decorated initial The narrator in Christina Rossetti's "Song" asks that her lover make no spectacle of devotion after her death. There is no need for singing "sad songs," or planting "roses" or a "cypress tree." Principally, the narrator believes these events to be of little consequence because, as a dead person, she cannot receive these examples of gratitude. After death, she will experience no "shadows" or "rain" or "the nightingale" singing a song embodying her lover's sorrows; the narrator will experience no earthly events.

However, the narrator also makes another, more poignant command to her lover:

"Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget."

The narrator encourages her lover to live on, to metaphorically be as alive as "green grass" experiencing "showers and dewdrops wet." These experiences may be construed as both enjoyable and difficult — and yet in any case a part of life. Furthermore, the narrator does not attempt to utterly devalue memories, for she does not specifically encourage forgetfulness. Nonetheless, interestingly, the narrator does not value the notion of retaining memories at any cost. If the memories inhibit her lover's ability to experience the pleasures and throes of life, then her lover may as well forget these times. By doing so, Rossetti conveys a love quite apart from how love is typically portrayed: an extreme emotion grounded upon attachment. Instead, with relative detachment, Rossetti grants the narrator a love founded upon concern for the other's well being. After all, there is little need or reason for sentimental remembrances or ego stroking while experiencing "the twilight / that doth not rise nor set."

Questions

1. Critics often assume that the narrator is female, yet the narrator has no explicit gender and neither does the lover. Can the poem only be read in terms of a female narrator?

2. Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were both women of the same time period, country, and language, and many of their early works are lyrical love poems. How do these early works compare? For example, how does Rossetti's "Song" compare to Browning's "Sonnet 43"?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

3. Rossetti places many more naturally stressed syllables in the first stanza than in the second stanza, including three sets of stresses which are consecutively placed. How does this affect the mood of the poem?

4. Does the cypress tree symbolize anything in particular?

5. Rossetti used an interesting participle in "dreaming" to convey a type of experience in the afterlife. Why did Rossetti choose this participle over others?

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Last modified 15 October 2006

Last modified 8 June 2007