The speaker opens the poem by describing her lover's grave that lies cold in the earth. Some time has passed since his death, so the speaker begins to reflect on her memory of him and wonders if time has totally depleted the love she felt. She then asks her "Sweet Love of youth" to forgive her if she forgets him, because the world's tide is always bringing new desires and hopes. At the same time she's never felt another love like his and all of her "life's bliss" is therefore in the grave with him.
As more time passes, the speaker realizes that despair has not destroyed her completely and that existence can be strengthened and cherished "without the aid of joy." At this point she's "checked her tears of useless passion" and refuses to "hasten down to that tomb" with her lover. She won't indulge in memory's pain too much because doing so would be like seeking that empty world again without her lover.
Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
- There you have it folks. Just in case you were wondering if this is really an elegy, here's your cold, hard proof. The speaker tells us about a loved one who's "cold in the earth," so we're pretty sure he's kaput.
- But there's more here than just that depressing little factoid. We notice that the speaker is also giving us a sense of just how "removed" the dead guy is from life (we're guessing he's a guy based on the stuff we see later and the speaker's voice). He's got "deep snow" piled above him and he's also "far, far removed" in that "dreary grave." So the imagery here really paints a picture that's not only cold, but also a long way from the living world.
- In our "In a Nutshell" section, we cited a critic who said "Remembrance" has a really slow rhythm, and we certainly hear that in line 1, largely because of that dash that acts as a caesura, or dramatic pause. The first syllable is a long one, too ("cold"), so we immediately hear a sense of lingering or dragging our feet a bit through these lines, which goes well with the whole death and mourning motif. Check out "Sound Check" for more.
- The interjection we see in line 2 ("grave!") also gives us a sense of the speaker's mood at this point in the poem. She's a bit overwhelmed by grief and the distance she feels from her former lover. In a typical elegy, you usually get the grief part first and then the consolation comes later, so our speaker is keeping with the conventional formula.
- We also get the feeling of the speaker dragging her feet a bit in the repetition of "far" in line 2. "Far" is a long syllable, too, and since she repeats it, we really feel the speaker lingering over these words and the feelings behind them. Maybe we can imagine her recalling her lover's grave and feeling stricken by grief and distance.
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave?
- The speaker worries here that she forgot to love her lover because of all of the time that's passed by. Time has a way of severing our memories so much that it's easy to forget the people and things we swore we'd never forget.
- It wouldn't be a Victorian poem without an apostrophe like the one we see in line 3. Poets of the time loved talking to people who weren't really present and we see our speaker doing the same as she addresses her "only Love."
- Notice that the speaker is also beginning to develop her ideas regarding death and remembrance when she talks about forgetting to "love thee" after all the time that's passed. Time can be a real nuisance when it comes to memory, so we're thinking the speaker's a wee bit worried that the memory of her loved one has faded over the years.
- Time is even given a form in line 4 that's able to "sever" memory like a wave. Maybe we can imagine a really big wave in Hawaii cutting through the ocean and severing everything in its path. Time works the same way when it comes to memory and the love the speaker wishes to recall in line 3.
- We're already noticing that the speaker has a lot of emotions happening at once: grief and anxiety over her ability to remember to love her "only Love." She's even wondering if time has really severed everything "at last," as if she feels no control over the love she feels.
- So on top of the grief and anxiety, we also sense the speaker struggling to control and make sense of her own emotions, which she imagines as being vulnerable to time.
- Time may also be a symbol for the "waves" of life that bring new desires and hopes all the time. And since time and memory go together pretty well, the speaker may be drawing some connections for us. Check out our "Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay" section for more.
- Since we're talking about Victorian poetry here, you know there's got to be some kind of prescribed meter going on. They were big into their forms in those days. Do you hear that daDUM repeated over and over in line 3? That's called an iamb and since we have five in total, our meter here is iambic pentameter, which just so happens to be one of the most common patterns in the English language.
- Brontë plays with this meter, though, and throws in lots of switcheroos, especially in the first two lines of every stanza. She adds a trochee in the beginning, an anapest in the middle, and an amphibrach at the very end of line 1. Check out more about this in "Form and Meter."
Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
- Line 5 also reminds us that some time has passed since the death of the speaker's lover by including words like "now" and "no longer." And with that time has come a change in the speaker that indicates her moving on from the memories of his death.
- Her thoughts don't "hover" over his grave anymore on that "northern shore." The distance between them (along with the mountains) provides a metaphorical comparison for the speaker moving away from those memories. Both time and the landscape act like a buffer between our speaker and the pain she once associated with her lover's death.
- We also notice another change in mood here to accompany the speaker's feelings. Instead of being all bummed and grief-stricken, the emphasis here seems to be on her being alone with her thoughts. In fact, she sounds a bit more contemplative rather than depressed.
- So just like the poem's meter that moves up and down in a rhythmic way (like those waves), we sense the speaker's moods here doing the same. One minute we're down in the dumps, the next we're leveling off, and so on.
- Notice too that we're seeing a lot of natural elements in this poem. Before we saw the sea, which we see here again with the added bonus of earth (mountains). So as the speaker moves through her emotions, the setting itself seems to move with her.
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?
- The speaker's thoughts have wings in line 7, which rest near the lover's grave. Once again, our speaker is giving us some natural imagery with a real form here, which makes those thoughts and memories feel all the more real to us.
- Her thoughts used to hover and rest their wings over her lover's grave, almost becoming part of the landscape with "heath and fern leaves." But after all the time that's passed, the speaker realizes that her thoughts aren't "resting their wings" over her lover like they used to.
- It's not as if the speaker is trying to say, "hey dude, I'm over you now, good riddance." Instead she seems pretty worried about the fact that she doesn't think about her honey as much as she used to. She's really struggling with the effects of time and remembrance here, again feeling as if she lacks control over her own thoughts and emotions.
- The ending questions we see in both the first and second stanzas only emphasize the speaker's inner emotional struggle. She's throwing out lots of rhetorical questions that she doesn't expect her lover to answer, but are still a bit disconcerting.
- Words like "noble heart" also give us some confirmation that the lover in question is in fact a guy. Remember, this is the Victorian era, and men and women in poetry often stuck with conventional descriptions and sexual roles. Men were "noble" or "valiant" while women were "faithful" and "gentle." Folks in the 19th century weren't rocking the boat all that often.
- Let's take a moment to check back in with the meter. Have another listen to line 8. You can really hear that iambic pentameter working nice and clear for us: thy noble heartforever, ever more? It seems the speaker really makes a few lines stick out for us with their perfect meter, while other lines are a bit more loosey goosey. Could it be that those loosey goosey lines are maybe reflecting the speaker's wavier emotions? We sure think so. Check out "Form and Meter" for more. Plus the repetition of "forever ever more" has some more of that lingering sound to reflect time's endurance over life, death, and the human mind. We really feel time moving forward with or without our company here. And finally we can say for sure that Brontë is working with a good old-fashioned ABAB rhyme scheme: hover and cover; shore and more. They're perfect rhymes that help keep that wavelike iambic pentameter going.
Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring:
- FYI: Our speaker's main squeeze has been dead and buried for fifteen years.
- And no, it's not déjà vu, it's a refrain: "Cold in the earth." By the start of the third stanza, we're reminded again of the speaker's memory of her lover "cold in the earth" and that fifteen years have passed—those "fifteen wild Decembers."
- All of those Decembers have come and gone, along with the passing of time, and winter has melted into spring. So we've got yet another element, fire, that's heating the earth with the cyclical pattern of the seasons.
- And it's no accident that the speaker has included both fire and ice in the same stanza. The speaker has not forgotten her lover, and yet the seasons and time continue to move on, never paying too much mind to the "coldness" the speaker can't quite forget.
- So you might say that the imagery here is dualistic. By that, we mean that it features opposing forces—the speaker's cold feeling of loss and the sun's warmth, which melts the snow—but not our speaker's heart.
- Here's the image we've got in our Shmoopmind: the world revolves in its natural way while the speaker appears to be standing still because of her remembrance of that December and the emptiness she feels. Spring, therefore, is not the rejuvenating force that it is for nature. It's just another season that's indifferent to the speaker's grief. Bummer alert.
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!
- Here, the speaker tells us that the spirit that can remember the dead loved one after so many years is faithful. So wait a second. What does that make our speaker?
- Well, on the one hand, we could definitely see her as faithful. After all, she's writing a poem about her dead boyfriend. It sure sounds like she remembers him—no matter how many years and changes have come.
- But then again, she seemed pretty worried about forgetting him in lines 5-8. It's as if she's trying to convince us that sure, she had a little trouble there in the beginning forgetting to love, but she's still able to remember, which therefore makes her "faithful."
- Remember how we said that the word "faithful" is often used in conjunction with women being good wives, lovers, etc.? Well here the speaker looks as if she's trying to prove that, especially to a Victorian audience that would've gotten a bit upset by a widow getting over her loss too quickly. The added exclamation here ("suffering!") gives an extra kick to the speaker's declaration of her faithfulness.
- By these lines then we don't sense the speaker's vulnerability as much as we did before. She seems to have gotten a hold of her thoughts and emotions a bit more and hasn't allowed those years of change to destroy her remembrance completely.
- Notice too that the subtle rhyme we see in "spring/suffering" helps to accent the speaker's feeling of discord with the seasons.
- It may be spring but she's "suffering" which give us more of a sense of the duality that's happening in this stanza.
Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world's tide is bearing me along;
- The speaker asks her long lost love to forgive her if she happens to forget him—thanks to all the changes the years bring.
- Line 13 starts with another apostrophe that's addressing the speaker's "Love of youth." That love could refer to both her lover and the young love she felt, which are both kind of interchangeable here. Nevertheless, she's concerned that she'll forget that love because of the time that continues to pass by.
- Maybe the speaker is also being a bit nostalgic over the special place "Love of youth" holds in our hearts. Think of young love, puppy love, first love, etc. It has a kind of innocent connotation because it only comes once. Everything after that "first love" will never be comparable to it, not because it's the best but because it's the first. It's fresh and new and exciting.
- The important thing is that she's admitting that time has taken its toll after all of those years of suffering and that there is always a chance that she might forget. So the speaker seems to be wavering between proving her remembrance (faithful, indeed) and admitting that there may be times when she forgets. She's only human, right?
- But that's kind of how memory works. Sometimes we remember, sometimes we forget, and all the while time keeps moving us along. When it comes to the people we love though, we might feel guilty if we ever forget.
- So by wavering between remembering and forgetting, the speaker seems to be hitting upon the sort of internal conflict we all feel in situations like these. That doesn't mean we love that person less over time, but rather it's the "world's tide" that's bearing us along.
- The "world's tide" may be a kind of metaphor related to life and time. People live, people die, and we learn to love them along the way even if they're not with us anymore. But in the meantime, there are dishes to do and French fries to eat.
- The speaker's tone is also a bit different here as she asks for forgiveness. She's sounding confessional and honest, so add that to the list of moods and tones we have going on in this poem and don't forget to check out our "Speaker" section for more.
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!
- We have more honesty here as the speaker tells us that "other desires and other hopes" overwhelm her and might obscure her memory. But hey, they can't kill it completely. At least there's that.
- And again we're sensing her vulnerability to the "world's tide" and all of the stuff it brings. We can't really control what comes our way in life, but we can accept the new stuff and work with it, which is what the speaker appears to be saying here.
- Also, we're not sure exactly what these desires and hopes are but the ambiguity here leaves all of that new stuff open to interpretation. We also sense the mysterious change that comes with the "world's tide" that we can't necessarily predict.
- Notice the rhyme we have here too in along/wrong. The speaker seems to be equating the world's tide that's bearing her along with new changes as something that's not "wrong." Just because her memory may get fuzzy, that doesn't make her unfaithful, nor does it make the love she feels anything less than it was.
- Likewise, the rhyme of thee/me provides a connection between the speaker's young love and the newer version of herself that's been changed by time. The two things are always together no matter what that tide brings.
No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
- The speaker tells us here that there hasn't been a second lover since her "Sweet Love of youth." So the words "later light" and "second morn" are really just metaphors for a rebound—Victorian-style.
- The start of the fifth stanza has got all sorts of rhythmic goodies to enunciate the speaker's faithfulness. The perfect iambic pentameter here highlights the fact that there hasn't been a "second" since the speaker's young love. How perfect, no?
- And the anaphora we see in the "No..." clauses also serves to keep things sounding put together and emphatic in their meaning.
- There's no doubting the speaker's faithfulness. She really hasn't moved on and found herself another man.
- Notice the alliteration in "later, light, lightened." Line 17 is sounding not only emphatic but also mighty poetic with all of those L sounds that catch our attention. Check out "Sound Check" for more.
- The metaphor comparing light and morning to love gives us reason to suspect that despite the speaker's faithfulness, she's still without "light" and the joy love brings. So maybe we feel bad for her, but we have to admit that a Victorian audience would applaud this sort of despair as being indicative of a good woman.
- From a romantic standpoint, we can kind of understand the applause, too. No one wants to feel as if they're easily replaceable, so the speaker's emphasis on there being no "second light" makes that love appear all the more special.
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.
- The second half of the stanza follows the same sort of pattern as the first half, so the speaker seems to really be driving her faithfulness home here. All of the bliss she got is now in the grave with her lover. There's no gray area here.
- And again the anaphora we see in "all my life's bliss" furthers the speaker's sincerity in what she's saying.
- We get the sense of the speaker being a sort of martyr here. She's sacrificed all of the joy in her life for her lover by giving him all of her bliss. So this runs a bit contradictory to what we saw earlier regarding "other desires and other hopes." Hmm.
- Notice though that there's a difference between words like "bliss" and "desires." Bliss denotes something that's joyful and light, while desire sounds more impetuous and heavy. So although the speaker seems to be contradicting herself, she's doing so in a way that indicates a difference between the various ways to experience life.
- We can also understand what the speaker means when she says all of her bliss that she got from her lover now rests with him.
- It's hard to feel blissful again once you've lost the source of your bliss. And she seems to have resigned herself to this awareness. We sense a but coming though…
But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
- Our speaker says here that those dreams have perished, but at least there's a bright side: despair hasn't destroyed her completely. So the bliss may be gone but we're guessing there's something else to come in the following lines.
- The imagery surrounding bliss and dreams has that same sort of golden light to it too. So again we're missing that inspiring light but maybe there's something else to be had.
- Despair gets a capital D here, too, for good reason.. Despair often strikes us as a large ominous force that consumes us, so it gets a big D instead of a little one. This despair means business.
- Notice, too, the shift in tone that goes down in these lines. The "but" signals a change in focus for this elegy. We've already seen the grief and anxiety part, but we're still waiting on the consolation part. So does the "but" mean it's finally headed our way? We certainly hope so.
- We have more alliteration here, too, in "days, dreams, Despair, destroy." All those D sounds really emphasize that despair with a capital D, don't you think? Check out "Sound Check" for more.
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.
- And here comes the consolation part. After realizing that despair couldn't destroy her completely, she learns that life could be cherished "without the aid of joy." There's your silver lining, folks. Life isn't always about bliss and joy. Sometimes we have to do without and find other ways to keep on truckin'.
- So even though all of the speaker's bliss is in the grave, she's still able to live in other ways that can be cherished. Her despair taught her something about herself and the ways one can overcome hard times.
- And again we have more ambiguity here that doesn't limit the personal meanings one may bring to this poem. A person's source of strength can vary dramatically, so it makes sense that the speaker wouldn't look to limit that in any way.
- Oftentimes you see poets talking about other places where joy can be found or that joy is never really lost. But here our speaker says enough with all that. She's going to learn how to do without joy altogether rather than pretend she still feels it. A mighty tough lady, if you ask us.
- Notice the rhyme we have here that links "destroy" with "joy." We get the feeling that maybe the speaker is drawing our attention to the idea that joy isn't the be-all and end-all to fix what's been destroyed. There are other ways to come back from despair.
Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
- Message to our speaker: You better check yourself before you wreck yourself. See, even Victorian poets said the same thing… er, kind of. Basically, she's "checking" or controlling those tears of useless passion that came out of her grief.
- The speaker has made the effort here to keep her passions from consuming her after her loss.
- She's found other ways to sustain and cherish her existence without the joy she once felt, and therefore she's also learned to keep those passions in check.
- She's also "weaned" herself off the habit of yearning for a love that she can no longer have. How very prudent.
- Check out the speaker's diction here in "weaned." The word reminds us of a puppy being weaned off its mother's milk. So the connotations here fit well with the idea of "weaning" a young soul off the loss of love.
- Notice, too, that the rhythm in these lines isn't as slow and dragging as previous lines. There's a sense of strength and determination behind those short syllables that come one after the other in line 25. So just like the slow rhythm we saw in the first stanza that reflected the speaker's sense of lingering and nostalgia, these lines in the opposite way reflect her conviction and strength. Check out "Sound Check" for more.
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.
- She's got even more control and determination by line 27 as she denies those impulses to throw herself into that tomb with her lover. Notice the similar quick rhythm as the previous lines to further her sense of urgency and conviction.
- By this point we've seen yet another change in tone and mood. We're not reading the vulnerable voice we heard earlier feeling burdened by loss and the effects of time. Here we sense her aversion to the passions that made her vulnerable in the first place.
- In a sense, we've seen the speaker grow up right before her eyes. Those young tears of useless passion are now being checked, denied, and have given way to a new kind of strength. Here we come, adulthood.
- The tomb that felt as if was more than hers, because she was so eager to get down there, is no longer pulling her down like it used to.
- At this point then we have a different perspective on the lack of joy and light in the speaker's life. Maybe before we felt bad for her and ready to give up on her ever bouncing back. But here we sense a different speaker, one that's strong even though she lacks that joy she once felt.
- So again we're noticing a unique perspective in the world of elegies, especially elegies written by women in the 19th century.
- Our speaker isn't resigning herself to a life of misery and woe. She's picked herself up and is learning to move forward.
And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain;
- Here the speaker dares not "let it languish" and linger. It's as if she knows better, which is why she uses the words "dare not."
- No more moping around the grave for our girl.
- The repetition of "dare not" reminds us of the more experienced and therefore wiser version of our speaker that we see now.
- She even goes so far as to say that memory's "rapturous pain" is an indulgence that is therefore something that can be controlled and "checked." It's almost like memory and its pain sound more like a kind of drug that has the power to put us in a sort of rapture (and is also indulgent).
- So the speaker is building upon her newfound strength and putting her own pain and memory in the sort of perspective that doesn't allow for the sort of control it had earlier.
- Notice we have some more perfect iambic pentameter in line 29 that really drives home the power behind these words. These are not the lingering words and rhythms we saw in the first few stanzas.
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?
- By line 31 we're seeing more of the speaker's perspective on how anguish can be an indulgence that one "drink[s] deep." So she's really feeling an aversion to the whole idea of wallowing in misery and feeling sorry for oneself.
- At the same time, she recognizes that anguish can be "divine" in the sense that it proves her faithfulness. But at this point she's been there, done that. It's time to move forward since "drinking deep" of that anguish would be like seeking the "empty world" again that reminds her of what she lost.
- The final rhetorical question wraps this elegy up in a rather neat way that compares memory's anguish to the process of seeking an "empty world." It doesn't make sense to look for a world that doesn't have anything in it, so why do it?
- By the end, the speaker has learned to control not only her passions but also the manner in which she remembers. She's said that her love will always be felt even if she doesn't indulge in memory's pain. Her lack of memory "cannot do thee wrong," after all.
- It turns out that remembrance is a tricky thing when it comes to love and loss. We may feel guilt, anguish, anxiety over the one we lost, but in doing so we find ourselves indulging in an "empty world," which doesn't make much sense. Perhaps it's enough then to simply recall the love we've felt without seeking the particulars of the person's death and the misery we feel. Sounds good to Shmoop.