Christina Rossetti’s poem, ‘Remember’ foretells the aftermath of her death on her lover, where the poem starts with the imperative verb and the repetition of the title ‘Remember’ to emphasise the human’s posthumous desire to exist after death through memories. Rossetti explores self-effacing love, capturing gestures of love with the conjunction of disruption in this marital scene through death. To assuage this disruptive state, Rossetti impresses on her lover to remember her and to contain the physical memories of her within the cognitive and recollective state, so that her existence lives on in the memories of her lover.
Structured in a Petrarchan sonnet, Rossetti follows the rhyme scheme of ABBA in the octave but deviates to a rhythm of CDC and ECE in the sestet where she also changes her line of reasoning to be more pragmatic in contrast to her former emotive pronouncement. Rossetti uses the refrain of ‘Remember me’ to insist on her lover remembering her, when she is ‘gone away’. Death is constantly subjected to euphemistic terms, as Rossetti refuses to call death as it is, which presents the human inclination to overcoat circumstances that are beyond their control, as exemplified with Thomas Dylan’s poem ‘Do not Go Gentle into the Night’ where death is only referred as ‘night’. This not only symbolises the human’s refusal to acknowledge death, but also deliberately softens the subject of a thing so final and incomprehensible, so as to stick out as a proclamation intending to comfort the bereaved, which here is Rossetti’s husband. Thus, Rossetti also uses the metaphor of a ‘silent land’ to denote death, where death is given a visual imagery of a land consisting of souls voiceless from being deprived of the element of life through speech and the ability to speak out to their loved ones as they are ‘gone far away’ from life itself. Therefore, with Rossetti having no power to persist in life, she asks her lover to preserve her existence by remembering her.
Rossetti juxtaposes life and death through the romantic gestures shared between her and her husband while driving a wedge between these moments of love with the constant reminder of her passing. The lovely gesture of her husband ‘hold(ing) her by the hand’, her turning away but still staying with her husband or the planning of their future together – these are the everyday memories of two lovers being tainted by the realisation of death with words such as ‘no more’ being foreboding preludes to loving sentiments. The reminiscing of this shared love is met with reminders of deprived love, which encapsulates the poem with a strong sense of lamentation and dismay as the lover cannot even ‘counsel’ or ‘pray’, but simply ‘remember’.
The sestet, however, reverses this proclamation of after-death sentiments where Rossetti realises that forgetfulness is inevitable, and her perishing away from her lover’s mind is for the better. She accepts the grim decomposition of her life and body for if her lover does remember her, he’d be brought back to a painful state of mourning. For she understands that her death would be marked by a calamity of feelings for her lover, being embodiments of destruction and depression connoted by the words ‘darkness’ and ‘corruption’. Here, Rossetti settles in to a final word of comfort to her lover as she begins to empathise with her lover’s grief where she’d rather have him forget her and be happy than rather be burdened by sadness over her passing. The oxymoronic words ‘remember’ and ‘forget’ are each assigned with specific actions of ‘sad’ and ‘smile’ as death is now depicted with two perspectives – one being the desire to remember by the dead and the other being the inability to remember by the bereaved.
The finality of death is met with such apprehension for it is a conclusion that we cannot comprehend and neither can we prepare for, and thus solace lies in that act of remembrance by our loved ones. When the individual perishes and the body ceases to exist, our only hope is to persist in thoughts and recollection, in the ‘vestige’ of memories. And yet, Rossetti imparts, our loved ones cannot be burdened by the predisposition of grief because if we truly loved them, we’d rather have them ‘forget and smile’ and accept the finality of death in our perishing.