Grief Christina Rossettis Remember English Literature Essay
Losing someone dear can lead to grief, yet tenderness also. This is expressed in Christina Rossetti’s ‘Remember’, in which the persona is demanding to be remembered, grieving not only about her death, but also the emotional war her partner will have to go through. The same notion is expressed in D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Piano’, where although the memories were positive, he is mortified through his unsuccessful attempt to confine his emotions. This is also found in “Mid-Term Break” by Seamus Heaney, where the persona is hit with confusion regarding the loss of his brother. Physical loss, as presented here, is simpler compared to the convoluted nonmaterial losses, because not everyone will have to endure the sorrow of the death of a loved one, whereas nonmaterial losses are inevitable.
Likewise, nonmaterial loss such as the loss of love or the loss of childhood innocence also brings sorrow. This notion is supported by John Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad”. Its subject is about the loss of love- how his “lover” had left him. This similar theme is mirrored in Countée Cullen’s “Loss of Love”: women are evil. Another part of this nonmaterial loss is childhood innocence. This yearning for the innocence is conveyed in Seamus Heaney’s “Death of A Naturalist”, in which the persona is transitioning from innocence to experience.
Although the situations of the losses differ, all loss, it seems, lead to the same end: feelings of grief, confusion, and even anger.
Physical loss of a loved one will bring grief, even it is for oneself. Christina Rossetti’s “Remember” effectively conveys the grief experienced in losing someone; herself. Written approaching the end of a long battle with cancer, Rossetti grieves for what her lover will have to go through, when she passes away. Rossetti, although was from the Victorian Era, is a strong woman. At this stage, women were treated powerless compared to men, but as she was involved in the Pre-Raphaelites movement, we can see that she out drove social change. Due to her failed relationships, her independence is shown by the imperative “Remember me”, that is repeated throughout the poem; emphasizing that she should be remembered. As an Anglican, her words can be seen to be religious in nature, supported by “silent land”. Using euphemism, she softens her nearly-lost battle with cancer, effectively conveying to the reader of an almost idealistic peaceful land. She also shows that this “silent land” is not very far away, creating a sense of familiarity to the reader, appearing to the ears. The effective repetition of “day by day” shows the time passing, and creates a sense of losing time unwillingly. This can be seen as that she does not want to leave yet, but has to, and that death is merciless; supported by “It will....pray”. Rossetti seems to confine her emotions- perfectly justifiable as she would like to give the least pain to her lover, and this is evident in the form of the poem. As a Victorian Sonnet, the structure is very strict, and that it must be 10 syllables a line, and must be forming of two quatrains followed by a six lined stanza. This idea of conceding to his happiness is presented in the last stanza acting as a Volta. As the ‘sovereign’ of the relationship, she gives him options that will do better for him, such as “forget and smile”. This option distances her needs and highlights her lover’s needs for moving on. This shows tenderness, and not possessiveness that was previously shown. This approach to theme of loss affects one that makes one respect Rossetti, as despite her hardships, she remained tender towards her lover- something we all could learn from.
Similarly, in ‘Piano’, D.H.Lawrence experiences the mortifying part of loss: remembrance. The persona was abashed through the power of childhood memories of his mother that took on him- an unusual response towards a memory. However, the persona’s reaction towards the childhood memory is justifiable due to the historical context- men were not to cry given any situation. D.H.Lawrence’s clever use of lexis has shown that the persona’s manhood has broken, as he “weep like a child for the past”. The successful simile of a child’s weeping to the persona’s loss softens the truth that the persona has wept, making the reader show his/her sympathy towards him. Throughout the whole poem, it is the piano in a room which had sparked his childhood memories to overwhelm his emotions. The piano, before his inner turmoil took place, was looked as almost magical – represented through its “tingling strings”. However, the “boom of the tingling strings” create a more aesthetic atmosphere; thus adding to the ambience of his past. The word “boom” has very many connotations, but also serve as a contrast to the soft sounding of the “tingling”. This onomatopoeic word suggests many connotations, all consequently coming to the same conclusion: magic-like. However, despite the pleasant memories the persona has, we can see that the persona is suffering in an inner turmoil- and hating the nostalgic memories that overpower his emotions. This memory triggers the nostalgia deep within him, and shows the yearning to become a younger boy again, wishing for his mother. Through this yearning, D.H.Lawrence shows the confusion of when his manhood was cast, along with the anger that is present in the “clamor” of the ‘magical’ piano. The piano was just an object that unleashed the yearning for his childhood- when he still had his mother. Although the reaction to the loss is quite contrasting to “Remember”, they both share the commonality of the sense of trying to confine emotions. This reaction to the memories is what I believe as unnecessary. However it can also be justified as some memories can be powerful enough to break one down- even if one is a man.
Likewise, Seamus Heaney’s “Mid-Term Break” also conveys the same message of the consequence of physical loss. The persona is in confusion of what had happened to his younger brother. Heaney effectively conveys the confusion when he arrived home through the direct descriptions: “father crying” and “old men ...my hand”. It has been quoted that his father has “taken funerals in his stride”, however he is met with his father crying- indicating that something is wrong. To add to the confusion, when he enters the house, he sees random strangers, who come to shake his hand. Although throughout the poem, Heaney starts to find out that the death was of his brother, but the question is; has he accepted it? The persona refers to his brother, Christopher, as a “corpse”, not ready to admit it is indeed, his brother that lies in the coffin. However, as the poem unravels itself, the persona is slowly accepting the loss; identifying the “corpse” as his brother. The last statement that the coffin was “four foot long” shows the finality of the death- including the acceptance of the consequence of his brother. Analogous to the previous poems, ‘Mid-Term Break’s persona tries to confine the emotions of distress about his brother through the uniform stanzas. As a 12 year old boy living in a traditional Irish family, it would be harder for him to not be upset about the situation as confusion overwhelms his emotions. Especially that his father was found crying, despite the strict expectations of the stereotypical male’s role in a funeral, had shown Heaney’s strength to restrict himself from pouring out once he had understood the full story.
Loss of love or the childhood innocence can also cause one to be distressed. In “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, John Keats explores the loss of love through a folk ballad. Keats, as a Romantic poet, conveys the common belief of the era that ‘all women are evil’- a ridiculous assumption that we, women, wouldn’t tolerate. However, the persona’s belief is supported through the content- a ‘lover’ had left him “alone and palely loitering”. “O.....loitering?” is a question asked by the writer- purposely to induce the reader to spur curiosity about the central character- the knight- , in the emptiness. The last sentence of the first stanza: “And no birds sing”, is a contrasting short sentence with intention to change the general rhythm of the poem. Through this, it attracts the reader into the fate of something; obviously not known to the reader just yet, implying that an event unpleasant had occurred. The next stanza is something very similar, and is achieved by using incremental repetition. This technique repeats and emphasizes the question, until there is a shift in narrator- from a bystander, to the central character (knight); almost as if he was answering the question. There is a repetition of the image of death portrayed by nature. Evident in for an example: “I see a lily”. A lily is a symbol of death as it is used in funerals, therefore foreshadowing the fate that would cause the knight to be distressed. A personification is dexterously used in “anguish...fever-dew”, which creates an almost wet atmosphere, inducing sadness upon the reader. However, as the poem progresses, the knight’s memory with the “faery” seem to be very pleasant- as each stanza starts with “I”- implicating that the knight is in control. Irony can be spotted in Stanza V, as there is an emasculating image of him making “garland for her head” He is a knight, someone who is considered as a strong ‘leader’. This concludes that the knight was definitely in love, thus consequently losing control. The poem then takes a shift in control, to his lover through the use of repetition of “She”. However, most love does not last forever, as demonstrated in stanza 8, as “she wept...sore”, suggesting that he cannot be with the woman, and something must change-bringing us to the fate of the relationship. The last stanza is a repeat of the first stanza, suggesting that love like this goes in a cycle. The loss of the love is shown through the desperation that the man was in, by himself and “loitering”, proving the distress that the man was in. The stanzas are uniform but not even, suggesting that Keats is confining his emotions- similar to the previous poems. Keats’s work shows the devastation he was going through when his wife Fanny Brawne left him, thus concluding that the loss of love brings distress among many.
Analogous to the idea that loss of love brings distress, Countée Cullen’s “Loss of Love” highlights a similar story. Cullen portrays how badly he had fallen for his love, through using a range of figurative language. An example of this usage is present in “Orchard...fruit”. Cullen’s shrewd use of a metaphor effectively conveys the wreck he was in- showing how heavy his heart was after love was lost. The whole piece is characterised by dark images, successfully conveyed through lexis. “Agony with clotted teats” is one example of a powerful description that affects the reader to sympathize on Cullen. The word ‘agony’ connotes pain, and therefore brings the reader closer to the text by being able to relate to the emotions felt. Agony is a very strong adjective, therefore suggesting that this love had broken Cullen down completely. Through Cullen’s descriptions, there is no doubt in what had happened, as it has been explained- “All...room”. This clear description helps to bring the reader’s focus upon Cullen’s reaction. The context of the poem is very clichéd, as his wife had divorced him, similar to Keats. However, the last two lines of the piece is a very deep message: losing love is worse than death itself. I would side strongly on that message- there is nothing worse than losing love. Losing love is a terrible event in life as it could bring distress and consequently make someone go out of one’s one routine in life, and become ignorant of the surroundings. This can also be supported by the form of the poem- free verse. In contrast with previous poems, Cullen does not make an effort to confine his emotions, but to unleash them by using free verse.
Not only love, but the loss of childhood innocence can also bring about distress. Seamus Heaney’s “Death of A Naturalist” yearns for this loss showing the not-so-smooth transition from innocence to experience, using his a part of his childhood memory gone wrong. It generalises the loss of innocence we all once had, as passions change on the ride of maturity. The structure is simple: a before and after - emphasizing a sweet childhood memory gone sour. The first stanza explores the persona’s passion for nature’s “gruesome” side. Effectively using onomatopoeia, Heaney conveys interest that he once had towards frogs, in such “gargled”, “slap and plop”, and “farting”, each connoting a very gruesome side of nature. Descriptions are given in a quite indelicate light, perhaps suggesting Heaney was an inquisitive child without the fear of being squeamish towards gruesome nature. To set the scene, Heaney uses a combination of assonance and alliteration in “flax-dam festered”. In effect, this creates a sense of rotting and a heavy atmosphere, which is also supported by the “punishing sun” – the use of clever personification increases the heaviness as the reader could imagine a stuffy atmosphere. Using a metaphor to convey his excitement towards frogspawn, he effectively brings the reader back to the times of when he used to be small, using childlike language to manipulate the reader by the mention of “warm thick slobber” as the “best of all”. Despite his sugar-sweet memory, this childhood memory becomes bittersweet shortly after. The stanza itself is shorter, while also changing the tone into a very unpleasant. Descriptions become a big contrast, using very un-tumultuous imagery such as “coarse croaking”, not appealing to the ears despite the alliteration as harsh words such as “coarse” is used. Later, the adult frogs seem to be seeking vengeance, further scaring young Heaney, and therefore turning his “dream” into a nightmare. As Heaney sees nature in the raw, he is scarred; an absolute contrast from the beginning. The title of the poem refers to the non-material “death” of the innocent enthusiasm that Heaney once had as the reality of nature starts to make sense. The poem is also explores the transition that one inevitably takes from innocence to experience. This is one of the biggest aspects of innocence of childhood; we cannot hold on to them, they will have to be let go.
In conclusion, the losses presented in the 6 poems vary through the materialistic aspect, however all the poets agree on the same idea that all loss consequently brings about negative emotions, such as grief, anger, confusion and distress. Although loss overall causes all of us to grieve, it is important that even at the hardest of times, we have to stay strong and keep striving forwards, and not allowing the memories to take over each of our daily routines of life such as in “La Belle Dame sans Merci”.
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