Discussion of Rossetti’s Poetry: ‘Remember’, ‘A Birthday’, and ‘Amor Mundi’
Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Remember’ is a 14-line sonnet that explores the ideas of loss, grief, and separation. As often observed in her poetry, strong visual imagery alluding to the concepts of life, death, beginning and end, is elicited through her use of linguistic and structural devices. A strong sense of voice is established in the first line, “Remember me when I am gone away”, as if the narrator of the poem, presumably a representation of Rossetti herself, is speaking directly to the reader and addressing herself in first person. The concept of loss is introduced in this line as a proposition that generates a sombre, melancholy tone. This is immediately followed and reinforced by the next line in which an isolated, deserted atmosphere is created by the use of the motif “silent land” and the repetition of the phrase “gone far away”. The following line strongly alludes to intimacy and affection – “When you can no more hold me by the hand”, intensifying the yearning, mournful tone of the narrator’s voice. Here, she refers to a distinctly tactile memory of her loved one, longing for their touch and warmth. This further portrays her desire and request to be remembered by her beloved with whom she shared a profoundly intimate relationship.
The highly structured metrical pattern displayed throughout the poem enhances its solemn atmosphere, as a strong sense of regularity and order is imposed by an iambic pentameter. However, its octave and sestet display a great deal of contrast in not only the rhyme schemes used but also the use of enjambment, creating a free-flowing rhythm. The regular ABBA ABBA rhyme pattern shown in the octave is contrasted by the irregular scheme of CDD ECE in the sestet that follows. The contemplative and mournful tone established in the octave is counteracted by the narrator’s sense of acceptance and contentment in the sestet that tells her loved one, “do not grieve” and that they should “forget and smile” and not “remember and be sad”. This shift in the narrator’s tone illustrates her change in attitude over time – from a dark, grief-stricken fear of being forgotten, to her earnest wish for the happiness of her beloved even when she is no longer remembered.
While Rossetti’s poem ‘Remember’ illustrates the expression of grief and sorrow in one’s death and remembrance, ‘A Birthday’ narrates feelings of intense joy and uncontainable delight for the arrival of her “love”. Although it remains ambiguous as to what her love refers to – whether it is romantic, her religious devotion to her Christian faith, or simply a state of being – the central focus of the poem is in the uninhibited expression of exhilaration and fulfillment. The “birthday” is used as a motif throughout the poem, representing renewal, growth, and a new beginning, and contributes to the celebratory, festive atmosphere of the poem.
In the first stanza, the vivid imagery alluding to the beauty of the natural world establishes the overjoyed tone of the narrator. She compares her heart to a “singing bird”, strongly evoking a sense of vitality and delighted energy. Here, singing is perceived as a free, uninhibited form of expression by which one conveys intense feelings of joy. This is further reinforced by the imagery of a “nest” in a “water’d shoot” which alludes to the concept of nurture, care, and growth. The first two lines of the stanza are enjambed, contributing to the song-like, lyrical flow of the rhythm and further reinforcing the strong sense of liveliness and freedom.
As with ‘Remember’, the narrative tone shifts as the poem progresses. The second half of the first stanza introduces a sense of mysticism with the use of motifs such as a “rainbow shell” and a “halcyon sea”. In juxtaposition with the depiction of physical beauty of nature in the first half of the stanza, this intangible, ambiguous reference to spirituality is suggestive of the binary oppositions that exist within Rossetti’s perception of the world. At the end of the stanza, the narrator expresses that the intensity of her joy and fulfillment is incomparable to anything she describes, as her “heart is gladder than all these, because my love is come to me”. The atmosphere of the poem continues to shift through the second stanza, as the narrator’s symbolic potrayal of satisfaction and contentment draws on objects associated with extravagance, abundance, and luxury. In an imperative tone that commands, “Raise me”, “Hang it”, “Work it”, a series of visual motifs including a “dais of silk”, “vair”, “purple dyes” and “gold and silver grapes” represent the intensifying growth of her love and joy. The ending of the stanza serves to signify a moment of epiphany and self-insight, as the narrator declares that the “birthday” of her life has come, and therefore, so has her love.
Rossetti’s poem ‘Amor Mundi’ combines the dualities of growth and decay, and temptation and corruption. The dialogue that consists of a call-and-response pattern between two antithetical voices explores the concepts of temptation and corruption. The first stanza begins as the question “O where are you going…” is posed, with “love-locks flowing” used as a symbol that establishes an atmosphere of freedom and wild, unrestrained vitality. This also alludes to the associations made with women who exposed their hair during the Victorian era; the “flowing locks” presented in this context strongly suggests a sense of seduction and alluring temptation. The next line “…west wind blowing along…” further reinforces this atmosphere of free-flowing, uninhibited energy. The second voice that answers, “The downhill path is easy…” speaks in a playful, deceptive tone, luring the others into temptation of pleasure by asserting, “come with me an it please ye”. Another motif that refers to this concept of enticement and pleasure are presented in the second stanza, the “honey-breathing heather”. This is used to illustrate not only the outward beauty of a flowered heath, but more significantly the excessive sweetness and overindulgence elicited by the imagery of honey. Here, the moral corruption of the two characters of the poem is foreshadowed as they plan to “escape uphill by never turning back”, indulging themselves in unrestrained pleasure and temptation which lead to their own destruction.
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Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Remember’ is a 14-line sonnet that explores the ideas of loss, grief, and separation. As often observed in her poetry, strong visual imagery alluding to the concepts […]