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“After Death” is a sonnet by Christina Rossetti that explores the idea of the speaker observing herself on her deathbed after her death. The sonnet implores the idea of unrequited love of the speaker.
About the Poet
Christina Rossetti is an American poet who is mostly known for her ballads and sonnets. She often wrote under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyn. She is one of the most foremost Victorian poets and her most known work is Goblin Market.
“After death” by Rossetti is a Petrarchan sonnet also called Italian sonnet. These sonnets are usually divided into 14 lines, first eight lines are known as octave and the last six lines are known as sestet.
Summary and Analysis
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 through the lattice ivy-shadows crept.
The speaker finds herself laying on a bed in a room where curtains are half-drawn and the floor are swept nicely. There are several funeral flowers on her bed where lattice ivy-shadows crept.
The poem opens as the speaker unravels the setting of the poem through vivid imagery or juxtaposition. The first four lines of the poem suggest that the speaker of the poem has passed away. The title of the poem suggests the same, “After Death”.
After the death of the speaker, the speaker noticed that the curtains were half drawn which let minimal light into the room she was kept in. The floor was swept clean as if many guests had visited the room.
The second line of the poem makes it evident that the speaker is dead as different flowers like rushes, rosemary, and may are scattered upon the bed that the speaker is laying on. The three flowers that the speaker mentions are the most common funeral flowers.
The scattering of these flowers suggests that she had many visitors, therefore there is a thick layer of these flowers on her bed.
The ivy-shadows represent the evening time that further signifies death. The shadows also symbolise ghosts or spirits.
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.
A man leaned above her thinking she was sleeping. Because she is dead, she could not hear him but yet she heard him saying “poor child”. He turned away and silence took over but the speaker believes he weeped for her.
Here, Rossetti mentions a man whose relationship with the speaker is unclear. This man however, is the subject of the poem. The sonnet is addressed to this man who leaned above the speaker and thought that she “slept”. The word “slept” refers to death in a euphemistic manner.
In the next line, the speaker claims that she heard him say “poor child, poor child”. This suggests that the spirit of the speaker is still present in the room, that even after her death, her soul is still active. She could not physically hear him, but she heard him spiritually.
The man turned around after saying “poor child, poor child” and then there was silence, no sound at all. Yet the speaker states that she knows he wept. Here, the speaker believes that her death made the man sad although it is unclear if that actually happened.
These lines consist of specific medial caesuras or metrical pauses that suggest the broken relationship between the man and the speaker. It also displays the line between living and dead which reveals the difference between the speaker’s perception of reality and the actual reality.
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:
The man did not touch the garment that covered her, nor did he lift it up to see her face for the last time. Neither did he hold her hand or adjust the pillows beneath her head. He did not comfort her even after her death.
These are the last six lines of the sonnet therefore they are known as sestet that reveal the turning point of the poem, also known as volta. In these lines, the speaker faces the reality as it is without expecting things as per her convenience.
The speaker states that the man did not comfort her for the last time. He did not touch the shroud, a cloth that covers the dead person. He did not even raise the fold to see her face for the last time. He did not hold her hand for the last time either. And neither did he arrange her pillows to comfort her.
He did not love me living; but once dead He pitied me; and very sweet it is To know he still is warm though I am cold.
The speaker claims that the man never loved her when she was alive and now when she is dead, he pities her. The speaker finds it sweet to know that he is still warm and she is cold.
In these last lines, the speaker concludes that he never loved her even when she was alive. Therefore he did not even try to comfort her after her death, in fact he pitied her instead. It appears that the speaker loved the man very much but the man could never reciprocate those emotions and feelings towards her.
The speaker finds it sweet to know that he is still warm though the speaker is cold. This suggests that the speaker is quite happy to get out of this situation where she did not receive love in return. It brings her peace to know that she cannot feel anything anymore. She is cold because she is dead.
The man, on the other hand, is warm. He is alive and he may regret never loving her when she was alive. He is left to deal with his emotions and feelings in this situation. As for the speaker, death seems sweeter.