There are many poems in which the poet finds consolation in the face of impending death or old age by the fact that his or her poems will live on for ever and give some kind of immortality. You can find this in Shakespeare, in Ronsard, in Garcilaso, in Quevedo, to name but a few. In this poem, Christina Rossetti takes a different and somewhat unexpected attitude to death.
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
The poem is adressed to her “dearest”, probably a lover or husband, but perhaps a child. She invites the dear one to make no particular or special arrangements to mark or memorialise her death – don’t plant flowers or trees – and to either remember her or forget her as she wishes. So, in a sense she is setting her dear ones free to react to her death in any way they wish because she knows that, being dead, it will make no difference to her. There is no setting expectations which could interfere with the freedom of choice of those left alive, or cause them to feel guilty if they do not follow certain wishes of the deceased.
The second stanza emphasizes that, being dead, the poet will experience nothing of the living world, having no senses to see, feel or hear anything. The final two lines of the second stanza echo the final two lines of the first stanza, but this time it is the poet who may remember or forget – I think haply means perhaps…
This is a simple, but effective poem, with repetition of key words and phrases, and simple constructions which make it easily memorable and accessible to all. Very nice.
The Poetry Dude