Monday, August 6, 2012


In my previous post, I stated that Christina Rossetti "is often thought of as a melancholy poet."  After further thought, I wish to offer an addendum to that statement.  I think that it is dangerous to make generalizations about a poet.  I do not find Rossetti's poetry to be "melancholy."  And I do not intend to frighten anyone off from her poetry with the suggestion that all is gloom.

As I said, longing and loss and resignation are not uncommon in her poetry, but -- as is the case with all good poetry -- the bare subject matter is transformed into something else when the right words come together, something that is far from "melancholy."  At this point, I am tempted to go off on a verbal and philosophical flight and quote Keats:  "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."  I'll stay away from that, but something in that neighborhood does happen in a fine poem.


Remember me when I am gone away,
     Gone far away into the silent land;
     When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
     You tell me of our future that you planned:
     Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
     And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
     For if the darkness and corruption leave
     A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
     Than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862).

          Kenneth Roberts (1932-1995), "Benvie, Gray and Gourdie" (1988)

In a note to the poem (Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems, page 892), Betty Flowers suggests that it may have some affinities with Shakespeare's Sonnet LXXI:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell;
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
     Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
     And mock you with me after I am gone.

                                    Kenneth Roberts, "Souvenir of Istria"


Andy McEwan said...

Mr Pentz,
Since I first encountered it, many years ago, this has been one of my favourite poems. Whenever, sadly, I have lost friends or relatives, it has invariably come to mind. I do find it somewhat melancholy but also very life-affirming. The final two lines I have always found particularly resonant and deeply moving.
Another of Rossetti's poems from Goblin Market - Song - touches on similar themes, especially in the lines -
And if thou wilt, remember.
And if thou wilt, forget.
Both are wonderful poems, although I think "Remember" the better.
Keep up the good work - First Known When Lost is a joy to a lover of poetry (and of fine pictures, too).

WAS said...

Another incomparable poem by Rossetti. I'm starting to see the way she "cuts" the wisdom with human sadness, so the reader must take the proper proportion. The overall message, I take it, is that life with another person won't be that very much different after one is gone than when they were here together -- there is in both cases a vast chasm that will never be crossed. I don't see this quality in Sonnet LXXI, I take that as a more straightforward expression of a father's love to a son, intended as a keepsake because the gossip of conniving others will try to separate their hearts after the father's death.

Great poems and contemplation material, as always, Mr. Pentz!

Fred said...


More bittersweet than melancholy? I can see some affinities with the Shakespeare sonnet.

Julie Whitmore Pottery said...

I find these poems very timely,
I've spent some time also trying to figure what the person is doing in the painting, holding on for dear life? or thinking of letting go. Holding on perhaps. Much to lovely of a day to die.

frances thomas said...

Thank you for drawing my attention to this similarity which I'd not noticed before. Rossetti does have an unfair reputation for being gloomy I think. Most of her poetry has a melancholy tinge but that isn't the same thing

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. McEwan: I greatly appreciate your kind words.

Thank you for reminding me about "Song" ("When I am dead, my dearest") -- it had slipped my mind. I agree: the two poems go together well.

As ever, thank you for your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Sigler: I like your interpretation of what Rossetti is showing to us. And I like your point about her poem perhaps being more nuanced (I'm not sure that that is the correct word) than Shakespeare's.

As always, thank you for stopping by. And thank you for the kind words as well!

Stephen Pentz said...

Fred: thanks for visiting again, and for your thoughts. That is a good way of putting it -- I like "bittersweet." LIke autumn, for instance.

Regarding the Shakespeare: I'm glad that I came across that note to the poem. I think it is fruitful to think of the two together.

Stephen Pentz said...

Julie: it is good to hear from you again.

Your comment on the painting reminded me (for some reason) of Stevie Smith's poem: "Not waving but drowning."

As always, thank you for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

frances thomas: thank you for visiting again.

I wasn't aware of the similarity until I came across the note by Betty Flowers. As I mentioned in my response to Fred's comment, it is interesting to compare the two poems, I think.

I agree with your assessment of Rossetti: I don't find her gloomy either. (Although, having said that, some of her "nursery rhymes" in Sing-Song are hair-raising!)

Thanks again.