When I am Dead my Dearest by Christina Georgina Rossetti …




When I am Dead my Dearest by Christina Georgina Rossetti: Summary and Critical Analysis

The first stanza of the poem describes the world of the living people. The poet addresses her dearest one and asks him not to sing sad songs for her when she is dead. She does not want others to plant roses or shady cypress tree at her tomb. She likes her tomb with green grass associated with showers and dewdrops.



Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Normally, we find that after the death people express their grief by singing sad songs and by planting roses and cypress tree. But the poet thinks that they are just showing off. She does not like showy behavior. She rather thinks that if people are really sorry for the death of their loving person they should be humble like grass and only few drops of tears will be sufficient. As the showers and dewdrops make the grass green forever, so the tears will make their love eternal. Afterwards she does not force him to remember. If he likes he will remember and if he does not like he will forget.

After her death she will be buried in the grave, and she will go into the world of the dead. She will not see the shadows of the cypress planted by her dearest one. She will not feel the rain or tears. However, sadly one may sing, but she will not hear it. The sweet and sad song of the nightingale will not touch her. She will pass the rest of her time dreaming through the never-ending evening when the sun neither rises nor sets. Perhaps she will remember it. Perhaps she will forget it.

The entire poem consists of two stanzas and of two varying significance. The first stanza deals with the world of living and the second with the poet’s experience in the grave. The poet may be trying to be realistic regarding her death. She is against any sort of mourning that sings like of showing off. When she is dead, she won’t be able to hear any songs, see any roses, or feel the Cypress shade. Therefore, the best way to mourn someone’s death is by expressing the love as immortal as the green grass through the drops of tears as pure as the dew drops. It is also equally meaningless to insist someone to remember him/her after his/her death. Therefore, she gives her dearest one the freedom to remember of forgetting as he/she wishes. The poem also suggests us that no one can escape from the torturous grip of the death. If reflects a quite melancholic and inflicted heart of the speaker.

By questioning the mourning ritual a poet had criticized the showing of behavior and suggested some more sincere ways to express one’s sadness. Similarly, she also seems to be giving more importance to life than after death rituals. Many people neglect their loved one when they are alive, but try to show their grief by spending a lot of time and money, when they are dead. The poet seems to be against such attitude and conduct. Rather people should be humble in expressing their love and their sadness for the departed ones.

The poem is published under the title ‘song’ elsewhere. It can be sung to the accompaniment of some musical instrument. It has expressed the feelings and thoughts of the poet in a very personal and subjective way. The rhymes, me and a tree, and rain and pain please us. Similarly, the rhymes wet and forget, and set and forget having the harsh sound ‘t’ which reminds us the harsh reality in life. The repetition of ‘s’, ‘w’ and ‘sh’ sound makes this song perfect. The music of the stanzas of this poem rises like a gesture of the hand.

Cite this Page!

Shrestha, Roma. "When I am Dead my Dearest by Christina Georgina Rossetti: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 2 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/when-i-am-dead-my-dearest.html.

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Remember: Summary and Analysis

Christina Rossetti: Biography


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When I am Dead my Dearest by Christina Georgina Rossetti: Summary and Critical Analysis

The first stanza of the poem describes the world of the living people. The poet addresses her dearest one and asks him not to sing sad songs for her when she is dead. She does not want others to plant roses or shady cypress tree at her tomb. She likes her tomb with green grass associated with showers and dewdrops.



Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Normally, we find that after the death people express their grief by singing sad songs and by planting roses and cypress tree. But the poet thinks that they are just showing off. She does not like showy behavior. She rather thinks that if people are really sorry for the death of their loving person they should be humble like grass and only few drops of tears will be sufficient. As the showers and dewdrops make the grass green forever, so the tears will make their love eternal. Afterwards she does not force him to remember. If he likes he will remember and if he does not like he will forget.

After her death she will be buried in the grave, and she will go into the world of the dead. She will not see the shadows of the cypress planted by her dearest one. She will not feel the rain or tears. However, sadly one may sing, but she will not hear it. The sweet and sad song of the nightingale will not touch her. She will pass the rest of her time dreaming through the never-ending evening when the sun neither rises nor sets. Perhaps she will remember it. Perhaps she will forget it.

The entire poem consists of two stanzas and of two varying significance. The first stanza deals with the world of living and the second with the poet’s experience in the grave. The poet may be trying to be realistic regarding her death. She is against any sort of mourning that sings like of showing off. When she is dead, she won’t be able to hear any songs, see any roses, or feel the Cypress shade. Therefore, the best way to mourn someone’s death is by expressing the love as immortal as the green grass through the drops of tears as pure as the dew drops. It is also equally meaningless to insist someone to remember him/her after his/her death. Therefore, she gives her dearest one the freedom to remember of forgetting as he/she wishes. The poem also suggests us that no one can escape from the torturous grip of the death. If reflects a quite melancholic and inflicted heart of the speaker.

By questioning the mourning ritual a poet had criticized the showing of behavior and suggested some more sincere ways to express one’s sadness. Similarly, she also seems to be giving more importance to life than after death rituals. Many people neglect their loved one when they are alive, but try to show their grief by spending a lot of time and money, when they are dead. The poet seems to be against such attitude and conduct. Rather people should be humble in expressing their love and their sadness for the departed ones.

The poem is published under the title ‘song’ elsewhere. It can be sung to the accompaniment of some musical instrument. It has expressed the feelings and thoughts of the poet in a very personal and subjective way. The rhymes, me and a tree, and rain and pain please us. Similarly, the rhymes wet and forget, and set and forget having the harsh sound ‘t’ which reminds us the harsh reality in life. The repetition of ‘s’, ‘w’ and ‘sh’ sound makes this song perfect. The music of the stanzas of this poem rises like a gesture of the hand.

Cite this Page!

Shrestha, Roma. "When I am Dead my Dearest by Christina Georgina Rossetti: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 2 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/when-i-am-dead-my-dearest.html.

Related Topics

Remember: Summary and Analysis

Christina Rossetti: Biography


bachelorandmaster.com

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  • Christina Rossetti, selected poems
  • Poems for study
  • Song (When I am dead, my dearest)
  • ‘Song (When I am dead, my dearest)’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
  • Contents
  • Guide
  • Recent

Christina Rossetti, selected poems Contents

  • Introduction
  • Timeline
  • Images
  • Author(s)

    • Rossetti, Christina
      • Birth, upbringing and education: 1830 – 1845
      • Adolescence and early adulthood: 1846-1860
      • Later Life: 1861-1894
      • The Works of Christina Rossetti
  • The context of writing
    • Social / political context
      • Changes in Britain in the Victorian era
      • The status of women
    • Religious / philosophical context
      • The centrality of the Christian heritage
      • The Bible
      • Tractarianism
    • Literary context
      • Romantic poetry
      • Gothic literature
      • The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
      • Tractarian poetry
      • Victorian women’s poetry
  • Poems for study
    • A Better Resurrection
      • ‘A Better Resurrection’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘A Better Resurrection’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘A Better Resurrection’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • A Birthday
      • ‘A Birthday’- Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘A Birthday’- Language, tone and structure
      • ‘A Birthday’- Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • A Royal Princess
      • ‘A Royal Princess’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘A Royal Princess’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘A Royal Princess’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • At Home
      • ‘At Home’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘At Home’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘At Home’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Cousin Kate
      • ‘Cousin Kate’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Cousin Kate’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Cousin Kate’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Despised and Rejected
      • ‘Despised and Rejected’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Despised and Rejected’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Despised and Rejected’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Echo
      • ‘Echo’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Echo’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Echo’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Goblin Market
      • ‘Goblin Market’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Goblin Market’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Goblin Market’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Good Friday
      • ‘Good Friday’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Good Friday’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Good Friday’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Jessie Cameron
      • ‘Jessie Cameron’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Jessie Cameron’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Jessie Cameron’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • L.E.L
      • ‘L.E.L ‘ – Synopsis and commentary
        • More on the identity of L.E.L. (1802-1838):
        • More on the connection between Rossetti and L.E.L.:
      • ‘L.E.L ‘ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘L.E.L ‘ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Maude Clare
      • ‘Maude Clare’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Maude Clare’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Maude Clare’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Remember
      • ‘Remember’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Remember’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Remember’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
        • More on Rossetti’s attitude to death:
    • Shut Out
      • ‘Shut Out’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Shut Out’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Shut Out’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Song (When I am dead, my dearest)
      • ‘Song (When I am dead, my dearest)’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Song (When I am dead, my dearest)’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Song (When I am dead, my dearest)’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Summer is Ended
      • ‘Summer is Ended’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Summer is Ended’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Summer is Ended’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
        • More on Dante and ‘The Divine Comedy’:
    • The Convent Threshold
      • ‘The Convent Threshold’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘The Convent Threshold’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘The Convent Threshold’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • The Lowest Place
      • ‘The Lowest Place’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘The Lowest Place’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘The Lowest Place’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy
      • ‘To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘To Lalla, reading my verses topsy-turvy’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Twice
      • ‘Twice’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Twice’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Twice’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Up-hill
      • ‘Up-hill’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Up-hill’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Up-hill’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
    • Winter: My Secret
      • ‘Winter: My Secret’ – Synopsis and commentary
      • ‘Winter: My Secret’ – Language, tone and structure
      • ‘Winter: My Secret’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes
  • Themes and significant ideas
    • The natural world
    • Pilgrimage and resurrection
    • The supernatural and the gothic
    • Friendship
    • Women
  • Critical approaches
    • Publication and early responses
    • Early twentieth century approaches
    • Modern critical approaches
  • Approaching exams and essays
    • Close analysis
    • A worked example
    • How to plan an essay
    • A worked example of an essay plan
    • Helpful revision / essay questions
  • Resources and further information
    • Booklist
    • Websites
    • Worksheet downloads

‘Song (When I am dead, my dearest)’ – Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism

Cypress treeNatural imagery – The speaker requests that the lover plant ‘no roses’ on his/her grave and no ‘shady cypress tree’ in his/her memory (lines 3-4)

  • Whilst roses represent love, the cypress tree traditionally symbolises mourning because cypress branches were carried at funerals.
  • By declaring that s/he has no need of these things, the speaker reassures the lover that s/he will not be jealous or resentful if the lover continues living his/her life rather than to mourn for the speaker.

Silence – In the second verse, the speaker claims that once dead s/he will no longer:

         ‘hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain’ (l.11-12)

  • The nightingale was a common symbol in Romantic poetry (see Literary Context > Romantic Poetry ). Keats used it in Ode to a Nightingale to speak of joy, music, self-expression, nature and immortality
  • By suggesting that the nightingale’s song is associated with pain, Rossetti denies the idea that the natural world is a place of pure joy.

Twilight – The speaker looks forward to:

         ‘dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise or set’ (line 15)

The notion of resting in a place where the rising and setting of the sun is not necessary comes from the New Testament book, Revelation . There, John describes heaven as a city where God’s light shines so brightly the sun is not needed Revelation 21:23

Investigating imagery and symbolism

  • Throughout Song, the speaker expresses her emotion through the denial of certain images and symbols. List all the occurrences of the words ‘no’ and ‘not’
    • Why do you think that there are so many?

Themes

Self-expression and the natural world

This poem is concerned with natural and spontaneous expression through song or poetry, such as the song of the ‘nightingale’ (l.11). Poetry provides a natural outlet for the speaker’s emotions.

Memory and forgetfulness

Memory is a sustaining force. In Song forgetfulness is the axis upon which the poem is rooted. This hints at the notion that identity is founded upon memory and that self-awareness is constructed by the remembrance of a former self.

Earthly life and ‘life after life’

The images of natural growth in Song can be seen to replace the grief that the speaker anticipates her lover will experience after she has died.

Investigating themes

  • List all the allusions to the natural world
    • How do these allusions correspond to the speaker’s emotional state in the poem?
    • What do they reveal about the purpose of the poem?
    • What do they reveal about the identity of the speaker?
  • English Standard Version
  • King James Version
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. 5And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new. Also he said, Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. 6And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. 9Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb. 10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed – 13on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement. 18The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. 22And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. 26They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.
1And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. 5And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. 9And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. 10And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; 12And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 14And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 16And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. 17And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. 18And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. 19And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; 20The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. 21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. 22And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. 24And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. 25And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. 26And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. 27And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
A ‘testament’ is a covenant (binding agreement), a term used in the Bible of God’s relationship with his people. The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible. Its name comes from the new covenant or relationship with God.
One of the three closest disciples to Christ. Traditionally, John is thought to have written the Fourth Gospel, the three Epistles of John (1, 2, & 3 John) and the Book of Revelation.
In many religions, the place where God dwells, and to which believers aspire after their death. Sometimes known as Paradise.

This is an example of apocalyptic literature, full of colourful imagery and symbolism. It contains seven letters to churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) who are commended for their zeal or criticised for lack of it. The overall message is that kingdom of God will triumph in the battle against evil and the book ends with a beautiful description of the Heavenly Jerusalem as the symbol of God’s presence among humankind in a new heaven and earth.

Big ideas: Judgement ; Dreams, visions and prophecy ; Serpent, devil, Satan, beast ; Apocalypse, Revelation, the End Times, the Second Coming

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