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The three poems ‘Plena Timoris’, ‘Remember’ and ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ all explore different types of love. ‘Plena Timoris’ explores the dependency that love evokes and how unrequited love can lead to severe consequences – death. ‘Remember’ is a sonnet about the eventuality of separation and remembrance of time spent together. ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ is about maternal love faced with the brutality of untimely death. It describes the strength of maternal love and contrastingly from the other two poems, shows how unlike romance, maternal love is more ethereal and death merely a physical separation. Although to a lesser degree than ‘Plena Timoris’, ‘Remember’ questions the sustainability of love after physicality is lost. Just as expressions of death differ so do the reactions of people towards death in each of the pieces. An array of emotions, from betrayal to resignation to quiet acceptance of the inevitable, is portrayed. All of the poems demonstrate the effects of death through a range of literary devices specific and parallels made with the intensity and durability of love.
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‘Remember’ aims to be instructive in that the protagonist instructs her lover to react in a specific manner to her death. It begins with a dying wish: “Remember me when I am gone”. The first line itself insinuates the concept of reluctant separation, as it seems like a lovingly sad plea. The metaphor “silent land” appears to mean a place of death, a cemetery where silence dominates and the dead rest in their graves, buried underground, in perpetuity. However, the next line stating “when you can no more hold me by the hand” suggests they can no longer be together physically, but would like him to remember her and cherish the good memories, as opposed to denouncing her because she left him. Line 4 further exemplifies that the speaker may not actually be dying as she says “I half turn to go yet turning to stay”. She is torn between the idea of staying with her lover and being actually satisfied with perfect love.
The reactions in the two other poems are expressed differently. Unlike the conceptual idea of death as explored in ‘Remember’, ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ and ‘Plena Timoris’ tackle death in a more inevitable manner, leaving no other way for its speaker than to face it and be affected by it.
In ‘Refugee Mother and Child’, Achebe, creates a sense unfairness in the situation that the key characters find themselves in. A young mother is faced with the impending death of her child due to circumstances beyond her control. Yet she is brave enough to celebrate her child’s life by spending time and loving care on him. Strong emotions are aroused in the reader by the last line when Achebe describes her routine by saying “like putting flowers on a tiny grave”. A grave is meant to be a resting place for one who has grown old in the world and lived their entire lives. Therefore, “tiny” not only serves as a poignant contrast, but also as something that can evoke lots of emotion in the reader and make them feel pity. The use of synaesthesia in “singing in her eyes” conveys the profundity of the emotion that the mother is feeling and allows the readers to appreciate the enormity of her affection. Words that foreshadow death in ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ are “ghost” and “grave”. Achebe stresses how unique this specific mother’s attitude to death is, in comparison to most mothers who “had long since ceased to care”. This implies the lack of hope of survival too, given the futility of their situation. The euphemism of death, “for a son she soon will have to forget” at the end of the first stanza foreshadows the inevitability of the child’s departure and her coming to terms with his untimely demise.
On the other hand, ‘Plena Timoris’ explores death in a more sinister sense, treating it as a dangerous unknown. A death is disturbing but seemingly unrelated to the couple on the bridge, until it is disclosed that a woman, deserted by a man, though it best to end her life than face humiliation. The girl’s doubt about her own future with her partner becomes apparent. The woman’s lifeless body acts as a metaphor of the downfall of the couple’s relationship. Death in this instance is therefore certainly not seen as a tragedy but as an omen that leads the girl to distance herself from her lover.
Two of the three poems, ‘Plena Timoris’ and ‘Refugee Mother and Child’, strongly rely on visual imagery and employ varying tones to set the backdrop for the situation that the main protagonists find themselves in.
Achebe’s vivid use of imagery depicts death in life itself. He paints pictures of “unwashed children with washed-out ribs and dried-up bottoms” in conditions that are “heavy with odours”. The air being heavy with odours describe exactly what the atmosphere is like; cramped, humid and sweaty. When describing the children, “washed-out ribs” suggest not visible ribs but bare bones under skin, with no fat, flesh or muscle. The use of alliteration with “bottoms”, “behind”, “blown” and “bellies” is applied, focusing the reader on the picture of the children’s harsh reality. Achebe repeats the word ‘ghost’ which implies a predestined fate for every child. It also describes death as something of absolute certainty, the child already being a ghost in his mother’s eyes. Again, by comparing the child’s head with a skull, Achebe exposes its skeletal appearance, linking the boy’s young body with a corpse, ravaged by hunger and distorted by disease.
‘Refugee Mother and Child’ is an extremely emotional poem as it describes a mother and “a son she soon would have to forget”, in this instance not because of decisions that need to be made but purely because of the circumstances they are in. Achebe starts by describing the relationship of a mother and son using the religious connotation of the “Pieta” image that is pure and innocent. This is similar to the religious subtext within ‘Remember’ that speaks of religion as something one can turn to. The first stanza is very intimate as Achebe writes of how even “Madonna and Child” could not compare to the warmth of the mother cradling her child that she would have to let go of. The “tenderness” and intensity of this situation sets the tone of utmost anguish for the rest of the poem
In contrast, ‘Plena Timoris’ paints a picture of death in an extremely candid way, describing the woman who is dead as a “dripping body”, giving death a visual image, making death very real especially when we learn that the dead woman’s situation is not very far from that of the girl’s. The tone of anxiety created by the build up of events (finding the woman in the canal and then learning her story), contributes in making death and comprehension the climatic end of the poem. The use of caesurae allows the reader to sense the girl’s uneasiness and dread upon realizing that the “woman in the canal below” could very well be her. Hardy refers to the dead woman as a ‘woman’ and the girl who heard her story as a ‘girl’, which suggests that the girl still has time to mature and learn from the woman’s tragedy. In the case of ‘Plena Timoris’, we see that death, even indirectly has the ability to destabilize a smoothly flowing relationship.
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In ‘Remember’ the change in tone can be immediately detected by not only a change in message but also a change in rhyme scheme. For the first time Rossetti uses the word “forget” and acknowledges that she may not in fact be remembered. She then writes, “and afterwards remember, do not grieve” as though she forgives his lapse of memory, suggesting she does not care as she is now with God, her ultimate and perfect love. This reaffirms Rossetti’s undying faith in Religion and Spirituality. The last two lines of the sonnet provide a “resolution” for her and an instruction to her lover to forget her and start a new chapter in his life. She feels at peace with this as she is now satisfied, if dead, with first-rate love in God.
A pivotal theme in all three presentations is the analysis of how death causes the separation between loved ones. However in ‘Plena Timoris’, death does not directly contribute to the loss, but assists in the gradual cessation of the relationship. Death acts as the stimulus to which the girl in the poem reacts when “her arm dropt from his as they wandered away”. The word “wander” suggests no sense of direction and confusion in what the future will be like for the girl. There is also a role reversal as it was the woman in the canal who was left and it is now the male lover who will be left. The girl sees that the drowned woman could be an indication of her own future and therefore decides to distance herself from her partner.
The certainty of death has a considerable impact on relationships – especially those that involve love. In both ‘Plena Timoris’ and ‘Remember’, the subjects are in the form of two lovers. Contrastingly, ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ speaks of maternal love; one that is built on blood relation and that cannot be forgotten. The unconditional affection felt by the reader from the “Madonna” to her “child”, implies how love has no mediums and that even with the absence of physicality, love can still exist – spiritually. The poem speaks of the noblest type of love – selfless love – and therefore evokes the most emotion and remorse from the reader. The visual imagery and tone further strengthen the emotions of pity and empathy.
Contrary to ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ and ‘Remember’, ‘Plena Timoris’ depicts love with a transient and fragile nature, something that can be forgotten or replaced, whereas the other poems show how despite a body being gone, spiritual love is eternal and everlasting.
Remember’ is written with dread of the future, comparable to ‘Plena Timoris’ and also a sense of sombre acceptance like ‘Refugee Mother and Child’. Contrastingly, it contains elements that only one experiencing death first-hand can talk about, unlike the other two poems which talk about death affecting people indirectly. For example, when she says “better by far you should forget and smile/Than that you should remember and be sad” the reader gets a direct message of what the speaker would like to happen once she is “gone away”. The fact that she settles for her lover moving on in his life implies that she is compliant with her fate and wishes that her lover started afresh. The ability to directly convey her personal emotions allows the speaker to completely captivate the audience with the intimacy and poignancy of her message. Whereas, in ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ and ‘Plena Timoris’, death is spoken about by a third party or in relation to the dying person, not by the dying person themselves.
The poems ‘Remember’, ‘Refugee Mother and Child’ and ‘Plena Timoris’ all explore death and love presented to the readers in different forms; as abstract and imperfect, as inevitable and unconditional, and as a warning and an eventuality; unrequited and fulfilled, respectively. The various literary devices, structure, tone and imagery of the poems exhibit the underlying theme, that despite the arrival of something as powerful and definitive as death, some form of residual love will always sustain and prevail.
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