A Student Response to C. and D.G. Rossetti

Writing of the Soul

The power of the written word has always fascinated me. The way a writer can convey their emotions and opinions into someone else’s mind or imprint themselves on another soul, to me, is a super power. It’s hard to believe that only twenty-six letters make up the English alphabet, yet, those twenty-six letters can be arranged in countless amounts of way to create a very special form of communication. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister Christina Rossetti used these twenty-six letters to express their feelings and opinions to the greater public. After reading through this week’s selection of poems by both Rossetti siblings, there were two poems, “A Sonnet” and “Remember,” that really stood out to me for multiple reasons. Their work was full of honesty and vulnerability, and they are beautiful. Mind you I’m a little biased, I’m a sucker for any type of poetry.

The first poem I want to talk about is “A Sonnet” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The poem is written in fourteen lines, making it a sonnet that beautifully describes the sensation of having a moment immortalized by the written word. The language of the poem really spoke to me. It is not romanticised or ambiguous in meaning. Instead, I perceive the language as being open and to the point, which creates this vulnerability between reader and writer. What also stands out to me is what Rossetti is saying with his poem. The speaker wants to communicate how writing a moment down can have just as much meaning in representing a moment as much as a monument conceived from stone. Writing, however, is not always done to highlight a moment in history, but a moment of the soul. The opening two line says it all really: “A Sonnet is a moment’s monument, / Memorial from the Soul’s eternity” (1-2). Here we are in 2018, reading the poems of the Rossetti siblings, and experiencing the feelings and opinions of someone who has been dead for over 150 years, thus, proving Dante’s point. Any form of literature, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a song, a film or a play, is a monument of a moment of the soul and can be revisited time and time again.

The second poem I want to talk about is Christina Rossetti’s poem “Remember”. What truly interested me in this poem is the language used, how it contradicts itself, and also how her poem can be connected to her brother’s poem “A Sonnet”. In the opening lines of her poem “Remember”, Christina appears to be expressing a plea to be remembered after her death: “Remember me when I am gone away, / Gone far away into the silent land” (1-2). The choice of expressing death by calling it a ‘silent land’ to me represents how society has moved away from the idea of Romanticism. Christina is not depicting death as this Romantic idea, instead she is addressing the end of life in a more realistic manner. Once she dies she will fall silent and no-longer be able to communicate with the people around her. Aside for the style of language she uses, the poem has a very human quality. The poem starts off with the intention of being remembered, yet by the end of the poem being remembered does not seem to be important anymore. In the last two lines of the poem, “Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sad” (13-14), Rossetti seems to no longer want to be remembered when she does, but asks that those she leaves behind will be happy even if that means they have to forget about her. The contradiction really stood out to me and made the poem more interesting and gave it a human quality.

The funny part of this poem is that when you take into consideration her brother’s poem “A Sonnet”, Christian fear of being forgotten is irrelevant. Dante was very clear in his poem “The Sonnet” that a person, place, or feeling can be immortalized forever through the written word. I wonder if his poem brought comfort to Christina? Some things we will never know I guess. Christina and her brother were introduced to me for the first time this week thanks to this project. I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with some of their work and look forward to discovering more on my own time.

I hope you don’t mind, but I wanted to take the opportunity to use this post to create a sort-of-discussion in the comment section by asking some questions.

1: Which poem from each sibling spoke to you and why?

2: What is your personal interpretation of “Remember” and “A Sonnet”?

4 thoughts on “A Student Response to C. and D.G. Rossetti

  1. 1. The poems that spoke to me the most were Echo and The Kiss. Echo, to me, is a reminiscence of a lost love. The joining in Paradise that does not occur leaves unfilfulled the dream and leaves the reader hoping for more. The entering of the dream enters a hope for completion that isn’t realized and then leads to failure and then ends in acceptance. Then with The Kiss, it talks of a love so strong that even death cannot separate. It gets weird at the end when the narrator starts to associate as childlike in comparison to the bride to be and being “beneath her touch” and then moving into pressumably a short reference to sex? “Breast to breast we clung” and moves from a child to a god? Kind of weird but very intriguing.
    2. A Sonnet is full of a lot of “high brow” language. I thought it was referring to death and memorials. For ebony and ivory I thought it was referring to possibly head stones? So I was interpretting the movements as following the life of the author and then into death. When it speaks of “the soul–what power tis due” I was reading that as being the power of the written word and how it keeps the life of the author alive even after death and forever immortalized in ebony and ivory (the written word in black on a white page). In Remember, Christina Rossetti is talking about being remembered and what that means. So while Daniel (in my reading) is talking about essentially idolizing himself and other authors in terms of the immortality of their works, Christina is accepting being forgotten and acknowledging that it is possible and for us not to be upset and better for us to move on in happiness than to lag in grief.

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    • I was thinking, maybe the reason that The Kiss turns childlike in the end is because its creating a cycle? It is a really odd poem, but like you I enjoyed it as well.

      I never thought about Daniel trying to use his work as a way to idolize himself. However, now that you mention it, his work is a little egocentric.

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  2. I’m going to assume that you’re both referring to Dante when you write “Daniel.” If not, I have to reconsider my public persona. 🙂

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  3. I liked your opening. While it may be aptly used for any great work of literary art, it is still nice to remind ourselves about the beauty of creating something so powerful from the arrangement of 26 letters.

    Make sure to revise your work, I caught quite a few errors.

    Your analysis of the first poem by Dante was done well. You really captured Dante’s argument about the poem being an eternal monument to a single moment.

    I disagree with your analysis on the lines about being forgotten, in Christina’s “Remember,” in your second last paragraph. To my mind, it seems Rosetti is asking the reader to forget her, only if the memory of her makes them sad. Why she suspects the memory of her may cause others to feel sad is up to interpretive debate, but it doesn’t seem that she wishes to no longer be remembered altogether.

    Overall you kept this blog essay properly conversational, and I enjoyed the clear level of enthusiasm that you brought to it. Good work!

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