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Christina Rossetti, a Victorian poet, wrote “Song (When I am dead, my dearest)” in 1848 when she was 18 years old, but it wasn’t published until 1862 in her collection Goblin Market and Other Poems. The poem is about death and sorrow, with the speaker imply a loved one not to spend too much time grieving for her when she dies. Instead, the speaker advises the person to carry on with life, even if she isn’t exactly sure what will happen after death or whether or not others would still remember her.
About the poet
Christina Georgina Rossetti (December 5, 1830 – December 29, 1894) was an English poet who wrote romantic, religious, and children’s poetry such as “Goblin Market” and “Remember.” She also wrote the lyrics to two well-known British Christmas songs, “Love Came Down at Christmas” and “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which were later put to song by Harold Darke, Katherine Kennicott Davis, and other composers. She appears in a number of works by poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sister.
When I am dead, my dearest, Sing no sad songs for me; Plant thou no roses at my head, Nor shady cypress tree:
The speaker addresses their loved one in the poem’s first lines, directing them on what they want to happen after their death. The speaker requests that she not be mourned with sad songs or memorialized with flowers or trees commonly associated with sadness.
Using the word “my dearest” to denote a close and personal relationship, the speaker opens the poem by expressing their final wishes for a loved one. The speaker’s calm tone conveys acceptance of their own mortality. She wants that her loved one will remember her with happiness, honoring the life they shared rather than lamenting her death. In order to emphasize her desire for a better tribute, she also avoids practices associated with funerals, such as planting rose or cypress trees. The poem examines provides such as accepting death, living life to the fullest, and the enduring power of love and memory.
Be the green grass above me With showers and dewdrops wet; And if thou wilt, remember, And if thou wilt, forget.
After their own death, the speaker expresses her desire for a loved one. The speaker envisions herself lying beneath the green grass, covered in dewdrops and showers. She leaves the decision of remembering or forgetting her loved one, leaving him to choose how he wants to remember the speaker after she is gone.
The speaker’s last resting place beneath green grass, refreshed by rains and dewdrops, represents the continuation of life and growth even after the speaker’s death. The words “if thou wilt, remember” and “if thou wilt, forget” from the speaker convey her loved one the freedom to choose how to handle her absence and let him deal with the loss in their own manner. The poem urges the reader to reflect on the value of remembrance and the necessity of cherishing special recollections. The speaker doesn’t make any demands or expectations, leaving the loved one’s decision totally up to them.
I shall not see the shadows, I shall not feel the rain; I shall not hear the nightingale Sing on, as if in pain:
In these lines, the speaker discusses what she will not experience after death. She declares that she won’t experience the rain, see the shadows, or hear the nightingale sing in pain.
The poem uses strong sensory images to illustrate how there are no sensory emotions after death, conveying a feeling of finality and separation from the physical world. “I shall not see the shadows,” the speaker says, suggesting she won’t any longer see the light and dark of the living world. “I shall not feel the rain,” implies that they will no longer feel the touch of raindrops on their skin, signifying the end of the bodily experiences that go along with being alive. A hint of melancholy is added by the nightingale’s singing, “as if in pain,” which can represent the speaker’s sorrow or expectation of separation. The speaker’s acceptance of mortality’s constraints and her eventual departure from the physical world is emphasized throughout these lines.
And dreaming through the twilight That doth not rise nor set, Haply I may remember, And haply may forget.
In the concluding lines, the speaker discusses her situation after death. She refers to her current state as “dreaming through the twilight,” implying that she is neither entirely awake nor totally deceased. She may recall or forget in this liminal condition, suggesting that her consciousness and connection to the outside world may either continue in some way or completely disappear.
Through the speaker’s journey through the twilight, a symbolic region that blurs the line between life and death, the poem addresses the concepts of mortality and remembrance. The speaker’s transfer from life to the afterlife is symbolized by twilight, when the brightness of day blends with the darkness of night, representing their move from life to death. It is also suggested by the words “That doth not rise nor set” that the speaker’s awareness is suspended in this twilight. Two instances of the term “haply” are used to emphasize the element of chance or uncertainty, implying that the speaker’s capacity for memory or forgetfulness after death is dependent on luck or circumstance. “I may remember, And haply may forget” emphasizes the contradictory relationship between memory and forgetfulness, illustrating the complexity of human awareness and the enigma of life after death.