her memory is to cause him grief; or it could be taken as form of self-preservation: it is true that in remembering her, her lover will enable her to live on, but she would have no control over what happens to her fragile memory and thus instead of her memory being subjected to the ‘darkness and corruption’ of the world, she prefers to gracefully be forgotten.
Whichever it is I feel that the poem highlights the insecurity of the poet. Why does she have to insist to her lover and plead with him to remember her? If there love is true, then she really doesn’t need to be concerned about what time would do to her memory or whether he would remember her or not because then she would trust that he would. Not only is she devaluing the sincerity of his affection, she’s also convinced that the ‘world’ is such that he would only remember a ‘visage of the thoughts that once she had.’ Doesn’t the passing of time allow us to look at the past through rose coloured glasses instead of tarnishing the memories we cherish?
I feel that Remember gives an overtly negative view of the world, perhaps covering up the insecurities of the poet herself.