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Monna Innominata: I wish I could remember that first day by Christina Rossetti

“I wish I could remember that first day” written by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), is a sonnet about reminiscing about one’s first love. It is taken from Rossetti’s sonnet sequence, Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets, published in 1881. In this sonnet, Rossetti’s poetic persona “Monna Innominata” illustrates the feelings of longing and regret that come with forgetting her first love.

  • Read the full text of “I wish I could remember that first day” below:
I wish I could remember that first day
by Christina Rossetti

Era già 1'ora che volge il desio. (Dante)
Ricorro al tempo ch' io vi vidi prima. (Petrarca)

I wish I could remember that first day,
   First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
   If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
   So blind was I to see and to foresee,
   So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
   A day of days! I let it come and go
   As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seem'd to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
   First touch of hand in hand--Did one but know!

- from Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets (1881)
Analysis of I wish I could remember that first day by Christina Rossetti


Summary

In the sonnet, “I wish I could remember that first day,” Rossetti’s persona unravels a heart-felt wish of wanting to remember her first love. This poem explores how something that was once important to the speaker, like her first love, could also fade away from her mind over time. Upon realizing this, the speaker gets filled with regret and nostalgia. She expresses how if she could, she would try to remember all the little things that seemed to mean nothing, but in reality, meant a lot, such as the “First touch of hand in hand.”

Meaning

“I wish I could remember that first day” is a sonnet that centers around mellowing romance. More than the feeling of being in love, it is about remembering what love felt like in the first place. Rossetti was around the age of 50 when she wrote this sonnet. Hence it is a reminiscence of her youthful days. She expresses how it was to be young and in love, so carefree that it was fine for her to be “dull” and naive about what would happen. However, this poem is more hindsight for the speaker. Being aware of what she knows now, she yearns to remember the little things that seemed insignificant to her at the time — things as little as one day of her first love or the first touch.

Form, Rhyme Scheme, & Meter

“I wish I could remember that first day” is an Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet, named after the great Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. Rossetti uses the line, “Ricorro al tempo ch’io vi vidi prima” from Petrarch’s sonnet as an epigraph to her poem. The sonnet contains an octave and a sestet. Its rhyme scheme is ABBAABBA CDDCCD. The first eight lines contain a closed rhyming pattern. In contrast, the last six lines rhyme alternatively. Regarding the meter, it is composed of iambic pentameter. Let’s have a look at the metrical scheme of the first few lines from the sonnet.

I wish/ I could/ re-mem/-ber that/ first day

First hour,/ first mo/-ment of/ your meet/-ing me

If bright/ or dim/ the sea/-son, it/ might be 

Sum-mer/ or Win/-ter for/ aught I/ can say;


Poetic Devices

Rossetti makes use of the following poetic devices in her sonnet, “I wish I could remember that first day.”

  • Repetition: This is used in the first two lines. “I wish I could remember that first day,/ First hour, first moment of your meeting me.” By repeating the word “first,” Rossetti expresses how she wants to remember the initial days of her first love — before she knew what it really was. 
  • Personification: By saying, “So unrecorded did it slip away,” the speaker associates human characteristics with “time.”
  • Metaphor: In the lines, “I let it come and go/ As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow,” the speaker compares her “memory” to the melting snow which leaves no trace in Summer. In the lines, “So dull to mark the budding of my tree/ That would not blossom yet for many a May,” she compares her first love to a budding “tree” that grew slowly yet strongly.
  • Juxtaposition: Rossetti creates a contrasting situation by saying, “If bright or dim the season, it might be/ Summer or Winter for aught I can say.”
  • Anaphora: It occurs in, “So unrecorded did it slip away,/ So blind was I to see and to foresee,/ So dull to mark the budding of my tree.” Here, Rossetti repeats the same word “So” to create an internal rhythm.


Themes

First Love

The sonnet’s title, “I wish I could remember that first day” implies a tone of yearning and regret. In this piece, Rossetti details how she regrets her faded memories of her first love. She says, “If only I could recollect it, such/ A day of days!” These lines reveal her desperation to remember anything at all.

The speaker also remarks how something that seemed too little or insignificant at the moment grew to mean much more. By comparing the growth of her love to that of a tree, the poet emphasizes how the beginning of her first love was slow and steady. Gradually, it bloomed into fullness.

Nostalgia and Regret

The second half of the sonnet has a very delicate and critical tone. Rossetti expresses how she wishes she could remember even one day or one touch or one feeling of her first love. It sounds like regret since she implies she lets her memories come and go: “I let it come and go/ As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow.” She ends the poem by exclaiming that had she known about what this love would become, she would have paid more attention and “marked” the beginning of it all.

Line-by-Line Analysis & Explanation

Lines 1-4

I wish I could remember that first day,

First hour, first moment of your meeting me,

If bright or dim the season, it might be

Summer or Winter for aught I can say;

Rossetti begins the sonnet, “I wish I could remember that first day,” with wishful thinking. Her persona looks back at her youthful days, trying to remember how she felt. The tone almost sounds like a plea or hopeless desperation as the speaker ponders upon when she first fell in love. If it was a “bright” season or a “dim” one, if it was “Summer” or “Winter” — the speaker cannot seem to remember anything at all.

Lines 5-8

So unrecorded did it slip away,

So blind was I to see and to foresee,

So dull to mark the budding of my tree

That would not blossom yet for many a May.

In these lines, the speaker expresses how fast time slips away. Sometimes, we forget to document every little moment of our life, thinking it may be insignificant, but it becomes more important in the future, quite unknowingly. That’s why the speaker calls herself “dull” for not recording (recognizing) the “budding” of love’s tree. The “tree” symbolizes her first love, which would start small and slowly blossom after a few years.

Lines 9-11

If only I could recollect it, such

A day of days! I let it come and go

As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;

At the beginning of the sestet, Rossetti’s speaker is full of regret and despair. She thinks about recollecting memories that have faded with time. She is so desperate that even a day’s worth of memories would quench her thirst. Whatsoever, she blames herself in the next lines. She let the memories come and go from her mind until they were traceless like a “thaw” — the snow that melts away in the coming of summer.

Lines 12-14

It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

If only now I could recall that touch,

First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!

In the last few lines of “I wish I could remember that first day,” she realizes that the things her younger self found insignificant came to mean so much more as she grew older. The ending lines have a mix of regret and nostalgia. Here, the speaker wishes if she had known what was to come, she could treasure the memories and moments of her first love. The sonnet ends with a rhetorical exclamation that surfaces her heartfelt regret.

Historical Context

Born in 1830, Christina Rossetti was a well-known Victorian poet. She was known for her feminist, romantic, and devotional poems. The sonnet, “I wish I could remember that first day” was first published as a part of the Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets in 1881. It is the second sonnet of the sequence. Besides, Rossetti is the poet of Britain’s two most famous Christmas carols, “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Love Came Down At Christmas.” She is best known for her collection of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862).

Questions & Answers

What is the sonnet “I wish I could remember that first day” about?

Christina Rossetti’s sonnet “I wish I could remember that first day” is about reminiscing about first love and the regrets that surface with age. The speaker wishes to remember the faded memories of her first love.

What does the “tree” symbolize in the poem?

The tree symbolizes the speaker’s, first love. It grew slowly yet steadily. But the speaker failed to notice/recognize its growth.

What is the theme of the poem “I wish I could remember that first day”?

The theme of this poem is reminiscence, first love, nostalgia, and regret.

What type of poem is “I wish I could remember that first day”?

It is a Petrarchan sonnet. The rhyme scheme of this sonnet is ABBAABBA CDDCCD, and it is written in iambic pentameter.

What are the poetic devices used in “I wish I could remember that first day”?

The poetic devices used in the sonnet are metaphor, symbolism, personification, anaphora, etc.


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