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Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,

Quando io sono morta, mio carissimo,

Sing no sad songs for me;

Non cantare canzoni tristi per me;

Plant thou no roses at my head,

Non piantare rose alla mia testa, (alla testa della mia tomba)

Nor shady cypress tree:

Né ombroso albero di cipresso:

Be the green grass above me

Sia la verde erba su di me

With showers and dewdrops wet;

Con acquazzoni e gocce di rugiada umida;

And if thou wilt, remember,

E se tu vuoi, ricorda,

And if thou wilt, forget.

E se tu vuoi, dimentica.

I shall not see the shadows,

Io non vedrò le ombre,

I shall not feel the rain;

Non sentirò la pioggia;

I shall not hear the nightingale

Non udrò l’usignolo

Sing on, as if in pain:

Cantare, come (se fosse) addolorato:

And dreaming through the twilight

E sognando durante il crepuscolo

That doth not rise nor set, (doth not = does not)
Che né sorge né tramonta,

Haply I may remember,

Per caso possa ricordare

And haply may forget.

E per caso possa dimenticare.

Commentary
Publication

Rossetti composed Song (When I am dead, my dearest) in 1848. It was first published in Goblin Market and
Other Poems. Subsequently, it has appeared in various collections and has been given numerous musical
settings.

Language and music

Rossetti's interest in combining language with music becomes apparent when we consider that:

 Ten of her poems are entitled Song


 Several begin with the word ‘Songs'
 Many are composed of a song-like structure and rhythm.

Relationships

In Song, the speaker urges his/her ‘dearest' not to let the memory of the speaker get in the way of living his
or her own life. S/he declares that his/her happiness in death does not depend on anyone else.

The word ‘haply' comes from the phrase ‘by hap' which means by chance or accident or perhaps. By saying
that once dead, ‘haply' s/he ‘may remember' or ‘haply may forget' (lines 15-16) the pain of living on the earth,
s/he indicates that it matters little whether others remember or forget the speaker. Rather than being a pre-
mediated decision, s/he suggests that remembrance is a matter of chance.

Nature

In Song, Rossetti has her speaker combine the anticipation of death with the ongoing life of nature. S/he
looks forward to a time when the ‘green grass' will grow above him/her and the ‘showers and dewdrops wet'
will offer protection and the lover some comfort (lines 5, 6).

Repetition

There is a marked amount of repetition in Song:

 Whilst the first verse ends, ‘And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget (lines 7-8), the
second ends ‘Haply I remember, / And haply may forget (lines 15-16). By prefacing the words
‘remember' and ‘forget' in the same way in both instances, there is a blurring of the distinction
between memory and forgetfulness
 The first three lines in the second verse begin, ‘I shall not' (lines 9-11). The repetition of this phrase
highlights the transformation of the speaker's senses after death. S/he is no longer able to ‘see',
‘feel', or ‘hear' earthly phenomena. Rather, his/her concerns will shift away from the earthly
environment.

Alliteration

Throughout Song Rossetti also uses alliteration and sibilance to create a song-like tone:

 Phrases such as ‘sad songs' (line 2) highlight the melancholy voice of the speaker. The soft ‘sh'
sounds in the words ‘shady' and ‘showers' reinforce his/her weary tone
 The description of ‘green grass' is sensuous and offers a comforting promise.

Investigating language and tone

 Think about the voice that emerges through the poem. Does this voice bring out any particular
emotions?
o To what extent are you able to identify with the poetic speaker?
 Is there any evidence to suggest that the speaker is actually a woman?
o Would a difference in gender mean that you read the poem any differently?
o Do you consider that the speaker displays traits traditionally ascribed to a male or female
voice?

Structure and versification


Metre

The first verse of Song is written in iambic tetrameter, with the first foot inverted in l. 1, 3 and 5. This creates
a song-like rhythm. This is strengthened by the regularity of the second stanza, broken only by
the trochee that starts the penultimate line.

Enjambement

In Song, the use of enjambement creates a sense of spontaneity and reinforces the idea that the speaker is
freely expressing his/her ideas. In particular, the lines, ‘And dreaming through the twilight / That doth not rise
nor set' (lines 13-14) demonstrate the free flow of thought that the poem expresses.

Imagery and symbolism


Natural imagery - The speaker requests that the lover plant ‘no roses' on his/her grave and no ‘shady
cypress tree' in his/her memory (lines 3-4)

 Whilst roses represent love, the cypress tree traditionally symbolises mourning because cypress
branches were carried at funerals.
 By declaring that s/he has no need of these things, the speaker reassures the lover that s/he will not
be jealous or resentful if the lover continues living his/her life rather than to mourn for the speaker.

Silence - In the second verse, the speaker claims that once dead s/he will no longer:

‘hear the nightingale


Sing on, as if in pain' (l.11-12)

 The nightingale was a common symbol in Romantic poetry (see Literary Context > Romantic
Poetry). Keats used it in Ode to a Nightingale to speak of joy, music, self-expression, nature and
immortality
 By suggesting that the nightingale's song is associated with pain, Rossetti denies the idea that the
natural world is a place of pure joy.

Twilight - The speaker looks forward to:

‘dreaming through the twilight


That doth not rise or set' (line 15)ere

The notion of resting in a place where the rising and setting of the sun is not necessary comes from the New
Testament book, Revelation. There, Johndescribes heaven as a city where God's light shines so brightly the
sun is not needed Revelation 21:23

Investigating imagery and symbolism

 Throughout Song, the speaker expresses her emotion through the denial of certain images and
symbols. List all the occurrences of the words ‘no' and ‘not'
o Why do you think that there are so many?

Themes
Self-expression and the natural world

This poem is concerned with natural and spontaneous expression through song or poetry, such as the song
of the ‘nightingale' (l.11). Poetry provides a natural outlet for the speaker's emotions.

Memory and forgetfulness

Memory is a sustaining force. In Song forgetfulness is the axis upon which the poem is rooted. This hints at
the notion that identity is founded upon memory and that self-awareness is constructed by the remembrance
of a former self.

Earthly life and ‘life after life'

The images of natural growth in Song can be seen to replace the grief that the speaker anticipates her lover
will experience after she has died.
L'estate se n'è andata con le rose,
con il sole, i profumi e i dolci fiori,
con il caldo e le piogge rugiadose.
Anche l'autunno declina. I suoi languori
freddi si fanno all'ora del commiato.
Viene l'inverno, è dura pietra il giorno,
la calda luce più non fa ritorno,
giace l'ultimo fiore disseccato.