Christina Rossetti (1830-94) was one of the leading female Victorian poets. Some of her best works are poems about death. This was probably caused by the fact that her life was plagued with death. Tuberculosis caused high infant mortality rates around her home in London. Her father passed away when she was twenty-four. Her zealous devotion to the church during her adolescence led her to accept death as a phase to enter the afterlife. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Rosetti also refuted material wealth and earthly connections, as shown by her rejection of physical bodies in “Remember” by asking her lover to forget her so that he can be happy and her understanding and accepting of her lover not touching the garment that covering her body, not ruffling the pillows on her head, or taking her hand into his in “After Death”.
“Remember” and “After Death” are two of the most popular Rosetti’s poems about death. Both are purposively selected to analyze because they view death from two different perspectives. In former, death is shown through a living speaker, while the latter ponders death through the view of dead people.
“Remember” is a sonnet in which the speaker addresses her lover and initially encourages him to remember her after she died when he cannot hold her hand any more for she will never return and stay with him. In the beginning, she expects him to remember her although he will never interact with her anymore.
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.
However, the speaker begins to change her mind. She now permits her lover to sometimes forget her and remember her again. Finally, when, in line with the course of the time his recollection of her fades away, it is better for him to "forget and smile" than to "remember and be sad."
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.
In “Remember”, Rosetti shows her acceptance of death as a phase of life through the metaphor “I’m gone away” which compares death with the conception of a journey undertaking. This metaphor is strengthened by another metaphor, “Gone far away into the silent land”, which depicts that the journey which starts from one in the world to next eternal life. Death is accepted as a natural phase in which “darkness and corruption leave”, i.e. the body is decayed, and finally other people’s recollection of her is gone.
Since she accepts death as an inevitable phase to enter the afterlife, she can serenely leave the world. In the beginning, she expects her lover to keep on remembering her. But her awareness that she is going to “the silent land” in which worldly love no longer exists, she finally asks her lover not to grieve on her death. She means to say, “Forget me. To remember me will just be a burden and makes you sad. Cheers! Return to your life, and try to be happy!”
Unlike “Remember” in which death is interpreted by a living speaker, “After Death” depicts death by letting a deceased person (the speaker) that was lying in her coffin reminisced her funeral. It starts with a vivid description of her funeral setting, as suggested by the presence of shroud, a garment for covering the corpse, the coldness of the speaker’s body, the melancholic atmosphere.
The curtains were half drawn, the floor was swept
And strewn with rushes, rosemary and may
Lay thick upon the bed on which I lay,
Where thro’ the lattice ivy-shadows crept.
Line 5, “He leaned above me, thinking that I slept” clearly suggests that the content of the poem was conveyed by the ‘deceased’ speaker. Then line 12, “He did not love me living” indicates the speaker is a woman. After describing her funeral setting, she recollected how her lover mourned her. According to the speaker, he began by looking at her as if she was just sleeping, not dead. Next, he murmured and pitied her. Then he turned away but wept for her loss in the silence. The speaker seems disappointed because her lover didn’t touch the garment covering her body, did not ruffle the pillows on her head, and did not even take her hand into his to show a gesture of love.
He leaned above me, thinking that I slept
And could not hear him; but I heard him say:
“Poor child, poor child”: and as he turned away
Came a deep silence, and I knew he wept.
He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold
That hid my face, or take my hand in his,
Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head:
However, her disappointment turns to be a consolation after she realized that although his lover did not love her, he had the feelings of pity for her. In the end, the speaker even became joyful after being aware that her lover was living.
He did not love me living but once dead
He pitied me; and very sweet it is
To know he still is warm tho’ I am cold.
The transition from her disappointment caused by her knowing that her lover did not love her to the joy resulting from her awareness that the man was still alive and at least felt pity for her, indicate the speaker finally could die in peace. In the beginning, she seemed to have died unwillingly because her lover did not love him. But after realizing she was dead but her lover was still alive and had the feelings of pity for her, she died sincerely. She seemed meant to emphasize “What’s the use of insisting him to love a dead woman? A deceased person does not need to be loved. It’s better to release it. The most important thing is he showed his sympathy for her and could live well.”
Different from “Remember” which explicitly shows the speaker’s acceptance of death as an inevitable phase to enter the afterlife, “After Death” just indicates it implicitly through the last lines when the speaker turned her disappointment to happiness. Being aware that her lover showed sympathy for her was still alive is “very sweet” or joyful. If one passed away joyfully, it indicates she died sincerely. Isn’t it?
Both “Remember” and “After Death” indicates that death is an inevitable phase to enter the “silent land” or afterlife. To enter the “silent land”, one should go through ‘darkness’ in which the body (corruption) decayed and all memories one ever had faded away. Those physical or material wealth and earthly matter are not required in the afterlife. Thus, there is no need to ask your beloved one to remember you or even to love you. Insisting somebody to remember or to love you is a kind of possession. Release it. It’s much better to ask your beloved one to arrange a happy life, although it might mean he needs to find someone new to love! Doing this, one will find death unfrightening. He or she can go to the “silent land” peacefully.
Author: Parlindungan Pardede (email@example.com)
Author: Parlindungan Pardede (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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