rotic love and its tragic loss acted as a theme that often engrossed the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Not only did this theme pervade the drawings and the paintings of the PRB, but it also saturated the literary works of PRB poets, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Though both these poetic and visual works oftentimes employed female subjects as in Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais and "The Blessed Damozel" by Rossetti, the works "clearly embod[ied] male vantage points" (Landow). However, in "Song," Christina Rossetti rejects the traditional male role as the speaker and uses a female voice to narrate her poem and articulate her thoughts on the theme of love. By employing the female voice, Christina Rossetti makes it clear that she wants to break away from her brother's as well as other Pre-Raphaelites' visions of love and offer a different perspective.
The first half of the poem appears to reflect the PRB's idealized notion of women who pine for their beloveds as the female narrator begs her lover not to be distressed by her death:
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree.
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
These lines, however, prove to be misleading. As the poem progresses, it becomes apparent that its meaning does not follow traditional male notions of the ideal woman. Rather, the woman distances herself from the possible love that she may have shared with her partner while on earth in sharp contrast with the grief-stricken woman in "The Blessed Damozel" by her brother, Dante Rossetti.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on as if in pain.
Therefore, the lines — "And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget" — is not to ask her beloved to stop mourning her death in an attempt to embody "the Victorian view of female selflessness" (Landow). It instead invokes feelings of growing indifference towards her partner. Not only does the female voice in "Song" articulate indifference towards her supposed beloved, but also the woman seems to feel a sense of happiness in her inability to remember her beloved.
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
The wordplay on "haply" can be interpreted as either "possibly" or a shortened version of the word "happily." This wordplay also helps destroy the feminine ideal as portrayed by Pre-Raphaelites such as Dante Rossetti by indicating that the woman perhaps realizes contentment and peace while without her beloved.
1. PRB members such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti often portrayed female lovers stricken with grief, pining for their male loved ones. However, with "Song," Christina Rossetti rejects the notion of the Fair Lady and thus, the idealized women that permeated the works of her brother. What responses do you think this poem generated from the male members of the PRB?
2. Why does Christina Rossetti invoke images of nature in "Song"? Why does she incorporate these aspects of nature — for example, the roses and the nightingale — as opposed to other images of nature? Do you think these images possess any possible symbolism?
3. What kind of afterlife does Rossetti imagine in "Song"? Why do you think that Rossetti chose to create an afterlife in such stark contrast with that of her brother's vision in "The Blessed Damozel"?
4. If this poem were to have a visual representation to go along with it, what do you think it would look like? Do you think that the female vantage point used in "Song" would allow for a female subject?
- David Trestina's question abut the gender of the speaker (2014)
- A Woman's Voice in Rossetti's "Song"
Last modified 19 October 2003