In Christina Rossetti's poem "Remember," how is the speaker herself characterized?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Christina Rossetti’s “Remember Me” offers a self-portrait of a central character contemplating her own death. She addresses an unidentified other person, perhaps a lover, a husband, or some kind of other partner. The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet (that is, a sonnet with the same basic rhyme scheme as sonnets by the Italian poet Franceso Petrarca, or “Petrarch”). The rhyme scheme of the poem thus falls into two parts: the first eight lines (the “octave”), which always rhyme abbaabba; and the last six lines (the “sestet”), which can rhyme variously. Rossetti's sestet rhymes cddece.

The speaker asks the addressee to remember her when she is gone, presumably because the addressee is special to her.  The key word – “Remember” – is emphasized by being placed first in the first line. In line 2, the speaker uses a metaphor – “the silent land” – to refer to the eternity of death. Whereas the first line might have implied a merely temporary departure, the second line clearly suggests the final departure of death.

The third line implies the physical connection the couple have enjoyed – a connection that is decorous and gently loving rather than explicit or blatantly erotic: she speaks of being held by the hand, not even of kissing, let alone anything even more daring. Thus the speaker seems a restrained person, not a person full of strong physical passions. In lines 5-6, this sense of the speaker as a not especially assertive person is reinforced:

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you plann'd . . . (5-6)

Here she suggests that the addressee guided their relationship, and she does not seem to object to that fact, as a modern feminist might.  She mentions his plans for their future, but she seems instead to focus on her own assumptions about her own personal future: that she will die.  The repeated phrase “remember me” becomes almost a chant or refrain in the poem; it lends the poem a kind of musical quality and a kind of musical rhythm, even as it also makes very clear what matters most to this woman, who is clearly determined and insistent in some respects, if not in others.

As is typical of Petrarchan sonnets, there is a significant shift both of rhyme and of meaning in the movement from line 8 to line 9. In line 9, the speaker raises the possibility that the addressee may in fact forget her.  Having spent the first eight lines asking the addressee to remember and love her, in the last six lines she shows him her love by suggesting the he forget her if his memories of her should cause him any pain. She wants to be remembered (as the first eight lines make clear), but even more than that, she wants her partner to be happy, even if being happy means occasionally forgetting her. She seeks his continuing affection in the octave; she offers her own continuing affection in the sestet.

The poem thus characterizes the speaker as a person whose love is so intense that she not only wants to be loved beyond the grave but also offers such love in return.

As befits a speaker who is so calm and rational (despite her intense love), the rhythms of the poem consist mostly of perfectly regular iambic pentameter lines, in which each odd syllable is unaccented and each even syllable is accented. The first syllable of line 6 is unusually emphasized, and the same thing happens in line 13. The speaker's thoughts are as measured as the poem's rhythms.