The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Memory” is a poem of thirty-six lines expressing a woman’s voluntary renunciation of love, which, remembered with wrenching self-abnegation in life, will be consummated with her beloved in an afterlife of perfect fulfillment.

Part 1 of the poem was written in 1857, and part 2 came into being in 1865, when Christina Rossetti was at the height of her creative powers. The sister of the two Pre-Raphaelite writer-artists, Dante Gabriel and William Michael Rossetti, Christina gave expression to some of the escapist Pre-Raphaelite tendencies in her own poetry. She had, however, a uniquely religious sensibility, influenced by her intense involvement with the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Victorian Church of England. One of the greatest English religious poets of the nineteenth century, she strove for a disciplined purity in her daily life, giving up not only theater, opera, and chess, but even two suitors for her hand in marriage because of her scruples about the beliefs of one man and the lukewarm piety of the other.

“Memory” is a striking testimony to a woman’s conscious rejection of love in her life, a courageous choice alleviated only by remembrance of her love and by the hope that the relationship will be renewed in paradise. The five stanzas of part 1 stress the woman’s loneliness and courage in her choice to renounce love and yet to hide it in her hollow heart where it once gave joy. She has always kept her love a secret,...

(The entire section is 402 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Memory,” a lyric poem consisting of nine four-line stanzas termed quatrains, has a rhyme scheme of abab in part 1 and abba in part 2. It is noteworthy that in part 2 the initial and final lines of each stanza end with the same feminine (or weak) rhyme, in keeping with the sense of the poem’s conclusion that the woman’s stoic renunciation of love has softened into tender remembrance and a fond hope of eventual reunion beyond the grave.

In part 1, the prevailing meter is iambic pentameter (“ǐ nused ǐt ín my bósǒm whíle ǐt líved”), although the last line of each stanza employs iambic trimeter (“ǎlóne ǎd nóthig sáid”). In part 2, the metrical system in each stanza alternates between iambic pentameter (with an extra short sound on the feminine end rhyme in the first line of each stanza) and iambic dimeter (with an extra short sound on the feminine end rhyme in the last line of each stanza):

I have a room whereinto no one enters Save I myself alone:There sits a blessed memory on a throne, There my life centres.

Cooperating with this appropriately controlled but fluctuating sound system is an abundance of assonance and consonance in the poem (“I nursed it in my bosom while it lived”).

To underscore the contrast between...

(The entire section is 453 words.)