‘Remember’ by Christina Rossetti is a very unique sonnet as it is narrated not from the perspective of someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one, but from the perspective of a dying person.
The speaker in the poem is on the verge of death and asks her lover to remember her in a specific way. The theme of the poem is mortality, remembrance, and love. But a closer look at it shows something more.
It might be hard to notice at first, but there is a hint of depression and loss of hope in this poem. Let’s first take a look at the poem and then at the meaning of it.
Remember by Christina Rossetti
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.
Meaning of the Poem Remember by Christina Rossetti
The poem is more of a request by the person who wants to tell the person she loves to remember her when she is gone. The poem’s tone is sad and melancholic, but there is also an air of hopelessness as well.
Let’s divide the poem into sections and then look at the meaning of each to understand the sonnet.
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.
The first stanza is talking about the personal life of the poetess. She says that when she dies (metaphorically referred to as ‘going into the silent land’), the other person won’t be able to hold her hands.
But then she adds that neither will she be able to half turn to go and want to stay as well. This line shows a crucial part of her relationship with the person.
The poetess says that you won’t be able to do it anymore, meaning presently they do that. So the relationship between them is not on good terms, perhaps with frequent fights as well.
The first stanza establishes that their relationship is sour and the speaker has wanted to leave the person many times.
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.
The second stanza talks about the positive part of their relationship. The speaker says that when she is gone, they won’t be able to discuss their planned future or the other hopes he has for the both of them.
The speaker adds that after she is gone, he won’t be able to ask her for any advice or counsel, and neither will he be able to convince her to do something. He would be only able to remember her.
Stanza 3: The Most Important Stanza
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,
The third stanza is the most important and revealing stanza of the entire sonnet. Here we get to know about the speaker, and why she has a complicated relationship with the other person.
What does “For if the darkness and corruption leave a vestige of the thoughts that once I had” mean? If you look at the life of the poetess and the time when this sonnet was written, you can understand why.
When Rossetti wrote this sonnet, she was suffering from a severe bout of depression. The “darkness and corruption” is used to refer to her depression that has ruined all her other thoughts.
The speaker says it is fine if you forget me for a while. She knows that she made the life of her partner a lot more difficult. She understands that after a while, he might forget about her.
But she is also aware that he would remember her occasionally. She asks him not to grieve for her. Then she finally gives him counsel.
She says that the last remaining thought of her (before her mind was ruined by depression) advises the person that it is better to forget her and smile than to remember all the painful things and be sad.
Depression as the Theme
Even though the entire poem has a somber and grievous tone, there is a glimmer of hope that makes this sonnet sadder.
The entire sonnet is the poet trying to tell her partner to prepare for a goodbye and to remember her when she is gone.
Her asking him to remember her is perhaps not her speaking, but the depression inside her mind. You can sense the lack of emotion in her tone when she is asking this person to just be okay without her.
She keeps reminding him of all the things he won’t be able to do once she is gone. All of this happens until we get to the end of the poem when the real speaker speaks.
In the end, she asks him to forget her as she is getting devoured by depression. She shows concern and care for the other person and says that it is better to forget her and be happy than to remember her and be sad.
The entire tone of the poem shifts in the end.