“Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:
To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.
I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.
I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.
What have these lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.”
Emily Bronte was too sensitve to allow others into her private recesses. Like mystics before- she was not comfortable with the outside world. Yet it is erroneous to label her a misanthrope or even unkind. Ellen Nussey (best friend of sister, Charlotte Bronte) stated, “Her extreme reserve seemed imprenetrable, yet she was intensely lovable; she invited confidence by her moral power. Few people have the gift of smiling as she could look and smile. One of her rare expressive looks was something to remember through life, there was such a depth of soul and feeling, and yet a shyness of revealing herself.”
Victorian society was of no interest to Emily. Having taken a fancy to the romantic, gigot sleeves of the 1830s- she wore them long after they’d gone out of style. On the other hand, she had no use for false embellishment. While attending Madame Heger’s school in Brussels, she was teased by the fashionable girls for not wearing a corset. Fellow pupil, Laetitia Wheelwright, recollected that Emily always answered their jokes with, “I wish to be as God made me.”
Around this time, she stated:
“Strong I stand, though I have borne
Anger, hate, and bitter scorn;
Strong I stand, and laugh to see
How mankind have fought with me
Shade of mast’ry, I contemn
All the puny ways of men;
Free my heart, my spirit free;
Beckon, and I’ll follow thee.
False and foolish mortal know,
If you scorn the world’s disdain,
Your mean soul is far below
Other worms, however vain.
Think of Dust- with boundless pride,
Dare you take me for a guide?
With the humble I will be;
Haughty men are naught to me.”
Although Emily’s father was a clergyman, she rarely attended church. When Emily did, she sat facing away from the pulpit. Surprisingly, her father never insisted she conform. He understood Emily found God within Nature.
The usually somber-looking girl transformed while roaming alone on her beloved Moors. When neighbor, John Greenwood chanced upon her once, he said, “Her countenance was lit up with a divine light. Had she been holding converse with Angels, it would not have shone brighter. It appeared to me, holy, heavenly.”
Here, she depicts a mystical experience:
“On a sunny brae alone I lay
One summer afternoon…
Methought the very breath I breathed
Was full of sparks divine,
And all my heather-couch was wreathed
By that celestial shine.
And while the wide Earth echoing rang
To their strange minstrelsy,
The little glittering spirits sang,
Or seemed to sing to me…”
Yet it was only during the still hours of night that Emily felt truly free. She lay upon her bed gazing out at the stars.
“I’m happiest when most away
I can bear my soul from its home of clay
On a windy night when the moon is bright
And the eye can wander through worlds of light-“
During these quiet hours, Emily communed with a male personified Muse. In this poem, He speaks to her:
“I’ll come when thou art saddest,
Laid alone in the darkened room;
When the mad day’s mirth has vanished,
And the smile of joy is banished
From the evening’s chilly gloom.
I’ll come when the heart’s real feeling
Has entire, unbiased sway,
And my influence o’er thee stealing,
Grief deepening, joy congealing,
Shall bear thy soul away.
Listen, ’tis just the hour,
The awful time for thee;
Dost thou not feel upon thy soul,
A flood of strange sensations roll,
Forerunners of a sterner power,
Heralds of me?”
In “The Night Wind”- He asks:
“Have we not been from childhood friends?
Have I not loved thee long?
As long as thou hast loved the night
Whose silence wakes my song
And when thy heart is laid at rest
Beneath the churchyard stone
I shall have time enough to mourn,
And thou to be alone.”
When Emily found her creative powers waning, she awaited her Muse like a lover:
“What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
Who loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.
Burn then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear-
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air;
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.”
The sun herald the return to the drudgery of housework and other banal reality.
“All through the night, your glorious eyes
Were gazing down in mine,
And with a full heart’s thankful sighs
I blessed that watch divine!
I was at peace, and drank your beams
As they were life to me
And revelled in my changeful dreams
Like petrel on the sea.
Thought followed thought- star followed star
Through boundless regions on,
While sweet influence, near and far,
Thrilled and proved us one.
Why did morning rise to break
So great, so pure a spell,
And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek
Where your cool radiance fell?
Blood red he rose, and arrow-straight
His fierce beams struck my brow;
The soul of Nature sprang elate,
But mine sank sad and low….
I turned me to the pillow then
To call back Night, and see
Your worlds of solemn light, again
Throb within my heart and me!…
O Stars and Dreams and Gentle Night;
O Night and Stars Return!
And hide me from hostile light
That does not warm- but burn-“
Emily struggled between love of home and her soul’s desire to free itself from its hated clay. In May 1841 she wrote:
“Few hearts to mortals given
On Earth so wildly pine;
Yet none would ask a Heaven
More like this Earth than thine…”
“Glad comforter, will I not brave
Unawed the darkness of the grave?
Nay, smile to hear Death’s billows rave,
My Guide, sustained by thee?
The more unjust seems present fate
The more my Spirit springs elate
Strong in thy strength, to anticipate
Emily must have found peace within. For in her last known poem, written before her untimely death at the age of thirty, she declared:
“No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And faith shines equal arming me from Fear
O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me has rest
As I undying Life, have power in Thee
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immorality
With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears
Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universe ceased to be
And thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee
There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.”