Christina Rossetti’s ‘Song’:
Death and grief.
Love and tragic loss are key themes of the Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature movement, and ‘Song’ combines the two beautifully in a way that neither glorifies nor portrays a detrimental idea of death and the outcomes it brings.
Rossetti uses a variety of natural imagery to beautify the idea of life. She tells the reader to ‘plant no roses at my head’ where the symbol of the ‘rose’ embodies the theme of love, which was key in such a Romantic Era of poetry. Further use of the idea of living nature is used by ‘shady cypress tree’ which defines the idea of death as the branches of such a tree were traditionally carried at funerals in symbol of mourning, yet Rossetti’s orders to the reader to not plant such a thing shows that she does not wish the reader to ‘grieve’ over her as such. Through the tripled repetition of ‘I shall not’ in the first three lines of the second stanza, (which are followed by one of the five senses ‘see’, ‘feel’, ‘hear’), Rossetti tells the reader that she will not be able to witness such notions and mournful gestures (i.e. ‘sing no sad songs for me’) and instead metaphorically tells the reader to ‘be the green grass above me’ where the alliteration of the ‘g’ is used to create power and meaning, where the connotations of describing somebody as grass creates the idea of growing, moving on, flourishing in one’s own life. The following line created by enjambment ‘with showers and dewdrops wet’ continue the theme of naturally occurring weather and climate, yet have connotations and inferences of tears, as oppose to materialistic gestures, yet the idea of ‘showers’ and ‘rain’ (which is used again in the second stanza) create the pathetic fallacy thus conforming to the melancholy state which one would associate with a funeral. The continued use of such ‘natural’ language throughout the first stanza provokes the idea that the deceased are gone (as no religious references are made in this poem as to Heaven and Hell) whereas plants and flowers will always continue to grow, thus telling the reader not to stop living, to continue as normal, finalising the first stanza with ‘and if thou wilt, remember, / and if thou wilt, forget’ where in which ‘wilt’ offers the impression of a flower dying, thus telling the reader that soon a new flower will grow, and that she wishes the reader to blossom in the same way, and to start afresh. Also, the parallelism in the final lines of the stanza (bar the final juxtaposing words ‘remember’ and ‘forget’) outlines the extremities and the suddenness is which death can occur.
The portrayal of death is somewhat ironic in ‘Song’, as there is a contrast between the idea of ongoing and ongrowing life and the punctual idea of death. Further irony is depicted in the final two lines of the poem, where Rossetti used the term ‘haply’ – meaning perhaps – to show the ambiguity as to whether she’d need remembering or not, yet at a glance it resembles a misspelling of the word ‘happily’ which contradicts with the idea and themes of this grieving poem, creating a satirical ambiguity to the approach of her decease. Rossetti has portrayed this poem not as a memorandum as she proves that she doesn’t really mind if she’s forgotten, and ‘Song’ hardly creates a dirge-like feel to the poem, as the intention is not to make the reader feel sad, as telling the reader in the first stanza to ‘be the green grass [...] with showers’ which creates the idea that she wants the reader to be able to have their own woes and worries without reliving the sadness that her death brought upon them, enhanced by this rainy pathetic fallacy.
The poem resembles another of Rossetti’s works from her era, called ‘Remember’, where in which she says ‘better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad’, which reinforces the extreme contrast of ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’, telling us that the acceptance of death is important in life. That...
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