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In one way or another, we all experience love and the myriad of emotions that come with it. Love transforms over time, morphing into something deep and profound or diminishing and vanishing altogether. Christina Rossetti wrote the poem 'Memory' to reflect on love.
|Written In||Part 1 in 1857; Part 2 in 1865|
|Written By||Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)|
|Meter||Inconsistent; first part dominated by iambic pentameter|
|Rhyme Scheme||ABAB; ABBA|
|Literary and Poetic Devices||Alliteration; metaphor; refrain; symbolism|
|Frequently noted imagery||Seasons|
|Key themes||Love and death|
|Meaning||The speaker reflects on the love she had for someone, which was not reciprocated. She holds on to the memory of her love for this individual despite it being a painful reminder of the heartbreak she suffered. Finally, she hopes to be united with her beloved in the afterlife.|
Pro Tip: When discussing the context of a literary text or a poem, mull over the following questions:
Christina Rossetti wrote the poem 'Memory' in two parts. The first part of the poem, written in 1857, takes on a melancholic, almost despairing tone. Rossetti's marital prospects in 1857 looked rather bleak with two refused proposals, which account for the miserable tone of the first part. The second part, written in 1865, coincides with Christina Rossetti's budding friendship with Charles Bagot Cayley, and thus marks the poem with hope and fulfilment.
It is recommended that you read the entire poem twice for an in-depth analysis of the poem. The first time is a close reading, involving a microscopic examination of each word and its connotations. The second reading should be a 'zooming out' that allows you to look at the broad strokes of the poem and its themes. We will first read the poem, then examine the literary and poetic devices employed by the poet, and finally, look at the key themes of the poem.
I nursed it in my bosom while it lived, I hid it in my heart when it was dead; In joy I sat alone, even so I grieved Alone and nothing said.
I shut the door to face the naked truth, I stood alone — I faced the truth alone, Stripped bare of self-regard or forms or ruth Till first and last were shown.
I took the perfect balances and weighed; No shaking of my hand disturbed the poise; Weighed, found it wanting: not a word I said, But silent made my choice.
None know the choice I made; I make it still. None know the choice I made and broke my heart, Breaking mine idol: I have braced my will Once, chosen for once my part.
I broke it at a blow, I laid it cold, Crushed in my deep heart where it used to live. My heart dies inch by inch; time grows old, Grows old in which I grieve.
I have a room whereinto no one enters Save I myself alone: There sits a blessed memory on a throne, There my life centres;
While winter comes and goes – oh tedious comer! – And while its nip-wind blows; While bloom the bloodless lilly and warm rose Of lavish summer.
If any should force entrance he might see there One buried yet not dead, Before whose face I no more bow my head Or bend my knee there;
But often in my worn life’s autumn weather I watch there with clear eyes, And think how it will be in Paradise When we’re together.
Pro Tip: A brief summary of the poem is a good way to begin an essay about a poem. Without going into too much detail, write four to five sentences that outline the basic meaning or purpose of the poem. The details and the complexities of the poem can be elaborated upon later in your essay.
The first part of the poem consists of five stanzas. These elaborate on the miserable and melancholic state of the speaker who is nursing a broken heart after finding out that her love for someone is unreciprocated. She faces the rejection head-on and her silence weighs heavy on her. She wishes to hold on to the memory of her one-sided infatuation.
The second part takes on a more hopeful tone. Having made peace with her choice to remain silent, she revels in the memory of her love in the autumnal phase of her life. She wishes to be united with the one she loves in the afterlife.
Pro Tip: When elaborating the form or structure of a poem, think of the following:1. What is the meter and the rhyme scheme of the poem? Is it consistent? If there is a change, is it gradual or sudden? How does this change affect the way the poem reads?
2. Read the poem in its entirety. Do you notice any repetitions? Is a pattern emerging?
3. How does the form affect the reading of the poem? Does it influence the main subject or theme of the poem?
The poem 'Memory' consists of nine stanzas. The stanzas are written as quatrains (four lines), with the final line of each quatrain shorter than the rest of the stanza. The use of punctuation adds emphasis to the resigned acceptance of the rejection that the speaker faces. The difference in the tone of the two parts is underlined by the punctuation. While the first part consists of pregnant pauses and highlights her silent suffering, the second part is dominated by end-stopped lines that note her hope and optimism as she looks to death and the afterlife.
The poem 'Memory' is dominated by the iambic pentameter, but also consists of shortened lines, particularly the last line of each stanza. These shortened lines heighten her resignation and suffering in the face of rejection and unreciprocated love. In part 2, the second line of each stanza is also shortened to reflect the speaker's feelings that oscillate between misery and hope. The tonal difference between the two parts is also marked by the rhyme scheme – with the first part consisting of alternating rhymes ABAB, and the second part following the ABBA rhyme scheme.
An iamb is a metric foot containing two syllables – an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, e.g., destroy; belong.
Alliteration refers to the repetition of certain sounds and stressed syllables, mostly used to add emphasis and also sonic pleasure when the poem is read out loud.
The poem 'Memory' includes many instances of alliteration. Examples include the use of 'hid' and 'heart' in line 2; 'stripped' and 'self,' and 'regard' and 'ruth' in line 6. Alliteration provides a song-like quality to the poem, almost making it seem as if the speaker sings these lines to herself to find comfort in them. Can you find more instances of alliteration in the poem? How do these alter the reading of the poem?
A metaphor is a figure of speech where an idea or an object is substituted for another to hint at a connection between the two. The metaphor adds a layer of meaning to the text.
The speaker's heart, which is described as an injured, and later a 'dead,' object that she 'nursed' or as one that buries deep within it the feeling of unrequited love is a metaphor that carries the undertone of rejection and grief. Memory too, serves as a metaphor (and personification) as it is marked with 'sitting on a throne.'
Refrain refers to the words, lines or phrases repeated within a poem
The poet's repeated use of 'I' indicates her loneliness and grief in the face of unrequited love. This is expounded by the use of the word 'alone,' which is also repeated four times in the poem, adding to the impression of her heart laid bare.
The speaker uses the memory of her love as a symbol to describe her condition of silent suffering, and later, hope in the poem. The opening line itself treats her memory of her love as something alive, which she nurses in her heart. She expresses a myriad of emotions she feels as she remembers the love she felt for the person. In line 5, for example, she describes the memory of rejection as a naked truth, and the love she offers as facing a closed door, thus remarking upon it not being reciprocated.
Another key symbol in the poem 'Memory' is that of season, which is indicative of change and healing. On one hand, the speaker notes with hope the passing of time and how the cold and dead winter transforms into a blossoming, lavish summer, and on the other hand, she remarks on the autumnal phase of her life and how she looks towards death and the afterlife in the hope of being united with the one she loves.
As an exercise, look for further examples that add layers to the speaker's unrequited love.
As the title suggests, memory is the key theme of the poem. While the speaker feels heartbroken and vulnerable, she holds on to the memory of love. This renews her optimism and hope in part 2 of the poem. The memory transforms into a blessing, particularly when the speaker turns to God. She finds comfort and peace in religion and in her worship of God. This reconciles with the strong Christian beliefs that Rossetti conformed to. In line with the Christian notion of the afterlife, the poet expresses her faith that she will unite with her beloved in paradise.
The mood of the poem 'Memory' is melancholic yet optimistic
The poem 'Memory' consists of elements that are common in Romantic poetry, but also has a religious undertone to it, which reflects Rossetti's Christian beliefs.
The poem 'Memory' is about unrequited love, the memory of which the speaker holds on to despite it causing heartbreak. She then turns to her love for God to find comfort and hopes to be united with her beloved in the afterlife.
The poem 'Memory' is about memories of heartbreak suffered by the speaker due to unrequited love.
The poem 'Memory' is written by Christina Rossetti.
What is the tone of the poem 'Memory'?
How many stanzas does the poem 'Memory' contain?
What is the tone of the second part of the poem 'Memory'?
What is the dominant meter in the poem 'Memory'?
Which set of alliteration can be found in the poem 'Memory'?
Weighted - wanting - word
What is the overarching theme of the poem 'Memory'?
Memory and death
What is the rhyme scheme of the first part of the poem 'Memory'?
What is the rhyme scheme of the second part of the poem 'Memory'?
Which of the following symbols can be found in the poem 'Memory'?
Seasons and change
Which word is often repeated in the poem 'Memory'?
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