Christina Rossetti’s exaggerated lyrical techniques parody and subvert the figure of the sentimental Victorian poetess. I examine this process through the themes of memory and memorability, particularly in poems that portray dead or moribund women. Writing about death appears to cue humble self-forgetfulness, yet Rossetti’s speakers also insist on being remembered. The poet derives her distinctive voice from confinement both in brief, mnemonic lyrics and in the grave. Her sonnet “Rest” endows its deceased subject with the powerful atemporality of a memorized poem; this removal from narrative progression has surprisingly heterodox religious consequences. And beneath the self-effacements of “Song [When I am dead, my dearest]” and “Remember” lies a determined claim on the reader’s memory—expressed, paradoxically, through attenuated forms and indifferent post-mortem tones. These poems speak from a realm of numbed remembrance, revising the poetess’s emotional intensity. Ironically, considered en masse, Rossetti’s memorably small verses stand metonymically for one another and thus become forgettable. In the same way, Rossetti herself is frequently misconstrued because the restrictive association between her work and her biography has become so familiar. I ask, in concluding, how we as critics can best remember her as a poet and as a historical figure.
- Christina Rossetti
- Victorian poetry