Archive for May 12th, 2012

“I can live alone, if self-respect and circumstances require me so to do. I need not sell my soul to buy bliss. I have an inward treasure, born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld; or offered only at a price I cannot afford to pay” —-Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

‘An you’ll be a bit o’company for me too, miss … I like as I feel lonesome without my cat … [there was] Mr Weston, with the identical cat in his arms. I now saw that he could smile, and very pleasantly too … not twelve months ago I lost the last and dearest of my early friends; and yet, not only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort, even for this life … —-Anne Bronte, Agnes Grey

Charlotte Bronte by George Richmond

Anne Bronte by Charlotte Bronte

Dear friends and readers,

As a follow-up and continuation of my discussion of Mary Brunton’s Self-Control, I thought a brief foremother poet blog presenting some of the poetry of Charlotte and Anne Bronte would be fitting. Emily’s (1818-48) poetry is well-known and done justice to; her sisters’ verse not as much. I begin with Anne as her work is often not reprinted except with her novels.


John Constable (1776-1837), Autumn Sunset

Anne Bronte lived but 29 years. She seems to me a poet of autumn. In her novels (Agnes Grey and Tenant of Wildfell Hall), her tone is bleak, she often feels hopeless when confronted with the inhumanity of her employers and allowed brutality of their children; in her poetry there is much sweetness, and


Though bleak these woods and damp the ground
With fallen leaves so thickly strewn,
And cold the wind that wanders round
With wild and melancholy moan,
There is a friendly roof I know
Might shield me from the wintry blast;
There is a fire whose ruddy glow
Will cheer me for my wanderings past.

And so, though still where’er I roam
Cold stranger glances meet my eye,
Though when my spirit sinks in woe
Unheeded swells the unbidden sigh,

Though solitude endured too long
Bids youthful joys too soon decay,
Makes mirth a stranger to my tongue
And overclouds my noon of day,

When kindly thoughts that would have way
Flow back discouraged to my breast
I know there is, though far away
A home where heart and soul may rest.

Warm hands are there that clasped in mine
The warmer heart will not belie,
While mirth and truth and friendship shine
In smiling lip and earnest eye.

The ice that gathers round my heart
May there be thawed; and sweetly then
The joys of youth that now depart
Will come to cheer my soul again.

Though far I roam, this thought shall be
My hope, my comfort everywhere;
While such a home remains to me
My heart shall never know despair.

[My feeling is this is autobiographical and refers to those times she was sent away to school and to the period of governessing which she was not alone in hating as an occupation; paid companion was just as bad.]

Lines composed in a wood on a windy day

MY soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves, beneath them, are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky.

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
And hear the wild roar of their thunder today!

[It’s tempting to compare it to her sister Emily’s acerbic and grim lines, but that usually ends in seeing Anne as weaker. It’s rather she has a different more open voice. This last occurs in Agnes Grey within a moment of hope in the book:]

The Bluebell

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil –
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.

‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

A fine selection may be found in Anne Bronte: Agnes Grey and Poems, introd. Anne Smith (Everyman, 1985).


William Turner (1789-1862), Drachenfels (1817)

By contrast, Charlotte’s poems are far more visionary, passionate; they have complicated ethical statements.

Sigh no more-it is a dream
So vivid that it looks like life.

Fast, fast as snow-flakes, fled the legions,
And the heart throbs, the blood runs fast
As gathering in from many regions
Returns the scattered, faded Past.

Under the rubric, “O that word never, December 23rd:”

NOT many years, but long enough to see
No foe can deal such deadly misery
As the dear friend untimely called away
And still the more beloved, the greater still
Must be the aching void, the withering chill
Of each dark night and dim beclouded day.

THE Nurse believed the sick man slept,
     For motionless he lay.
She rose and from the bedside crept
     With cautious step away.

HOW far is night advanced? Oh, when will day
Reveal the vanished outline of my room?
I fear not yet — for not a glimmer grey
Steals through the familiar blank and solid gloom
Which shuts me in — would I could sleep away
The hours — till, skies all flushed with morning’s
Shall open clear and red and cheer with light

Like wolf — and black bull or goblin hound,
     Or come in guise of spirit
With wings and long wet waving hair
And at the fire its locks will dry,
     Which will be certain sign
That one beneath the roof must die
     Before the year’s decline.

Forget not now what I have said,
     Sit there till we return.
The hearth is hot-watch well the bread
     Lest haply it may burn.

At first I did attention give,
Observance-deep esteem;
His frown I failed not to forgive,
His smile — a boon to deem.

Attention rose to interest soon,
Respect to homage changed;
The smile became a relived [?] boon,
The frown like grief estranged.

The interest ceased not with his voice,
The homage tracked [?] him near.
Obedience was my heart’s free choice
Whate’ er his mood severe [?].

His praise infrequent — favours rare,
Unruly deceivers [?] grew.
1And too much power a haunting fear
Around his anger threw.

His coming was my hope each day,
His parting was my pain.
The chance that did his steps delay
Was ice in every vein.

I gave entire affection now,
I gave devotion sure
And strong took root and fast did grow
One mighty feeling more.

The truest love that ever heart
Felt at its kindled core
     Through my veins with quickened start
     A tide of life did pour.

[A] halo played about the brows
Of life as seen by me,
     And trailing [?] bliss within me rose,
     And anxious ecstacy.

     I dreamed it would be nameless bliss
     As I loved loved to be,
And to this object did I press
     As blind as eagerly.

But wild and pathless was the space
     That lay our lives between,
     And dangerous as the foaming race
Of ocean’s surges green,

     And haunted as a robber path
     Through wilderness or wood,
     For might and right, woe and wrath
     Between our spirits stood.

I dangers dared, I hindrance scorned
     I omens did defy;
     Whatever menaced, harassed, warned
     I passed impetuous by.

On sped my rainbow fast as light,
I flew as in a dream,
     For glorious rose upon my sight
     That child of shower and gleam,

And bright on clouds of suffering dim
     Shone that soft solemn joy.
     I care not then how dense and grim
     Disasters gather nigh.

I care not in this moment sweet,
     Though all I have rushed o’er
Should come on pinion strong and fleet
     Proclaiming vengeance sore.

Hate struck me in his presence down,
     Love barred approach to me,
     My rival’s joy with jealous frown
     Declared hostility.

Wrath leagued with calumny transfused
     Strong poison in his veins
     And I stood at his feet accused
     Of false [ -] strains

Cold as a statue’s grew his eye,
Hard as a rock his brow,
     Cold hard to me-but tenderly
     He kissed my rival now.

She seemed my rainbow to have seized,
     Around her form it closed,
And soft its iris splendour blazed
     Where love and she reposed.

This, The Teacher’s Monologue, shows a working out of painful thought:

The room is quiet, thoughts alone
     People its mute tranquillity;
The yoke put off, the long task done,—
     I am, as it is bliss to be,
Still and untroubled. Now, I see,
     For the first time, how soft the day
O’er waveless water, stirless tree,
    &nbps; Silent and sunny, wings its way.
Now, as I watch that distant hill,
     So faint, so blue, so far removed,
Sweet dreams of home my heart may fill,
     That home where I am known and loved:
It lies beyond; yon azure brow
     Parts me from all Earth holds for me;
And, morn and eve, my yearnings flow
     Thitherward tending, changelessly.
My happiest hours, ay! all the time,
     I love to keep in memory,
Lapsed among moors, ere life’s first prime
     Decayed to dark anxiety.

Sometimes, I think a narrow heart
     Makes me thus mourn those far away,
And keeps my love so far apart
     From friends and friendships of to-day;
Sometimes, I think ’tis but a dream
     I treasure up so jealously,
All the sweet thoughts I live on seem
     To vanish into vacancy:
And then, this strange, coarse world around
     Seems all that’s palpable and true;
And every sight and every sound
     Combines my spirit to subdue
To aching grief; so void and lone
     Is Life and Earth—so worse than vain,
The hopes that, in my own heart sown,
     And cherished by such sun and rain
As Joy and transient Sorrow shed,
     Have ripened to a harvest there:
Alas! methinks I hear it said,
     ‘Thy golden sheaves are empty air.’
All fades away; my very home
     I think will soon be desolate;
I hear, at times, a warning come
     Of bitter partings at its gate;
And, if I should return and see
     The hearth-fire quenched, the vacant chair;
And hear it whispered mournfully,
    &npsp; That farewells have been spoken there,
What shall I do, and whither turn?
Where look for peace? When cease to mourn?

‘Tis not the air I wished to play,
     The strain I wished to sing;
My wilful spirit slipped away
     And struck another string.
I neither wanted smile nor tear,
     Bright joy nor bitter woe,
But just a song that sweet and clear,
     Though haply sad, might flow.

A quiet song, to solace me
     When sleep refused to come;
A strain to chase despondency
     When sorrowful for home.
In vain I try; I cannot sing;
     All feels so cold and dead;
No wild distress, no gushing spring
     Of tears in anguish shed;

But all the impatient gloom of one
     Who waits a distant day,
When, some great task of suffering done,
     Repose shall toil repay.
For youth departs, and pleasure flies,
     And life consumes away,
And youth’s rejoicing ardour dies
     Beneath this drear delay;

And Patience, weary with her yoke,
     Is yielding to despair,
And Health’s elastic spring is broke
     Beneath the strain of care.
Life will be gone ere I have lived;
     Where now is Life’s first prime?
I’ve worked and studied, longed and grieved,
     Through all that rosy time.

To toil, to think, to long, to grieve,—
     Is such my future fate?
The morn was dreary, must the eve
     Be also desolate?
Well, such a life at least makes Death
     A welcome, wished-for friend;
Then, aid me, Reason, Patience, Faith,
      To suffer to the end!

[It’s a poem by Charlotte Bronte expressing her real feelings in finding herself among deeply uncongenial people as a teacher in a school of the era, most of them then dedicated to teaching conformity in outward life and “accomplishments” and rote learning to impress others. I like the long opening especially. It falls off in the last two stanzas. I remember how more than ambivalent were the feelings of Jane Eyre about her students in the last part of the famous book, and also the power of the bitterness of Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey. I’ve been watching Jane Eyre films the past couple of weeks or so (1973 mini-series and again the 1983 one, the 2006 one — superb that last one too, by a team of women), also Kathryn Hughes’s Victorian Governess (how the job search then is like many today, and the experience afterwards too).

I was interested to see that in Chadwyck-Healey, a note told the reader as a matter of course, this is not good poetry. The assumption seemed to be that it’s bad because it tells the truth about the very real negative aspects of teaching and social life and depression, loneliness. Maybe too it’s not liked because it’s what Annie Finch calls “poetess” poetry, a poetry showing dwelling in sensitivity.]

by Charlotte Brontë

Long ago I wished to leave
“The house where I was born; ”
Long ago I used to grieve,
My home seemed so forlorn.
In other years, its silent rooms
Were filled with haunting fears;
Now, their very memory comes
O’ercharged with tender tears.

Life and marriage I have known,
Things once deemed so bright;
Now, how utterly is flown
Every ray of light !
‘Mid the unknown sea of life
I no blest isle have found;
At last, through all its wild wave’s strife,
My bark is homeward bound.

Farewell, dark and rolling deep !
Farewell, foreign shore !
Open, in unclouded sweep,
Thou glorious realm before !
Yet, though I had safely pass’d
That weary, vexed main,
One loved voice, through surge and blast,
Could call me back again.

Though the soul’s bright morning rose
O’er Paradise for me,
William ! even from Heaven’s repose
I’d turn, invoked by thee !
Storm nor surge should e’er arrest
My soul, exulting then:
All my heaven was once thy breast,
Would it were mine again!

[The sadness and isolation from others recall Bronte’s Villette. And the longing to be with those who have passed on, so poignant.]


Emily Bronte by Branwell Bronte (the brother who also died young)

This one is said to be by both Emily and Charlotte:

The Visionary

Silent is the house; all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o’er the snow-wreaths deep;
Wathing every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the wildering drift, and bends the groaning trees.

Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Nor one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far:
I trim it well, to be the wanderer’s guiding-star.

Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame;
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame:
But neither sire nor dame, nor prying serf shall know,
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.

What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
What 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.

      (Written 1845, published 1850).

See Selected Bronte Poems, ed. Edward Chitham (Blackwell, 1985).


The 1983 Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton as Rochester and Zelah Clarke as Jane is very good (see The Latest Jane Eyre)

Of course I love their novels too as well as most of the film adaptations thus far. I can’t think of one I don’t like.

There are so many sites, so many books and essays, so much is known that I won’t repeat a potted life once more, but shall confine myself to referring the reader to the Victorian Web for Charlotte; and University of Pennyslvia and the Literary Gothic for Anne. One of the finest biographies is still Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte; Maria Frawley’s Anne Bronte is a gem. A good book which treats Anne as her sisters’ equal: Julie Nash & Barbara A. Suess’s New Approaches to the Art of Anne Bronte. It’s telling to know that George Moore admired Anne Bronte. And don’t miss Daphne DuMaurier’s on The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte.

Landscape from Sandy Welch’s 2005 Jane Eyre (On Never Tiring)


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