"Remember" almost reads like an instruction manual. The speaker spends the first 8 lines telling her lover to remember her because, well, she'll be dead and they won't be able to chit chat anymore about their future or who hold hands. By the end of the poem, however, she changes her mind. At first she says it's okay if he forgets for a bit but then remembers her, but finally she realizes that it's probably better if he forgets her because remembering might just be too painful.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
- And… here we go. "Remember" opens with the speaker —let's just say she's a woman (since we don't have any evidence to the contrary at this point)—addressing somebody.
- She tells this mysterious person to remember her when she is gone away, "gone far away into the silent land."
- As you may have guessed, the speaker isn't talking about going to some far-away library. She's talking about death, but she's essentially using a euphemism. Death? Yikes.
- Yes, she wants the person she's addressing to remember her after she's dead and gone. Now, so we don't have to keep writing "the person she's addressing," we're gonna go ahead and say that the speaker of this poem is addressing her lover, or boyfriend, or hubby, or whatever you wanna call it.
- Getting back to business, or bid'ness, as we like to say, what's the deal with the "silent land" stuff?
- Do people not talk in the afterlife or something? Hmm, we're not really sure but here's some folks discussing the idea.
- It's probable that what the speaker really means here is that, after she dies, she will no longer be able to communicate with her beloved. Thus, the afterlife will be a "silent land," but in a different way.
- Speaking of wanting to be remembered, we can't help remembering a bunch of other poems that Rossetti almost certainly read.
- To mention just one, our good buddy William Wordsworth once wrote a poem called "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey".
- In that venerable lyrical masterpiece, Wordsworth imagines talking to his sister about his death and says, "If I should be where I can no more hear / Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams / Of past existence."
- We get lots of similarities here—death, remember me, more silent land business, etc., etc. Clearly Christina knew about the work of Willie W.
- Back to the poem: you may already know but this poem is a sonnet. Lots of sonnets are written in that most famous of English meters, iambic pentameter. From the looks of things, this poem is written in iambic pentameter as well. Head over to "Form and Meter" to read more on that stuff.
- Meanwhile, let's continue shall we?
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
- Even though the speaker doesn't say "remember me" again, it is understood that she wants that little bit to carry over, so to speak.
- So, the speaker is telling her beloved to still remember her even when he can no longer ("no more") hold her hand.
- If we remember correctly, the repetition of the H sound there has a name. It's… wait, it's on the tip of our tongue… alliteration. What's so great about it? Check out "Sound Check" for the answer.
- The speaker also wants her pal to remember her when she can no longer start to leave, but then turn back.
- So, how did we get that out of "half turn to go yet turning stay"? It sure sounds like the speaker is recalling a common scenario. Let's say all those times when she would step out to go to the market or something. Whenever Ms. Speaker would start to leave, she would turn back. And why would she do that? To say goodbye? To catch one last glimpse of her beloved before leaving? Did she forget her car keys?
- Who knows for sure (it's probably not the car keys, since cars weren't around), but since she would always look back, it was really more like she was half-turning to go. Make sense?
- In other words, she would make to leave, but then—poof!—turn back a little bit.
- So, while half turning to leave, she would also be turning to stay.
- Part of the confusion here, obviously, has to do with the repetition of "turn": "half turn […] yet turning stay."
- It sounds all Shakespearean, with the cool alliteration the clever rhymes.
- Wait, rhymes? We forgot to mention those. The first four lines of this poem follow this scheme: ABBA.
- Just from the looks of it, it seems we may be dealing with a sonnet of the Petrarchan variety here.
- You can read more about this over at "Form and Meter" if you like, and if you're really curious about this Petrarch fellow, you can learn more about him here.
Remember me when no more, day by day,
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
- Well, just in case the speaker's beloved forgets that he's supposed to remember the speaker, she tells him again.
- She reminds him to remember when he is no longer able to tell her every day of the future he planned for them.
- Now these lines have the potential to be just a little, ahem, tricky. This is because the order of the words is just a teeny, itty, little bit funky—but only a little bit.
- In normal conversation we would probably just say "remember me when you're no longer able to tell me day by day of the future you have planned for us." But then again, this isn't normal conversation. If this is your first foray into the wonderful world of English poetry, let us be the first to tell you that many times poets play games with the order of the words. Sometimes this is called by the oh-so-fancy term, inversion.
- Why do they do this, because they have nothing better to do than make your life harder? No. Sometimes, it just sounds more poetic to rearrange the order of the words. Other times, words have to be fiddled with in order to make the meter work.
- This is a very important consideration, you see. For many poets, Rossetti included, making sure the lines fit some specific metrical pattern is, well, of the utmost importance—the Utmost. You can read more about meter over at "Form and Meter."
- (Psst. If you want to see just how seriously and complicated metrical issues can be, check out this abstract of a scholarly article about Rossetti. And if you want to read just a little more about all these word order issues, go right here.)
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
- Well, shucks. Just in case the dude forgets, the speaker tells him to just remember her one more time. Let's see, that's 3 times now that the speaker has used the word "remember."
- We get it that the poem is called "Remember," but this is starting to seem a little funny. It's almost like the speaker is worried that the guy will not remember her if she doesn't keep telling him to do so.
- All this dude has to do is remember her because, by the time she's dead and gone, it will be too late to "counsel then or pray."
Counsel then or pray? Counsel who and pray for what?
- Let's tackle this praying business first. It sure sounds to us like what she means is this: "by the time I'm dead and gone, it will be too darn late to pray for me to come back, and to pray for whatever else you want to pray for."
- Now, as for this "counsel" stuff: 'tis a bit puzzling indeed. Still, it seems that by "counsel" she means something like "counsel me." In other words, we could paraphrase what she means like so: "after I'm dead and gone it will be too late to counsel me—to make me feel better like you always used to do, babe."
- Okay, maybe she wouldn't say "babe," but this is pretty much the gist of "late to counsel." With us so far? Great— on we go.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
- At long last we have arrived at line 9. Wait, is that supposed to matter?
- Well, actually yes it does. You see, this is a sonnet, and very important things tend to happen around line 9.
- Many times, the sonnet's tone or direction or overall feel or… something, will shift. This important moment is often called the turn (or volta for all you Italian scholars).
- You can read brief blurbs about it here and here.
- The word "yet" opens line 9, a clue that things might be shifting just a little bit. And in fact, they sure are.
- So far, the speaker has used the word "remember" three times (count 'em). All of sudden, she introduces the word "forget" into the mix, and starts to explore a slightly different idea.
- Remember earlier we mentioned that it almost seemed like the speaker was worried her hubby might forget her? Well now it seems she's giving some vent to that idea and saying, "Hey hun, it's okay if you forget about me for just a little bit but then, eventually, come to your senses and remember me. Oh and don't get too upset about it sweetheart, it's quite alright."
- The other thing we need to tell about line 9 of a sonnet is that usually the rhyme scheme of the last 6 lines (often called the sestet) is a little different.
- The rhyme scheme of the first 8 lines (called the octet) is ABBA ABBA, which is fairly typical of a Petrarchan sonnet.
- As for the sestet, the Petrarchan rhyme scheme rules there are a bit more flexible, except for the fact that they almost never, ever end with a couplet.
- In the case of "Remember," we are given the oh-so-interesting CDD ECE. Hmm, well it's not the most common type of rhyme scheme, but it is perfectly within the rules.
- To read more about just what the whole point of this poem's rhyme scheme head over to "Form and Meter."
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
- Okay, now it looks like we're about to get an explanation for just why the speaker tells her beau not to grieve. Before we break all this down, though, let's gloss a few little thingies.
- First, "darkness and corruption" sounds really bad, even if it is a periphrasis. And guess what? It is really bad. This is a reference to death—after one dies, the body decays, or "corrupts," as they used to say back in the day.
- Darkness refers to the fact that nobody knows what happens after death—the afterlife is metaphorically "dark," you could say.
- You could also say that "darkness" loosely describes the lover's emotional state after the speaker's death.
- This makes sense when you consider that it comes, like, four words after "grief." Just think about how people often refer to difficult periods in their lives as "dark times" and the like.
- Still with us, Shmoopers? Great. So, now that we've figured out corruption and darkness, let's figure out the whole thing.
- If despite the speaker's death (and the all the grief and sadness it will cause) some "vestige," or small remnant, of her thoughts remain (in the beloved's mind, presumably), then…
- …something will happen.
- What? What?? What??? Tell us, please!
- We can't go there just yet; we have to tell you why this word "vestige" is very important first.
- It describes something leftover. In this case, it refers to things the speaker once thought and said that her beloved may still recall after she dies.
- Hmm, well why would he forget them anyway? That's like worrying about your best friend forgetting all the cool things you said.
- That's a good point, and we've touched on it before. The speaker seems just a tad bit worried that her beloved will not remember her, and that kind of freaks her out. She's thinking about this "vestige" or leftover because, she implies, this is how she will live on, even after death.
- Okay, now we get to find out what happens...
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
- At long last, the moment we've been waiting for: the summit, the coup de grace, the denouement, the big payoff—you get the idea.
- The speaker says that, even if some vestige of her thoughts survives, it is much better ("by far") that her beloved forget her and be happy rather than remember her and be sad.
- Whoa, Nelly. Now, wait just a minute. Let's get this straight.
- This whole time she's been telling him to remember her. In fact, the sonnet starts out by talking about memory, kind of like this: "remember me, don't forget me when I finally die."
- But, then it goes "Well, if you forget me for a short time, but then remember me, don't get too upset about it, that's fine."
- And finally, we end with: "Well, even if you remember some of the thoughts I once had, it really is better that you should forget me and smile, rather than think of me and be sad."
- Okay… so, this is totally confusing. Talk about a major change of heart here. How does it work that for most of the poem the speaker is obsessed with being remembered but then changes her mind?
- It must have something to do with the speaker realizing how deep her love is. Sure, she doesn't actually say that, but think about it like this:
- She really wants her beloved to remember her, but she also realizes that remembering her might be kind of painful—thinking about fond memories of somebody who is gone can be, well, sad to the max.
- In the end, then, "Remember" isn't super-inconsistent or contradictory or anything like that.
- It is a poem in which somebody (the speaker) has a change of heart, but one that is motivated by true love, a desire to keep her beloved from suffering after she's gone. All together now: awww.