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A Short Analysis of Thomas Hood’s ‘I Remember, I Remember’

‘I Remember, I Remember’ is, along with ‘The Song of the Shirt’, Thomas Hood’s best-loved poem. Although much of the rest of his work is not now much read or remembered, ‘I Remember, I Remember’ has a special place in countless readers’ hearts. Although its meaning is fairly straightforward, it’s worth probing the language of Hood’s poem a little deeper, as closer analysis reveals why this poem is held in such high regard.

I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day,
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away!

I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi’lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,—
The tree is living yet!

I remember, I remember,
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then,
That is so heavy now,
And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow!

I remember, I remember,
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now ’tis little joy
To know I’m farther off from heav’n
Than when I was a boy.

‘I Remember, I Remember’: the ‘I remember’ is repeated, perhaps, in fond wistfulness, as if we should hear, when we read it, a faint sigh in the poet’s voice as he recalls his childhood years. In summary, having recalled his childhood bedroom with its little window where the sunlight shone in every morning, the first stanza takes a darker turn, with Hood revealing that he now sometimes wishes he had died before attaining adulthood, the implication being that nothing in his life since then has matched his childhood joy.

The second stanza sees Hood recalling the many flowers he remembers from his childhood days, and the laburnum tree which is still standing all these years later. The third stanza focuses on Hood’s recollections of playing on a swing, and the way he moved through the air in a light and carefree manner. And ‘light’ is the word. G. K. Chesterton once said that angels can walk on air because they take themselves lightly. So do children, focused on having fun and playing as they are. The implication is that, since those carefree childhood days, Hood’s body and soul have become weighed down by various things (cares? worries? sins?) which did not trouble him as a boy.

And in the final stanza, this is confirmed. Hood recalls how he used to think the tall fir trees were nearly touching heaven at their tops. Now he’s older but not necessarily wiser: he knows that the fir trees aren’t touching heaven in the sky, but he misses his childhood ignorance and feels ‘farther off from heav’n’ now than ‘when I was a boy’. Something has been gained – practical real-world knowledge – but it has come at the cost of the innocence which made him more godly and, thus, closer to heaven.

Of course, this is a Christian idea: it was the Tree of Knowledge, after all, that God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from in the Garden of Eden. But in many nations and many cultures and traditions, ignorance and innocence are held up as virtues. Socrates, in ancient Greece, was considered by the (divine) Delphic Oracle to be the wisest man in Athens because he knew how little he really knew. Confucius and others also warn us not to get too cocky and start thinking we know it all, just because we know more. ‘I Remember, I Remember’ is a sentimental but eloquent expression of the same idea. It’s a Romantic notion, of course, but we see this exaltation of childhood innocence in earlier poetry, such as Henry Vaughan’s seventeenth-century poem ‘The Retreat’. But in the last analysis, it was Hood who captures the sense of growing older but not necessarily wiser perhaps better even than Vaughan did.

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About interestingliterature

A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on October 6, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read. Thanks for transcending me to my own little place in childhood with this poem.

  2. Reblogged this on newauthoronline and commented:
    In just 5 words “the tree is living yet” Hood implies (implicitly) that his brother who “set” the tree is no longer living thereby adding to the sombre nature of the poem.

  1. Pingback: 10 of the Best Poems about Childhood | Interesting Literature

  2. Pingback: A Short Analysis of Henry Vaughan’s ‘The Retreat’ | Interesting Literature

  3. Pingback: A Short Analysis of Thomas Hood's 'I Remember, I Remember' | collect magazine

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