Emily Bronte-Through Her Poetry

 

“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…”

 

She wondered:

“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

Rewarding Destiny!

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.”

 

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Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 3:14 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. They say that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice — but with the Bronte sisters, it struck three times. I loved this post.

    And, I loved reading Emily’s poetry. It’s been awhile since I have, but I’ve always understood how she did find God in nature, and in her own nature, with both being quite beautiful.

    Em

  2. Thank you, Em!
    Glad you enjoyed the poetry. I love the Bronte sisters. Emily is my favorite because I can relate to her in many ways. My personal writing style tends to differ. I don’t aim to write like them or anybody else. But I hope to be as fearless in my works as they were.

    – Tasha

  3. My first experience Bronte was Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. I *loved* both the book and the old movie. I cried my eyes out when the girls’ hair was chopped off!

    Just have to say again that I LOVE your blog. I come here and feel transported back in time.

    I love that Emily refused to wear a corsette. And I love that the sisters, in a time of men, made their mark, and still are to this day. Go Girl power! : )

    Em

  4. Em-

    Awwww. Your comment is so sweet! Thank you! Thank you! That is exactly the feeling I wish this blog to convey. 🙂

    Yes- the hair chopping was unbearably cruel.

    Speaking of corsets- even back then doctors were warning women not to wear them. Unfortunately, only sensible gals like Emily listened. You’d think more women would have realized, “Gee, I can’t breathe. I keep fainting…”


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