"When I am dead, my dearest" by Christina Rossetti


From her childhood, Christina Rossetti lived a blessed life. A member of a highly gifted family (her parents and all of her siblings lead noteworthy and distinguished lives), she learned to love literature and poetry first within her home. As a child, she had a passionate and vivacious character that often pushed her into the excesses of intense emotion. As an adult, she became known for her self-consciously practiced personal restraint; a quality readers glean from this poem in its tempered response to the finality of death. The poem entreats its reader to bridle the pain and loss that result from death and embrace its uncertainty and instability. 

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.

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you interpret the supplication in the first stanza to "sing no sad songs"? How does the poem suggest the survivors should grieve? 
  2. In what ways do you think the final two lines of each stanza are related? 
  3. In what way does the speaker release the reader from obligation? How does this relate to the relationship between the speaker and the reader?

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