Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Emily Brontë: ". . . in evening's quiet hour . . ."

Emily Jane Brontë, portrait by her brother, Branwell

My favorite novel of all time is Wuthering Heights. I can't remember how many times I've read it over the years.

However, I also love the poetry of Emily Brontë.  Her most anthologized poems being "No Coward Soul is Mine", "Remembrance" and "I Am the Only Being Whose Doom".

In her book The Brontës (London: Thames and Hudson, 1969), Phyllis Bentley has this to say:
Emily Brontë was a 'space-sweeping soul', to use her own phrase about a philosopher; her thought on life, death, immortality, imagination, liberty, deity, had a depth and a breadth of vision comparable to that of Wordsworth or Shakespeare.

It has been the fashion to speak of her as a metaphysical poet, but I prefer to call her a pantheist; she saw the universe as a whole, and her vision comprehended the lark, the woolly sheep, the snowy glen, the nature of being and God Himself as all part of one great harmony. Nor can her thought be called speculative; she writes with a majestic, almost casual, certainty. These tremendous themes, these minute observations, are both conveyed with an absolute simplicity of language; no purple patches of metaphor or simile, no elaboration of construction, no experiments with metre -- one feels Emily would have thought any such artifices contemptibly vulgar. She merely says what she means in the clearest, hardest hitting terms she can find. But if her metres are conventional and her words austere, her rhythms have a poetry so intense as to be deeply thrilling, in the most literal sense of that expression.

by Emily Brontë

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost, and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While then canst speak with such a tone!

So hopeless is the world without;
The world within I doubly prize;
Thy world, where guile, and hate, and doubt,
And cold suspicion never rise;
Where thou, and I, and Liberty,
Have undisputed sovereignty.

What matters it, that all around
Danger, and guilt, and darkness lie,
If but within our bosom’s bound
We hold a bright, untroubled sky,
Warm with ten thousand mingled rays
Of suns that know no winter days?

Reason, indeed, may oft complain
For Nature’s sad reality,
And tell the suffering heart how vain
Its cherished dreams must always be;
And Truth may rudely trample down
The flowers of Fancy, newly-blown:

But thou art ever there, to bring
The hovering vision back, and breathe
New glories o’er the blighted spring,
And call a lovelier Life from Death.
And whisper, with a voice divine,
Of real worlds, as bright as thine.

I trust not to thy phantom bliss,
Yet, still, in evening’s quiet hour,
With never-failing thankfulness,
I welcome thee, Benignant Power;
Sure solacer of human cares,
And sweeter hope, when hope despairs!

As one who has just completed a new collection of poetry, I can attest to the exhaustion writers often feel at having poured out their heart's essence. The Muse has been an infrequent visitor these past few months, and I sometimes wonder whether she will ever return on a regular basis. Emily Brontë's "To Imagination" gives me hope.



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