Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 579

“Remembrance” is not so much a poem about death as it is about the eternal hopelessness of its acceptance. Death cannot be undone; its repercussions cannot be altered, and its totality cannot be mitigated. Its reality continues to affect her own life to the extent that the poet claims that the tomb of her love is more hers than his. “Remembrance” disputes and denies the common idea that time heals all wounds. Herein, the poet is fixated in a time that shows little if any movement onward, even as she recognizes the irrevocability of its—and her own—passing. Life does not go on: Life has stopped.

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The persona of the poem records her fifteen years of effort to accept and live with the death of her love. She cannot forget him; she cannot turn to another. She cannot, consequently, live again meaningfully in the world around her. The only apparent reality is her memory, which still controls and dominates not only her thoughts and feelings but also her actions. Intellectually, the poet knows the error of her ways. She recognizes the futility of worshiping cold snow, and she knows that the distance in time of fifteen years should afford her some relief. One aspect of her nature truly wants to overcome his loss and to redefine her existence as one in which “change and suffering” are not the only constants. Such dreams, though, can only perish. She remains entrapped in a life of union with one dead, and inescapably so.

Arguably, the poet’s entrapment is of her own making. There is an intense pleasure on her part derived from knowing that her love for the dead youth is in fact absolute. She prides herself in knowing that she is “Faithful indeed” as a “spirit”—not a person—who “remembers” after all these years. Her “Remembrance” is the vitality of her life blood, a manifest, lamentable treasure.

The poet, then, does not accept death so much as she accepts her own condition: She will remain fixated in her quiet despair, continuing to pay obeisance to a love that can be actualized only in her memory. It is perhaps futile and vainglorious for her to exist in such a state. She protests that she has made every attempt to rid herself of the consequences of his death, yet she would not go on. She is clearly unable to resurrect him bodily; only in memory can she keep him the main part of her being. In this realm, then, “Remembrance” exists not as a futile entrapment but as an honorable tribute in an elegiac fashion. The world is indeed “empty,” and she should not seek it again; rather, she should continue to bask in the glory of the grave, inevitably not capable of emotional involvement with another.

It is worthy and honorable for her to keep alive the memory of someone whom she had loved; it is admirable for her to believe that his love has meaning and still defines her after all these years. The poem’s meaning, however, can be determined by focusing closely on the last two lines. “Anguish” (at his death) is described as “divinest.” The poet loves, finally, not her dead love, but her love of him. She cannot resurrect him, but she can keep alive her love for him, which is exactly what she does. It is because of her love for such “anguish” that she will not move into the “empty world again.”

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