Friday, 27 May 2011

Back to Basics - Emily Bronte

Most people know Emily Bronte for her book 'Wuthering Hights'. I loved 'WH', because unlike 'Jane Eyre' for example, Emily's characters are wild and alive.  But, just like her sisters, she also wrote poetry.I think I prefer her poetry to Anne's or Charlotte's. And I lover her pen name, Ellis Bell. Here is one of her poems.


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 those 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.

I think unlike Charlotte, who craved recognition and fame, the 'busy chase of wealth' wasn't attracting to Emily. When Charlotte discovered her poems she was furious at first, because she saw it as an intrusion in her privacy. With the help of Anne, Charlotte finally convinced her. Thankfully, because I really like this poem.

I think Emily is talking about her writing in this poem. That 'unreal world' could be a link to fantasy, to this world filled with 'half-distinguish'd faces' and 'old heroic traces'. Everyone is inspired by something and it might be that Emily was inspired by these old heroic tales of knights and damsels in distress. I think you could find a connection to 'Wuthering Heights' in there. Heathcliffe is this strong character, perhaps not exactly knightly and heroic, but he does have this great sense for melodrama. And Catherine, in my memory, does have the tendency to pretend to be a damsel in distress and have Heathcliffe safe her.

I think her reluctance to 'choose another guide' than her 'own nature' is perhaps caused by her being reluctant to publish her own work. She published 'WH' as a part of a three-novel bundle and didn't have it republished on its own. Charlotte was the one who did this two years after Emily's death. 'Those first feelings that were born with me', this sentence seems to describe her urges to write. She did write poems secretly, so did Anne. She didn't want anyone to read them, but she returned to these writings over and over again. She writes she did it 'for idle dreams of things which cannot be'. Perhaps she never truly believed she could or would publish. Unfortunately she only lived for 30 years and was never able to witness how her book became an English classic.

So what are your thoughts on the poem and on Emily?

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