Thursday, 6 August 2009

Pure Poetry

I spent most of yesterday working ( yes, that is what teachers do during the Summer holidays...) I have three schemes of work to put together over the Summer break and am currently working on the poetry of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, sister of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Rossetti. Rossetti's most famous poems include the popular carol, "In the bleak mid winter" and the poem, "Remember" - sometimes used in condolence cards and at funerals.


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 plann'd:
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.

Poems written by people to be read after their death are, I think, particularly compelling ; although we know they are written by the living, we seem to hear the voice of the dead speaking from beyond the grave - you can't get much more arresting than that and I can think of several English poets who use the same tactic, from Owen to McCrae.

This poem begins with an imperative, an order to remember and there is a real sense of the speaking voice, intimate and warm and of the thought process of the poet. The lines are beautifully crafted to catch every nuance of thought and emotion and all of Rossetti's verse works best when read aloud or " heard " in reading - try it. Remember is also a gracious poem, which asks us to remember and to grieve, yet gives us permission to forget and be happy. It is a poem which is about thought and emotion rather than imagery - but the very simple pictures that are brought to mind, especially the picture of the narrator "half turning " or "holding hands" reinforce the ordinary things that are lost but which, in retrospect, mean everything.

Some people might see this poem as sentimental, I don't.

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