Two poems, Remember by Christina Rossetti and Funeral blues by W.H Auden have the same motif of loss yet are almost the antithesis of one another in execution of attitudes to death. The speaker, Christina Rossetti in her poem Remember entreats her lover for remembrance after death yet speaks with a poignant realism in the acceptance that he may forget her for a while, seeing it as ultimately better for him to “forget and smile” than to “remember and be sad.” It appears Rossetti is optimistic that once one has died, they vicariously live on in other minds hence the repetition of “Remember”. Contrarily, the speaker W.H Auden, in his poem Funeral Blues speaks the immensities of his grief in reaction to the loss of his partner and of his irritation to the worlds refusal to slow down to pay respects and grieve alongside him. He presents loss as deeply isolating as he has lost his “North… South… East… and West.” without guidance and cut off from the world as it continues, he does not display the same shift in attitude as Rossetti and so is greatly pessimistic throughout.
Each poet takes a distinct approach to presenting their attitudes to loss through careful use of form and structure. Rossetti’s Remember is a Petrarchan Sonnet, in the octet Rossetti renounces physical body and contemplates loss, “no more hold my hand” in the view that death is merely physical. This is supported by Rossetti’s use of “remember” and “when”. The sonnet also utilizes the classic Petrarchan rhyme scheme until the volta, marked by “yet” into the sestet where the rhyme scheme is original. The pattern Rossetti writes in (CDD ECE) is disruptive, hinting at the speaker’s uncomfortable thoughts surrounding loss, this, paired with the rhyming of “had” and “sad”, highlights the unsettling disjunction between remembering and forgetting in loss. In the sestet the speaker, ironic to the title, renounces remembrance “better by far to forget.” In her transition from pleas for remembrance into the realisation that the memory may bring her lover pain she is selfless, “do not grieve” In an optimistic view of eventual remembrance. The overall meter, iambic pentameter is strict overall suggesting restraint of her true feelings. However, the slight shift in lines 1, 2, 7 and 13 hint at her passion towards the reader.
In contrast to this, funeral blues is a melancholic, tragic elegy. The poem contains 4 quatrains of elegiac stanza, with the rhyming heroic couplets elevating the speaker’s tragic reaction to loss. Each quatrain represents a different area of his loss, the first two are domestic focusing on the impersonal home and public reactions and his irritation towards a lack thereof, “put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves.” with the dove a symbol of peace and purity, presenting his desire for quiet in his healing. The last two quatrains are incredibly personal and concentrate on the loss of faith “I was wrong.” and nature parallel to the loss of W. H Auden’s lover. The speaker is finite and conclusive, the 4 elements mean nothing anymore and are exasperating in their infinite presence. In similarity to Rossetti’s Remember, the meter of funeral blues is broadly iambic pentameter. W.H Auden however makes a vastly variated use of this meter, the deviations and shifts create the notion that Auden is striving yet lacking the ability to control his writing, further proving his definitive anguish and heartbreak.
The poems are largely different in tone, mood, and atmosphere corresponding to their individual views and expectancies for life after death. Rossetti’s Remember is incredibly optimistic for the subject matter of loss due to her placement of hope in eventual remembrance. In the octet her earnest and intense passion override her tone, it is imperative to Rossetti that the reader holds onto her memory in the eventuality of her death, “Remember me when I am gone away,”. However, after the volta into the sestet Rossetti has an extreme change of heart and her tone is gentle and considerate, “yet if you should forget me for a while”, Rossetti no longer sees this as an ultimate negative as it allows her lover to feel happiness. Contrastingly, W.H Auden holds extreme pessimism throughout. Auden has no faith in the continuation of life beyond our world, his use of monosyllabic short sentences paired with caesural pauses, “: I was wrong.” proves his tragic, excruciating view that death is finite and absolute, Auden Is frank, honest, and direct. The speaker is at odds to Rossetti in mood and reaction, he is arguably selfish and bitter in his lover’s loss, “The stars are not wanted now: Put out every one;” Auden takes it upon himself to speak for everyone as if the world revolves around his feelings in belief that the world is no longer pure.
Whilst the poets are vastly different in their attitudes to loss, they use alike devices to display them to the reader. Christina Rossetti creates a peaceful perspective of death in remember, “Gone far away into the silent land;” This metaphor is a euphemism, it lessens the frightening thoughts of death and places distance between herself and the living, paired with the repetition of “gone away” further proving the separation of herself in physical form and in spiritual form. The repetition of “remember” has different desired effect as the sonnet progresses, as in the sestet the subtle return “afterwards remember” to the first word of the poem along with the title, gently transitions from the then use of imperative into a sympathetic, selfless relationship once again between remember and forget. Rossetti’s imagery of “darkness and corruption” foresee her view that once her lover has finished grieving and there is only a “vestige” of her left, that she can then fully and freely live on after the tragedy of her death as a spiritual body.
The effects of Rossetti’s use of language and imagery to portray her expectations of loss greatly contrast those of W.H Auden despite similar techniques. In Funeral Blues, Auden also begins with an imperative, “stop all the clocks” emphasizing the speaker’s loss whilst also serving two separate purposes as a double entendre. Firstly, it signifies Auden’s desire for the world to freeze. Secondly, it begins the theme of silence in the first quatrain proving the speaker’s irritable mood in response to loss. W.H Auden also uses personification, proving the wildness of his mind in the interest of believing what he would like to hear… that the world has turned to pay respects, “let the traffic policemen wear cotton gloves.” an otherwise natural uniform. The speaker in the powerful, final stanza of them poem, figuratively creates ultimate darkness, ending the poem with Auden in a deep, solemn anguish, rejecting all sustenance in an extreme reaction to his tragic, thought to be infinite loss.
In essence, these two poems whilst sharing a theme of loss are incredibly different. Christina Rossetti, in her dream world comforts herself in the belief that she will live on in her lover’s mind in peace. However, I have preference towards the honest, plain-spoken, and candid attitude of W.H Auden towards loss as I believe that his version of events displays powerful passion.