Remember, by Christina Rossetti, and On the Life of Man by Sir Walter Raleigh

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The subject of life and death is a significant topic is the poem ‘Remember’, by Christina Rossetti, and ‘On the Life of Man’ by Sir Walter Raleigh. Both poets explore certain aspects of life and express their controversial views, at the time, on these aspects. Rossetti was born in 1830 and was a key figure in the pre-Raphaelite movement which meant her work needed to have ideas to express that were abstract or hidden within. She was a devout Christian and suffered from illness, both of which affected her work and perspectives on life greatly.

Walter Raleigh was an English aristocrat, soldier, courtier, writer, spy and explorer born in 1585. He was a rare specimen of a renaissance man but even with all that he had his views were different to that of the time and his poem reflects this. Both poets present and express their feelings about life and death in their poems via the choice of language, form and structure and key concepts. Both poets utilise the form and structure of their poem to express their feelings on life and death.

Rossetti uses a Petrarchan sonnet form consisting of an octave which presents a problem followed by the sestet which provides the solution. The choice of structure is quite interesting as a sonnet is a very restrictive structure as it must contain a certain number of lines, have a certain number of syllables per line and follow a particular rhyme scheme. Rossetti challenges the society at the time by modifying the rhyme scheme in the sestet to an irregular form without the expected rhyming couplet at the end.

This correlates with the subject of life and death as Rossetti believes that you shouldn’t spend your time worrying and holding onto the past but embrace the future and this change in form is the new future that we must embrace in life. The use of enjambment is particularly effective in indicating the society’s stubbornness of letting go of the past as it extends the sentence to the next line unwilling to allow it to stop. Raleigh takes a different approach to utilising structure to get his point across.

He takes a stand against the complexity of the renaissance occurring around him and uses the simple rhyming couplets. Raleigh uses these rhyming couplets to demonstrate how effective the simplicity can be and people should enjoy the simple things in life to the fullest as life is short and we don’t have time to waste. The rhyme scheme is very rigid which reflects Raleigh’s idea of life being like a play as in a play the actors learn their lines and say them; they do not go follow any other tracks but their own set path.

Both poets use restricted structures in their poems to highlight the importance of life and the need to break out of the restrictions society places on us preventing us from living life to the fullest however they address different issues concerning life due to the different time periods of the poets. Language is another key feature which enables both Rossetti and Raleigh to express their ideas. At first, Rossetti gives the impression that her poem is about remembering someone after they have died as she says she has ‘gone away’ in to the ‘silent land’ which can be interpreted as dying and going to purgatory.

She talks of the ultimate separation of death with physical separation when ‘you can no longer hold me by the hand’. Both poems use religious language, firstly, to fit into the society of the time but both poems undermine the teachings of Christianity. Rossetti’s female in the poem becomes the dominant figure which goes against the patriarchal society which was thought to be commanded by God at the time and Raleigh speaks of God as a judging, ‘Judicious spectator’ out of reach of everyone who watches in a ghostly fashion whereas the common belief at the time was a forgiving God.

This takes a stand against the society and makes the audience question the afterlife and redefines the ideas of life and its purpose. The role reversal between the male and the female in ‘Remember’ would surely shock the audience as would Raleigh’s message that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Raleigh uses an extended metaphor in the poem by comparing life to a play which affects his choice of language throughout. Raleigh says our ‘graves hide us from the searching sun’ which could mean that death is the only release from constant judgement.

Raleigh puts emphasis on certain words in the poem including: Comedy, Judicious, Sun and Jest by making them proper nouns. This personifies these words as figures in our lives, Comedy being the fun aspect and Judicious being the serious aspect. Overall both poets utilise language well using hidden meanings and metaphors to express their messages and ideas. The poet’s strong feelings on a subject can be easily seen on the key concepts they try to get across to the reader in their poems.

The main message in Raleigh’s poem is that life is short but to enjoy it you must live it to the fullest and make the best of your time. This ties in with his view on life and death as he says to live life so you have no regrets when death appears to end it. Rossetti, a sufferer of long term illness, has a similar message which is to look forward, not backward as it will only cause you pain and hinder your future. The two poems have very similar key concepts but they have been adapted by the poets for use in the time period they were written in to deal with the issues at the time.

In conclusion, both writers express their feeling on a subject using language, structure and key concepts. Both poets use a restricted structure to demonstrate the constraints in society and the need to escape these. Both poets also use religious language to fit into society at the time while also undermining some of its ideals. What the poets do differently though, is how they adapt the similar key concept to the audience at the time as they lived in tome periods 250 years apart.

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