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

1 Comment

aprajita said on 4.05.09 at 5:35am:

really nice poem i reall liked it .