“When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poem written by Christina Rossetti, a prominent Victorian poet. The poem explores the theme of love and loss, and has been widely analyzed by literary critics. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the poem, delving into its structure, language, and meaning. We will also explore the historical and cultural context in which the poem was written, and examine how it fits into Rossetti’s larger body of work.
Background Information on Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti was a prominent Victorian poet who was born in London in 1830. She was the youngest of four siblings, and her family was known for their artistic talents. Her father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian poet and scholar, while her mother, Frances Polidori, was an Englishwoman of Italian descent. Christina was educated at home by her mother and learned several languages, including Italian, French, and German.
Rossetti’s poetry was deeply influenced by her religious beliefs, and she often explored themes of faith, love, and death in her work. She was also known for her use of vivid imagery and symbolism, which added depth and complexity to her poems.
Rossetti’s first collection of poetry, “Goblin Market and Other Poems,” was published in 1862 and received critical acclaim. She went on to publish several more collections of poetry, including “The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems” and “A Pageant and Other Poems.”
In addition to her poetry, Rossetti was also a prolific writer of prose, including essays, short stories, and devotional works. She was deeply involved in the Anglican Church and wrote several hymns that are still sung today, including “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Love Came Down at Christmas.”
Rossetti’s work has had a lasting impact on English literature, and she is considered one of the most important poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry continues to be studied and admired for its beauty, depth, and emotional power.
Analysis of the Poem’s Title
The title of Christina Rossetti’s poem, “When I am Dead, My Dearest,” immediately sets a melancholic tone for the reader. The use of the word “dead” suggests that the speaker is contemplating their own mortality, while the phrase “my dearest” implies that they are addressing someone they hold close to their heart. This title also hints at the theme of loss and separation that runs throughout the poem. By analyzing the title, readers can gain insight into the emotional landscape of the poem and prepare themselves for the poignant journey ahead.
Themes Explored in the Poem
One of the main themes explored in Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is the idea of love and loss. The speaker in the poem is addressing their loved one, expressing their desire for them to remember them after they have passed away. The poem is filled with imagery of death and the afterlife, as well as the pain of separation and the fear of being forgotten. Another theme that is explored in the poem is the idea of time and its fleeting nature. The speaker acknowledges that time will continue to move forward even after they are gone, and that their loved one will eventually forget about them. This theme is further emphasized by the repetition of the phrase “remember me” throughout the poem. Overall, “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poignant exploration of love, loss, and the passage of time.
Symbols and Imagery in the Poem
In “When I am Dead, My Dearest,” Christina Rossetti employs a variety of symbols and imagery to convey the theme of love and loss. The most prominent symbol in the poem is the “silent land” which represents death. Rossetti uses this symbol to suggest that death is not something to be feared, but rather a peaceful and quiet place where the speaker can rest. Additionally, the imagery of the “cold foot” and “cold breast” further emphasizes the idea of death as a state of stillness and calmness.
Another important symbol in the poem is the “roses” which represent the love that the speaker has for their beloved. The roses are described as being “red” and “fresh” which suggests that the love between the speaker and their beloved is passionate and vibrant. However, the fact that the roses will “wither” and “fade” highlights the inevitability of loss and the fleeting nature of life.
Overall, the symbols and imagery in “When I am Dead, My Dearest” serve to reinforce the poem’s central theme of love and loss. Through the use of these literary devices, Rossetti is able to create a poignant and moving portrayal of the human experience.
Tone and Mood of the Poem
The tone and mood of Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” are melancholic and mournful. The speaker is contemplating her own death and the impact it will have on her loved one. The tone is somber and reflective, as the speaker acknowledges the inevitability of death and the sadness it brings. The mood is one of sadness and loss, as the speaker imagines the pain her loved one will feel when she is gone. Despite the sadness, there is also a sense of acceptance and resignation in the poem, as the speaker comes to terms with her own mortality. Overall, the tone and mood of the poem convey a sense of deep emotion and introspection, as the speaker reflects on the fragility of life and the importance of love and connection.
Rhyme and Meter in the Poem
Rhyme and meter are two important elements in poetry that can greatly affect the overall tone and mood of a poem. In Christina Rossetti’s “When I am Dead, My Dearest,” the rhyme scheme is consistent throughout the poem, with each stanza following an ABAB rhyme pattern. This creates a sense of stability and order in the poem, which contrasts with the theme of death and loss.
Additionally, the meter of the poem is predominantly iambic tetrameter, with each line consisting of four iambs. This creates a rhythmic flow to the poem, which adds to the overall musicality of the piece. However, there are moments where Rossetti deviates from this meter, such as in the third stanza where the line “I shall not see the shadows” breaks the iambic pattern. This deviation adds emphasis to the line and draws attention to the speaker’s inability to see the world after death.
Overall, the rhyme and meter in “When I am Dead, My Dearest” contribute to the poem’s overall structure and tone, highlighting the themes of death and loss while also creating a sense of musicality and order.
Structure of the Poem
The structure of “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a traditional sonnet, consisting of fourteen lines with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The poem is divided into two quatrains and two tercets, with a volta or turn in the ninth line. The first quatrain sets the tone of the poem, with the speaker addressing her loved one and expressing her desire for him to remember her after she is gone. The second quatrain introduces the idea of the speaker’s physical decay after death, and the tercets explore the speaker’s fear of being forgotten and her hope that her loved one will continue to cherish her memory. The poem’s structure reinforces the theme of the speaker’s mortality and the importance of remembrance.
Analysis of the First Stanza
The first stanza of Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker is addressing a loved one, presumably a romantic partner, and telling them what they should do when the speaker is no longer alive. The use of the word “dearest” suggests a deep affection between the two, and the repetition of “remember” emphasizes the importance of the speaker’s wishes. The imagery of the “silent land” and the “violet by a mossy stone” creates a peaceful and natural setting, perhaps suggesting that the speaker wants to be remembered in a tranquil and natural way. Overall, the first stanza sets up the theme of death and remembrance that will be explored throughout the rest of the poem.
Analysis of the Second Stanza
The second stanza of Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” delves deeper into the speaker’s thoughts and emotions regarding her death. The stanza begins with the line “I shall not see the shadows, I shall not feel the rain,” which suggests that the speaker will no longer be able to experience the world around her after she has passed away. This line also creates a sense of finality and separation between the speaker and the living world.
The stanza continues with the line “I shall not hear the nightingale sing on, as if in pain,” which further emphasizes the speaker’s inability to experience the beauty of the world after her death. The use of the word “pain” in this line also adds a sense of melancholy to the stanza, as the speaker seems to be mourning the loss of the world she will no longer be a part of.
The final two lines of the stanza, “And dreaming through the twilight that doth not rise nor set, haply I may remember, and haply may forget,” are particularly poignant. The use of the word “dreaming” suggests that the speaker’s thoughts and memories will continue on after her death, but in a hazy and uncertain way. The phrase “haply I may remember, and haply may forget” also adds a sense of ambiguity to the stanza, as the speaker is unsure of what memories will stay with her and what will fade away.
Overall, the second stanza of “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a powerful exploration of the speaker’s emotions and thoughts regarding her own mortality. Through her use of language and imagery, Rossetti creates a sense of finality and separation that is both haunting and beautiful.
Analysis of the Third Stanza
The third stanza of Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” shifts the tone from the previous stanzas. The speaker acknowledges that her loved one will eventually move on and forget about her. The use of the word “forget” emphasizes the finality of death and the inevitability of being forgotten. The repetition of “remember” in the following lines highlights the speaker’s desire to be remembered, even if it is just for a brief moment. The use of the word “vain” suggests that the speaker knows her desire to be remembered is futile, but she still cannot help but hope for it. The final line, “Better by far you should forget and smile / Than that you should remember and be sad,” shows the speaker’s selflessness and desire for her loved one’s happiness, even if it means forgetting about her. This stanza adds a layer of complexity to the poem and highlights the speaker’s conflicting emotions about death and being forgotten.
Analysis of the Fourth Stanza
The fourth stanza of Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poignant reflection on the speaker’s desire for her loved one to remember her after she has passed away. The stanza begins with the line “And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget,” which sets up a dichotomy between the speaker’s desire for remembrance and her acceptance of the possibility of being forgotten. This line also highlights the power dynamic between the speaker and her loved one, as she acknowledges that ultimately it is up to him whether or not she will be remembered.
The stanza continues with the lines “And I shall not care,” which suggests that the speaker has come to terms with the fact that her legacy is ultimately out of her control. This line also hints at a sense of resignation or even apathy on the part of the speaker, as if she has accepted that her life and her memory will ultimately be insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
The final two lines of the stanza, “The song will cease to echo, / And the silence will be long,” are particularly striking in their use of imagery. The metaphor of the “song” that will eventually cease to echo suggests that the speaker’s memory will eventually fade away, while the image of the “silence” that will be left behind emphasizes the finality of death and the sense of emptiness that comes with it.
Overall, the fourth stanza of “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a powerful reflection on the nature of memory and the inevitability of death. Through her use of imagery and language, Rossetti captures the complex emotions that come with contemplating one’s own mortality and the legacy that one will leave behind.
Analysis of the Fifth Stanza
The fifth stanza of Christina Rossetti’s poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poignant reflection on the speaker’s desire for her loved one to remember her after she has passed away. The stanza begins with the line “And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget,” which sets up a dichotomy between remembering and forgetting. The speaker acknowledges that her loved one may choose to forget her, but she also expresses the hope that he will remember her.
The second line of the stanza, “And I shall not care,” is a powerful statement that suggests the speaker has come to terms with her mortality and is at peace with the idea of being forgotten. However, the following lines reveal that the speaker’s desire for remembrance is still strong. She asks her loved one to “remember and be sad,” indicating that she wants him to feel the pain of her absence and to mourn her passing.
The final line of the stanza, “And if thou wilt, forget, / And if thou wilt, remember,” echoes the opening line and reinforces the idea that the choice to remember or forget is ultimately up to the loved one. The repetition of these lines creates a sense of circularity and emphasizes the importance of memory in the speaker’s life.
Overall, the fifth stanza of “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a moving reflection on the power of memory and the desire for remembrance after death. The speaker’s acceptance of the possibility of being forgotten is tempered by her hope that her loved one will choose to remember her and feel the pain of her absence.
Analysis of the Sixth Stanza
The sixth stanza of Christina Rossetti’s “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poignant reflection on the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life. The speaker acknowledges that even the most cherished memories and possessions will eventually fade away, and that there is no escaping the finality of death. This stanza is particularly powerful because it highlights the speaker’s acceptance of her own mortality, and her willingness to let go of the things that once brought her joy. Overall, the sixth stanza serves as a reminder that life is precious and should be lived to the fullest, because in the end, all that truly matters is the love and connection we share with others.
Analysis of the Seventh Stanza
The seventh stanza of Christina Rossetti’s “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poignant reflection on the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life. The speaker acknowledges that even the most cherished memories and possessions will eventually fade away, and that there is no escaping the finality of death. This stanza is particularly powerful because it highlights the speaker’s acceptance of her own mortality, and her willingness to let go of the things that once brought her joy. Overall, the seventh stanza serves as a reminder that life is precious and fleeting, and that we should cherish every moment while we can.
Comparison to Other Works by Christina Rossetti
When comparing “When I am Dead, My Dearest” to other works by Christina Rossetti, it becomes clear that the poem is unique in its tone and subject matter. While Rossetti often wrote about themes of love, death, and religion, this particular poem stands out for its melancholic and resigned tone. In contrast to her more hopeful and optimistic works, such as “A Birthday” and “Goblin Market,” “When I am Dead, My Dearest” presents a more somber and realistic view of love and loss. Additionally, the poem’s focus on the inevitability of death sets it apart from Rossetti’s other works, which often explore the possibility of redemption and salvation. Overall, “When I am Dead, My Dearest” showcases Rossetti’s versatility as a poet and her ability to tackle a wide range of themes and emotions.
Impact and Influence of “When I am Dead, My Dearest”
“When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a poem that has had a significant impact on the literary world. Written by Christina Rossetti, the poem has been widely studied and analyzed for its themes of love, loss, and mortality. The poem’s influence can be seen in the works of many other poets and writers who have been inspired by Rossetti’s words. Additionally, the poem has been set to music and has been performed by numerous artists, further cementing its place in popular culture. Overall, “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a powerful work that continues to resonate with readers and writers alike.
Relevance of the Poem Today
The poem “When I am Dead, My Dearest” by Christina Rossetti may have been written in the 19th century, but its relevance today cannot be denied. The theme of death and the fear of being forgotten is something that still resonates with people today. In a world where social media and technology dominate our lives, the idea of being remembered after death has become even more important. The poem’s message of cherishing the time we have with loved ones and making the most of it is something that we can all relate to. Additionally, the poem’s use of simple language and imagery makes it accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds. Overall, “When I am Dead, My Dearest” is a timeless piece of literature that continues to speak to readers today.