Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

Imperfect Love
The theme of imperfect love in Rossetti’s “Remember” is an idea based on the more obvious and often used theme of religion in her work. To a poet so devoutly centered on her Christian faith and love of God, the love of a man must seem second-rate, at best. A question, therefore, arises about her sincerity in the relationship she has with her lover— on one hand, she seems honestly to love him and begs him to remember her when she is dead; on the other hand, she appears a bit nonchalant in her willingness to tell him to forget her just the same.

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In the beginning of the poem, the love between the couple seems strong, and the overtone of sadness and grief stems from the notion that death is about to tear them apart. But is this notion a fact? Is the woman really dying and, if so, how much time does she have left—a few hours, a few weeks, a year? There is no indication of a time limit, nor is there any reference to what she is dying from. All the reader knows is that the speaker is urgent in her message, and her message is based on love. But the last line of the octave, line 8, implies a higher love than the secular one shared by man and woman. Here, the speaker seems to tell her lover that once she is with God, he may as well not bother seeking help or praying because she will be far beyond his feeble and imperfect love. Only God’s love is perfect.

In the latter part of the poem, the woman relinquishes her lover from his duty to remember her, acknowledging that, still on earth, he will encounter the “darkness and corruption” that befalls human beings on a regular basis. Feeling sorry for him, she frees him from any painful memories of her, particularly the recollections of how his love could never measure up to her expectations. In light of her strict faith, it would seem that no mortal man’s ever could.

Balance and Contradiction
“Remember” is an exercise in opposites—a poem made up of a back-and-forth shift between balance and contradiction. This theme echoes Rossetti’s own life, which often found her pulled between two poles, usually in regard to religion and worldly passion. This tension is reflected in the sonnet in both the speaker’s indecision on whether to “turn to go” or “turning stay” and in her initial request to be remembered and her final request to be forgotten.

In her book, Christina Rossetti Revisited, critic Sharon Smulders says this of “Remember”: “Poised between going and staying, between life and death, the speaker inhabits a subject position that is rife with indeterminacy.” And in an article for Victorian Poetry, critic Thom Dombrowski notes that in Rossetti’s religious poems in general “the torment is especially intense because the speaker . . . seems torn between longing and loathing, hope and despair, resolution and weariness.” The contradicting emotions and pull in opposite directions essentially pave the way for the balance that Rossetti provides at the end of the poem. Although the speaker appears unsure of whether to go or stay, in the end she has no choice. If her death is real, then she must leave her lover behind. But the conflict does not end there. Instead, the man’s memory of her will carry on the duality she posed to him when she was alive. Will it be a good memory or a bad memory? The speaker’s answer does not actually resolve the problem, but, rather provides an “out” for either result: if the memory is good, remember her; if it is bad, forget her.

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