Did One But Know!

Did One But Know!

This week’s poem is a sonnet by Christina Rossetti that marks the moment of first meeting.

If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!

Christina Rossetti (1830—1894)

Poem 191. Sonnet 2 (I Wish I Could Remember That First Day)

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 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!

This poem is about the oft-forgotten first moment when you meet someone who will take up residence in your heart—not necessarily the first time you feel love for them, but the first time the two of you meet.

Rossetti tries to recollect the exact moment of that meeting in the first four lines but cannot even recall the season; she goes on to liken the slow birth of her feelings as the budding of a young tree, as yet unready to bloom.

She seems sorrowful that this seminal moment in her life has gone unremarked and unrecorded like melted snow, and I wonder if she is suggesting that the one she loves is now permanently beyond reach. It seems fitting then, that when I found this poem, it was read by the late Helen McCrory.

I found it in an app on my iPad: The Love Book was an interactive source of poems collected by Allie Esiri, with readings by Helen McCrory, her husband Damian Lewis, Gina Bellman, Tom Hiddleston, Helena Bonham Carter and Emma Watson. Sadly, it seems that it is no longer available on either Apple or Android devices despite Esiri announcing in March last year that the app would be free indefinitely. She has been a strong advocate for poetry and her books of collected poetry each contain fine selections of poems from writers past and present.

I like this poem because it is such an accurate observation of human relationships—we often do not mark the exact moment of meeting someone who becomes a key part of our lives and, if pressed, would be unable to give a date and time.