“When I am dead, my dearest”- poem by Christina Rossetti
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 throughout the twilight
That doth not rise nor set
Haply I may remember
And haply may forget
On December 5, 1830, Christina Rossetti was born in London, one of four children of Italian parents. Her father was the poet Gabriele Rossetti; her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti also became a poet and a painter. Rossetti’s first poems were written in 1842 and printed in the private press of her grandfather. In 1850, under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne, she contributed seven poems to the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, which had been founded by her brother William Michael and his friends.
Rossetti is best known for her ballads and her mystic religious lyrics. Her poetry is marked by symbolism and intense feeling. Rossetti’s best-known work, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published in 1862. The collection established Rossetti as a significant voice in Victorian poetry. The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, appeared in 1866 followed by Sing-Song, a collection of verse for children, in 1872 (with illustrations by Arthur Hughes).
By the 1880s, recurrent bouts of Graves’ disease, a thyroid disorder, made Rossetti an invalid, and ended her attempts to work as a governess. While the illness restricted her social life, she continued to write poems. Among her later works are A Pageant and Other Poems (1881), and The Face of the Deep (1892). Rossetti also wrote religious prose works, such as Seek and Find (1879), Called To Be Saints (1881) and The Face of the Deep (1892). In 1891, Rossetti developed cancer, of which she died in London on December 29, 1894. Rossetti’s brother, William Michael, edited her collected works in 1904, but the Complete Poems were not published before 1979.
Christina Rossetti is increasingly being reconsidered a major Victorian poet. She has been compared to Emily Dickinson but the similarity is more in the choice of spiritual topics than in poetic approach, Rossetti’s poetry being one of intense feelings, her technique refined within the forms established in her time.
Here is the poem being read by the Canadian actor Jonathan Frid (1924-2012). Jonathan was a RADA trained stage actor, who became widely admired for his brilliant portrayal of the mesmerising vampire Barnabas Collins on the TV series Dark Shadows (1966-1971). Jonathan had a particularly beautiful voice, rich and sonorous. He reads this poignant poem with great tenderness and beauty.