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“I wish I could remember that first day” is a sonnet written by Christina Rossetti. Throughout the poem, the poetess blames herself for not remembering the moments of her first love. The hidden theme behind the poem is the ageing factor.
About the poet:
Christina Rossetti is one of the most important female poets of the Victorian era. She not only wrote romantic poems but also excelled in devotional and children’s poems. Initially, she wrote under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne and contributed seven poems to the pre-Raphaelite journal “The Germ”. Rossetti is well known for her ballads and her religious lyrics. Her poems include symbolism and intense feelings. Rossetti is best known for her work, Goblin Market and Other Poems, which was published in 1862. This collection made Rossetti a significant poet in the Victorian era.
“I wish I could remember that first day” is an Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet. The Italian sonnet is named after the great Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. The sonnet has 14 lines and a slightly flexible rhyme scheme. The sonnet divides its lines between an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). Usually the first eight lines follow the “ABBAABBA” rhyme scheme, which slightly varies from that of the sestet.
The sonnet is written in the metre of iambic pentameter. The term iambic pentameter refers to a line of poetry with ten syllables, made up of alternating stressed and unstressed syllables.
An epigraph is a short quotation mentioned at the beginning of a work to suggest the theme of the work.
In the sonnet “I wish I could remember that first day”, the epigraph contains two lines. It suggests the themes of first love and nostalgia.
“Era già 1’ora che volge il desio. (Dante)”
The first quote is from Dante’s Purgatorio and is found in Canto VIII. It is originally written in Italian. It is the first line of Canto VIII, which directly translates to: “It was now that evening hour at which the sigh.”
“Ricorro al tempo ch’ io vi vidi prima. (Petrarca)”
The second line is from Petrarch. It reads, “Ricorro al tempo ch’ io vi vidi prima.” It translates to “I recall that time when I first saw it.”
The speaker desires to remember the moments she spent with her first love. But she couldn’t recall anything. Even she is not sure of the time. She blames herself for not documenting all those important moments in her life. Now she regrets her decision to think of it as an insignificant moment, which became the most significant moment in her life. She always mentions the growth of love with the symbol “tree.
In the sestet, the poetess tries to recall the memories again and again, which results in a traceless thaw. She declares that what seemed insignificant to her in her younger days actually means so much to her now. So she blames herself throughout the poem.
"I wish I could remember that first day, First hour, first moment of your meeting me, If bright or dim the season, it might be Summer or Winter for aught I can say;"
The first line of the sonnet, “I wish I could remember that first day” describes the feeling of a poetess. She is longing to recollect the memories of meeting her first love. The line, “First hour, first moment of your meeting me” describes how much she desires to recall the first second they made each other. The next two lines agree with her poor memory. Because now she is not even able to recall the time or season when she met her first love.
"So unrecorded did it slip away, So blind was I to see and to foresee, So dull to mark the budding of my tree That would not blossom yet for many a May."
The line, “So unrecorded did it slip away” tells the poet’s negligence. Because after so many years, she couldn’t remember anything. This stanza shows how significant small things are in our lives. As of now, the poet regrets not documenting the significant things that she once had in her life. She calls herself blind for not anticipating the importance of the moments that took place in her life. The budding of the tree in the stanza symbolises the growth of love. She tells how the budding love has grown after so many years.
"If only I could recollect it, such A day of days! I let it come and go As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;"
The sestet begins with the distress. She tries to recall the memories that have already faded. She is in great need to at least recollect a day’s memory to satisfy her longing. The poetess permits her memory to come and go, which results in a traceless “thaw” (a period of warmer weather when snow and ice melt, usually at the end of winter).
"It seemed to mean so little, meant so much; If only now I could recall that touch, First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!"
The poetess in the last few lines regrets the way she let the moments pass in her younger days. The poetess declares that moments that seemed insignificant in her younger days mean much to her now. Through the poem, the mention of “first” traces the importance that the poetess gives to her first love.
"So dull to mark the budding of my tree That would not blossom yet for many a May."
The word “tree” symbolises the growth of her first love. Similar to the gradual growth of a tree despite all the seasonal changes. The poetess’s love has grown in a significant way. Despite all the changes that have taken place in her life, the first love has taken an important place in her heart. That made her want to write this poem.