Love? Death? Whatever.
By Robert Pinsky on 4.03.09
“Song” could be described as an agnostic ballad: “Haply I may remember, / And haply may forget.” The cadence of alternating lines, four feet and three feet, with the rhymes on alternate lines, give a light, ironic, tinkly music to the almost teasing request for “no sad songs.” The lines “And if thou wilt, remember. / And if thou wilt, forget”—lines that are agnostic about the endurance of human emotion, as the later ones are agnostic about an afterlife.
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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. I shall not see the shadows, I shall not feel the rain; I shall not hear the nightingale Sing on as if in pain: And dreaming through the twilight That doth not rise nor set, Haply I may remember, And haply may forget.
The casualness of the phrases “if thou wilt” and “haply” have a rebellious, defiant quality to the ear: Rossetti expressing, though with a light touch, her disgust with conventionality in sentiment and expression. The structure of her poem is that of a ballad or hymn, and she uses it to express an impatience with the standard modes of thought and feeling suggested by those forms.
topics: Essential Pleasures