Text of the 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.

Footnotes

  1. The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet with an unusual rhyme scheme in the sestet—the final six lines. These lines follow a CDDECE rhyme scheme, the purpose of which is to create a four-line separation between the two C-rhyme lines. This separation imitates the experience of forgetting someone and then remembering them again after a period of time. This link between form and theme is underscored by the language of the first C-rhyme line: “Yet if you should forget me for a while.” Appropriately, the reader is then forced to forget that line for a unusually long spell.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The verb “to counsel” means “to advise or recommend,” but it can also mean “to advise oneself, or deliberate.” Because of the dual meaning of this word, the speaker suggests that after her death no words, external or internal, can help her lover feel better. Only the memory of her will be able to alleviate her lover’s sadness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. “Gone far away” repeats the idea from the first line that the speaker is “gone away.” This repetition emphasizes the physical distance between the speaker and her audience. She is not simply traveling or leaving him, she is going to a place where she will be unattainable.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The speaker distinguishes between grief and remembrance in presenting the audience with these two ways of remembering the dead. She wants her audience to remember her as she was when she was alive; she does not want her audience to grieve her passing and be sad over his loss. The final couplet of this poem delivers the message: remember me, but do not grieve.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. A “vestige” is “a mark, trace, or visible sign of something which no longer exists or is present,” “a surviving memorial.” It connotes the ghostly presence of something that has died or faded away. In using this noun, the speaker suggests that the “vestige,” or “image” of her that is created by grief, is not an accurate representation of her. It is merely a “corrupt” or “dark” representation of what she used to be.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. “Darkness” and “corruption” connote wickedness and evil. In a Western, Christian context, these words are often related to sin, the devil, and immorality. These two nouns refer back to the “grief” of the previous line. However, the speaker calls the grief that comes from guilt over a lapse in mourning “darkness” and “corruption,” and the speaker says these two things will distort the audience’s memory of the speaker. This type of “grief” is not the remembering that the speaker wants her audience to do. It is an almost sinful perversion of the command in the first half of the poem.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. While at the beginning of the poem the imperative “Remember” acts as a command, the second half sees the verb “remember” become a more passive action. The speaker’s audience remembers the speaker by chance and experiences grief or guilt by briefly forgetting the deceased. The subtle change in what the speaker means by “remember” over the course of the poem shows the distinction between these two types of remembrance: intentionally remembering someone to preserve their memory, and passively remembering someone in a way that invokes grief over one’s own loss.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Much like a traditional sonnet, the turn occurs at the volta in line 9. The first two quatrains build the speaker’s argument that her audience should “remember” her when she has died and is out of their reach. The “yet” that begins this line signals a change in the argument. She complicates this command to “remember” her by distinguishing between remembrance and grief; she does not want her audience to grieve.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Notice that the speaker conjures these specific memories by reminding her audience that they can “no more” talk about the future or hold her hand. In mentioning the loss of these actions, the speaker preserves them in memory. Just as the speaker makes these actions permanent by recognizing their absence, she makes herself permanent by commanding her lover to preserve her memory in his mind.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The “our” in this line reinforces the idea that the speaker and her audience shared an intimate relationship. From this possessive pronoun, the audience can assume that the speaker is writing to her lover.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. In placing the imperative “Remember” at the beginning of the line, the speaker is able to emphasize the instruction and turn the word into a command. In repeating “Remember,” the poem takes the form of a lesson and the speaker assumes the tone of a teacher or instructor.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. This line alludes to the Greek myth of Orpheus. In the story, Orpheus travels to the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice, who was bitten by a viper on their wedding day. Orpheus plays music so beautifully for Persephone and Hades that they allow him to take Eurydice back to the world of the living under one condition: he cannot look at her until they are out of the land of the dead. Orpheus leads his love to the surface and resists looking back at her until he is fully back in the sunlight. Tragically, Eurydice is still on the threshold of the underworld when Orpheus turns and looks at her. She vanishes instantly back to the underworld, forever out of reach from her living lover.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Rossetti’s poem takes the form of a Petrarchan sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets historically feature a speaker expressing his unrequited love about a love object who does not acknowledge his affection. Contrary to this tradition, this speaker seems to share an intimate relationship with the person to whom she writes. “No more” signals that this couple has been holding hands, an action that suggests they share an intimate bond.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. The speaker uses repetition like this throughout the poem for emphasis and to facilitate memorization. Epic poetry used repetition and rhyme to help orators remember the details of a story. In repeating words, sounds, and images in this poem, the speaker structurally reinforces her command to “remember.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. “Silent land” is an allusion to the afterlife depicted in Greek and Roman mythology. In stories of the underworld, the dead were referred to as “shades.” Unlike Christian perceptions of spirits after death, shades were insubstantial and purposeless. They did not speak or influence the living; they lacked wit and the strength to redeem actions committed on earth. They simply existed away from the mortal world in a “silent” realm.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. Rossetti uses iambic pentameter and a Petrarchan rhyme scheme to craft this sonnet. Petrarchan sonnets were traditionally used to express unrequited love for a love object. However, the subject matter of this poem is not unrequited love but rather the memory and love that remains when someone’s partner dies. Rossetti’s use of this form could comment on a different kind of unattainable love: this love cannot be returned because the love object is physically unreachable.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor