Elegies can be a real drag, especially when we learn that Emily Brontë's "Remembrance" has earned the following reputation: "it is the slowest rhythm I know in English poetry, and the most sombre" (source). But we at Shmoop get our kicks making a party out of even the most somber of elegies. So let's dust off our Victorian poetry pants and revisit the Brontë sister who's best known for Wuthering Heights, but who also wrote around two hundred poems—all before her 30th birthday, thank you very much.
The Victorian era was probably best known for the following: Queen Victoria (duh), uncomfortable dresses, and the Brontë sisters (though they didn't get their shout-outs until much later). Emily was kind of the weirdo of the bunch, tending to stick around the house and indulge in the imaginary land of "Gondal," which she referenced in a number of her poems. Though "Remembrance" isn't Gondal-set, you'll notice that Brontë still uses her imaginative chops to create an elegy that's got it all: despair, memory, the elements, and consolation. This lady had some serious poetic prowess.
Even though it's an elegy, we get the feeling that Brontë's speaker isn't just wallowing in despair and feeling all the feels. If anything, her despair is of the intellectual variety. Sure, she spends an awful lot of them poem fretting over how to keep the memory of loved ones alive, but she also struggles with the ebb and flow of time and what it does to the human mind, especially when we lose someone "after such years of change and suffering." So yes, things aren't exactly joyous in "Remembrance," but they're also not weepy to the point of needing grandma's handkerchief nearby. You're more likely to need your thinking cap.
Why Should I Care?
We could easily say something like, "everyone will lose someone they love, so listen up," in order to encourage your interest in Brontë's "Remembrance." But we've got a better idea in mind.
Instead of reading this elegy for the purpose of learning more about death, you can also read "Remembrance" for some tips on how best to bounce back from a bad breakup—or any sort of loss, really. If you think about it, breakups can feel an awful lot like a funeral. The person broke your heart, didn't seem to care about it, and then left you all weepy and alone.
When someone we love dies, we tend to feel the same way—only we don't have to deal with the awkward run-in at the supermarket. Sometimes it's hard to check our "tears of useless passion" and move on, but Brontë's speaker has a great way of reminding us that existence can be strengthened without the joy we got from the one we loved. Despair doesn't have to destroy us completely, and we can still cherish our time on earth in different ways, especially when we make an effort to remember the good times and move on from the bad. (Plus, it doesn't hurt to remember that there are other fish in the sea.)
In a lot of ways, Brontë's poem is about recognizing those desires and passions of our youth and learning to accept the fact that we still continue to exist and grow despite losing those young desires. For the young heart, losing a loved one, either through a breakup or death, can often feel like the world has imploded upon itself. Being young, after all, means having less experience in dealing with matters of life and death. Unfortunately, telling a young lover that the world's not over after that bad breakup is just as useful as telling a shark he ought to be vegetarian. It just doesn't work. But luckily we have Emily Brontë around to help us out with these matters of the heart.