Remembering Rossetti

In many of Christina Rossetti’s poems, she toggles between asking her audience to remember her and assuring them it’s ok if they forget her.  Specifically, in the poems “Song” and “Remember,” she utilizes a very memorable form of parallel structure and opposites when writing these requests. And thus, even when she concludes that it is ok that she is forgotten, the lines that contain this conclusion remain in the reader’s memory.

In “Song,” Rossetti writes “And if thou wilt, remember, / And if thou wilt, forget” at the end of the first of two stanzas (lines 7-8).  The repetition of the phrase “And if thou wilt” makes it seem of more importance than other lines, and it drills into the reader’s mind.  To add to this memorable quality, the lines both end with a single word that means the opposite of the other: “remember” and “forget.”  To have two lines that are short and to the point while simultaneously being identical up until the last word is already hard to forget.  But then having those two words still be closely related to each other only adds to the fact that this couplet will stick out compared to the rest of the poem.  The second stanza and very end of the poem repeats the words “remember” and “forget,” further emphasizing the presence of memory in “Song.” And so, while Rossetti assures the reader that they may forget her, the repetition of phrases and words relating to memory ensures that the reader will not.

In the poem “Remember,” Rossetti employs a similar tactic.  She opens the poem with the phrase “Remember me,” and then proceeds to repeat it two more times in the single stanza poem.  So while there are words that come after each “remember me,” the repeated phrase is the most memorable part.  In addition, while those subsequent words are peaceful and melancholic, “remember me” by itself reads like a stern command.  And so once again, as in “Song,” despite Rossetti’s closing lines disclosing to readers that she would rather they forget and be happy than remember and be sad, the part of the poem readers are most likely to remember is exactly that word–“remember.”  Through the form of her poems, Rossetti reveals that she does not actually want to be forgotten, even if she states that she is ok with it.

Perhaps Rossetti is truly ok with being forgotten.  However, when looking at the parallels in “Song” and “Remember,” it becomes clear that it is more likely that she wants some semblance of herself to remain in memory.  The reason as to why she approves the idea of being forgotten may be that Rossetti is unsatisfied with the version of herself that will be remembered through the artwork of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood.  Rossetti may be using her poetry to indicate that she would much rather be known for her own works than a construction of herself made by someone else.  Hence, not just Rossetti herself, but her actual poetry is speaking when it commands readers to “remember me.”

Spider Subversiveness

In Letitia Elizabeth Landon’s poem “Gossipping,” she creates a metaphor that likens those who gossip to “the spiders of society” in order to reveal their viciousness as well as her own subversive hatred of nature (line 1).  The traits normally associated with spiders, especially spiders as symbols, are not typically negative, as they include ones such as patience and persistence due to the spider’s method of working hard on a web and then waiting for prey.  However, in Landon’s poem, she asserts heavily that spiders are unwelcome and unpleasant through her use of malicious diction to describe spiders and gossipers.  Landon utilizes the words “petty,” “lies,” “sneers,” “misery,” “false,” “cruel,” and “torment” when discussing the subjects of her poem and their effect on their victims.  Whereas the web of a spider outside of this work may resent patience and intelligence, Landon’s “cruel” spider weaves a “petty” and “false” web that only leaves “misery” in its wake.  This spider is a small-minded liar that has no concern for the destruction it places upon its victims.  The malicious diction incorporated throughout “Gossipping” lends the work a very angry tone, with the only indication that this spider is intelligent is the word “ingenious” placed right before the word “torment” (line 11).  The overall effect of this pairing of words, however, is that Landon admits that although gossipers are clever, they ultimately use this skill for evil.  

This hatred of nature seems especially significant when analyzing the transition from the Romantic period to the Victorian period.  During the previous, romantic era of literature, poems praised and even seemingly worshiped nature, even if that nature was striking fear into the narrator’s heart.  Most works that made allusions to nature showed an immense respect for it, and yet upon leaving the Romantic era and entering the Victorian era, Landon writes “Gossipping” to spite nature.  When interpreting spiders as the link between humans and nature, it is clear that Landon is insulting nature.  The angry, hateful tone in “Gossipping” directed at a part of nature is unusual during this period of literary history, and the incorporation of such a tone reveals that Landon is a rather subversive writer for her time.  Even in the Victorian era of poetry, while many authors wrote about a darker side of nature, none of them incorporated the venomous hatred into their pieces that Landon has here.  Her subversiveness is emphasized by the modernity of this poem.  It is very easily understood by the 21st century reader due to its clarity, straightforwardness, palpable infusion of emotion, and standard word order.  Where other poets of Landon’s time are following the trends of writing about the sublime, the awe of nature, and broad and complicated concepts, all while employing an unusual word or sentence order, Landon insults nature, and makes it very clear that she is doing this as well.  

Landon’s subversiveness is significant because during a time where women were often discriminated against, her inclination to go against the grain paired with her gender emphasize not only her braveness, but perhaps her roadblocks to a higher status.  If Landon wrote under a male pen name and made her poems as complex and pretentious as some of her male counterparts, how much more successful would she have been?

Fear and Awe

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” he juxtaposes beautiful and petrifying scenery together in order to fully encapsulate the sublime.  In the second stanza, he describes a deep “chasm” as “romantic,” and a “savage” place as “holy” and “enchanted” (lines 12 and 14).  He sets up the location to be frightening with its chasms, caverns, caves, etc, and yet describes these things to still be beautiful.  

During the romantic era, the sublime was present in many poets’ works, and this poem is no exception.  In a romantic context, the sublime consists of an image of nature that is so grandiose or extreme in some way that it inspires strong emotions within the viewer, especially awe.  “Kubla Khan” embodies this by depicting such an extraordinary and breathtaking sight and playing up the emotion of fear in its descriptions while the speaker projects a romantic lens onto it.  The petrifying diction of “chasm” and “savage,” as well as the later supernatural inclusions of “haunted” and “demon” illustrate a scene that evokes a strong emotion, which is that of fear.  Coleridge then takes this strong emotion and builds on it by weaving magnificent diction such as “holy,” “enchanted,” and “romantic” between the frightening diction.  Although this move diminishes the overall terror of the scenery, it does not do so to the overall emotion.  Instead, Coleridge capitalizes on the readers’ fear by turning it into awe.  He writes the speaker to be a true romanticist, who looks at dangerous rushing waters, deep caves, and debris from a geyser and sees the beauty in it.  Of course, it helps that the pleasure dome and its surroundings are not all treacherous territory but genuinely peaceful and wonderful.   

Coleridge takes his depiction of the sublime in “Kubla Khan” a step further by including the supernatural.  The scenery of the pleasure dome is so hauntingly beautiful that it conjures the image of a “woman wailing for her demon lover,” and on line 30, Kubla hears “ancestral voices prophesying war” (line 16).  These supernatural elements also emit a feeling both terrifying and romantic.  Passionate wailing, demons, mysterious voices, and war are clearly frightening, and yet paired with the speaker’s romantic lens, they only serve to further the sublime aspect of the pleasure dome.  Through this lens, the image of lovers and of ancestors can actually be quite comforting.  Combined with the description of the scenery, the pleasure dome’s supernatural atmosphere does not inspire fear so much as it heightens its own extraordinary and astounding image.  The significance of the supernatural or uncanny in this work is that it indicates that the picture of the pleasure dome is so amazing and astonishing that it transcends what is physically possible in the mortal plane.  This location in Xanadu is almost literally unreal.

In “Kubla Khan,” Coleridge blurs the lines between emotions of fear and awe, employing contrasting diction in order to heighten readers’ intense emotions and embody the sublime.  He understands that any intense reaction to nature can prove its magnificence, and wrote this poem with that knowledge.  Coleridge utilizes the sublime as a tool to thoroughly make known the miraculous nature of the pleasure dome.


In Hannah More’s 1788 abolitionist work “Slavery: A Poem,” she writes “The unconquered savage laughs at pain and toil, / Basking in Freedom’s beams which gild his native soil… // And thou, white savage…” on lines (123-125).  Within these lines, she utilizes the word “savage” twice to refer to white people.  This word choice serves as a reversal of roles, framing white people as the barbarians rather than black people.  White people had been describing black people using terms such as “savages” for years as a means of justifying slavery.  By calling them savage, white people created a subcategory of “lesser” humans and forced black people into them.  If black people could be considered less-than-human, or beasts, white people could feel better about enslaving them and treating them poorly.  More’s reversal of roles serves as a psychological attack against people who support slavery, ultimately contributing to the propagandist nature of the poem as a whole.

White, anti-abolition readers who remain “unconquered” feel what it is like to be dehumanized while being fully human.  Being insulted the same way they insult black people (being called a savage) may evoke empathy in some of them, allowing them to see how unjust it is to have their human status unrightfully stripped away from them.  More’s use of the word “savage” also points out the hypocrisy among supporters of slavery.  More hints that the more white people treat black people like they are savages, the more savage they themselves become.  What makes someone less human is not the color of their skin, but their cruel treatment of those around them.  In other words, one who dehumanizes others is only ultimately dehumanizing themself.

The effect these lines of the poem have on white readers who are anti-abolitionist is one that elicits feelings of empathy, guilt, and shame.  Perhaps some of these readers will have an epiphany, finally realizing how supporting slavery has turned them into barbaric monsters.  The final line of the poem, line 226, states that “Conquest is pillage with a nobler name!”  Anti-abolitionists’ reasons for slavery, the idea that black people are subhuman and that conquest is noble, are revealed by More to simply be savage justifications.  The other purpose of these lines is to rally support against anti-abolitionists by insulting them and separating them from abolitionists.  More unites people who are anti-slavery by revealing that there is a “bad guy” and they deserve to understand what it feels like to be “conquered.”

Why Even Include the Wedding?

Although the setting of the wedding in “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” almost seems unnecessary, it actually serves to emphasize the extraordinariness of the mariner’s story by being such a mundane or ordinary event.  At the beginning of the poem, Coleridge writes that, “The Guests are met, the Feast is set – / May’st hear the merry din.’// But still he holds the wedding-guest – / ‘There was a Ship’, quoth he” (lines 7-9).  The wedding is about to begin.  Everything is “set,” and any minute the bride will walk down the aisle, yet the mariner prevents the wedding guest from entering the venue with the “merry din” and excitement and begins his story.  Coleridge places the moment the wedding is about to officially commence alongside the moment the mariner begins his story, and the wedding guest is left with no choice but to listen.  Coleridge’s decision to do this implies that between a celebration of matrimony and a story of a ship, the latter is more important.  The audience as well as the guest who is supposed to be at the wedding is meant to hear the story instead of the couple’s vows.  The importance of the story is further proved when “The Bride hath paced into the hall” and yet the wedding guest “cannot chuse but hear” the mariner’s story (lines 37 and 42).  This story takes precedent even over the entrance of the bride, which is an important event that no wedding guest would normally be ok with missing.  

The reason the wedding is so mundane compared to the mariner’s story is that it lacks the sublime present in the recounting of the mariner at sea.  Before the bride’s entrance, the mariner had informed the wedding guest of the sun that “came up on the left, / Out of the sea came he; / And he shone bright, and on the right / Went down into the Sea” (lines 29-32).  The picture painted by the mariner encapsulates the sublime, describing the rising and setting of the sun as it shines onto the ship and the sea while establishing the direction the boat sailed.  The wedding guest is enthralled by the sublime, and the bride, though “Red as a rose,” cannot compare to the image of the sun glittering on the sea as the ship sails southward (line 38).  Readers see that nature overpowers human constructions (the wedding) because the guest is already hooked on the mariner’s story just by the description of the movement of the sun.  The wedding represents the epitome and the peak of human and societal constructions, and the sublime represents the peak of nature, or the opposite of the wedding.  Then, the two are written to occur at the exact same time so as to force a decision to be made about which one is more important.  And in Coleridge’s poem, nature is.

The inclusion of the sublime in this poem is significant because it provides an example of the deep appreciation for nature and the sublime the romantics had.  The continuous depictions of nature that evoke awe in the mariner’s story reveal the positive inclination romantic poets had towards nature, and such depictions can be seen again and again in other works.  Not just Coleridge, but many romantic poets, authors, and artists repeatedly make use of the sublime in their work.  In “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” the significance of the sublime is played up as it is contrasted against the normal, ordinary wedding service.  The story the mariner tells continues to be extraordinary with more inclusions of the sublime, and the wedding continues to be customary, so much so that readers forget this setting of the poem until the end of it.