Emily Bronte by Arthur Symons
This was a woman young and passionate,
Loving the Earth, and loving most to be
Where she might be alone with liberty;
Loving the beasts, who are compassionate;
The homeless moors, her home; the bright elate
Winds of the cold dawn; rock and stone and tree;
Night, bringing dreams out of eternity;
And memory of Death's unforgetting date.
She too was unforgetting: has she yet
Forgotten that long agony when her breath
Too fierce for living fanned the flame of death?
Earth for her heather, does she now forget
What pity knew not in her love from scorn,
And that it was an unjust thing to be born?
The Stoic in woman has been seen once only, and that in the only
woman in whom there has been seen the paradox of passion without
sensuousness. Emily Brontë lived with an unparalleled energy a life of
outward quiet, in a loneliness which she shared only with the moors and
with the animals whom she loved. She required no passion-experience to
endow her with more than a memory of passion. Passion was alive in her
as flame is alive in the earth. And the vehemence of that inner fire
fed on itself, and wore out her body before its time, because it had no
respite and no outlet. We see her condemned to self-imprisonment, and
dying of too much life.
Her poems are few and brief, and nothing more personal has ever been
written. A few are as masterly in execution as in conception, and
almost all have a direct truth of utterance, which rarely lacks at
least the bare beauty of muscle and sinew, of a kind of naked strength
and alertness. They are without heat or daylight, the sun is rarely in
them, and then 'blood-red'; light comes as starshine, or comes as
That does not warm but burn.
At times the landscape in this bare, grey, craggy verse, always a
landscape of Yorkshire moors, with its touches of stern and tender
memory, 'The mute bird sitting on the stone,' 'A little and a lone
green lane,' has a quality more thrilling than that of Wordsworth.
There is none of his observation, and none of his sense of a benignant
'presence far more deeply interfused'; but there is the voice of the
heart's roots, crying out to its home in the earth.
At first this unornamented verse may seem forbidding, may seem even
to be ordinary, as an actual moorland may, to those for whom it has no
special attraction. But in the verse, as on the moors, there is space,
wind, and the smell of the earth; and there is room to be alone, that
liberty which this woman cried for when she cried:
Leave the heart that now I bear,
And give me liberty.
To be alone was for her to be alone with 'a chainless soul,' which
asked of whatever powers might be only 'courage to endure,' constancy
not to forget, and the right to leave the door wide open to those
visions that came to her out of mere fixed contemplation: 'the God of
Visions,' as she called her imagination, 'my slave, my comrade, and my
king.' And we know that her courage was flawless, heroic, beyond
praise; that she forgot nothing, not even that love for her unspeakable
brother, for whom she has expressed in two of her poems a more than
masculine magnanimity of pity and contempt; and that at all times she
could turn inward to that world within, where her imagination waited
Where thou, and I, and Liberty
Have undisputed sovereignty.
Yet even imagination, though 'benignant,' is to her a form of
'phantom bliss' to which she will not trust herself wholly. 'So
hopeless is the world without': but is the world within ever quite
frankly accepted as a substitute, as a truer reality? She is always on
her guard against imagination as against the outer world, whose 'lies'
she is resolved shall not 'beguile' her. She has accepted reason as the
final arbiter, and desires only to see clearly, to see things as they
are. She really believed that
Earth reserves no blessing
For the unblest of heaven;
and she had an almost Calvinistic sense of her own condemnation to
unhappiness. That being so, she was suspicious of those opportunities
of joy which did come to her, or at least resolute not to believe too
implicitly in the good messages of the stars, which might be mere
dreams, or of the earth, which was only certainly kind in preparing for
her that often-thought-of grave. 'No coward soul is mine' is one of her
true sayings; but it was with difficulty that she trusted even that
message of life which she seemed to discover in death. She has to
assure herself of it, again and again: 'Who once lives, never dies!'
And that sense of personal identity which aches throughout all her
poems is a sense, not of the delight, but of the pain and ineradicable
sting of personal identity.
Her poems are all outcries, as her great novel, Wuthering Heights, is one long outcry. A soul on the rack seems to make itself heard at
moments, when suffering has grown too acute for silence. Every poem is
as if torn from her. Even when she does not write seemingly in her own
person, the subjects are such disguises as 'The Prisoner,' 'Honour's
Martyr,' 'The Outcast Mother,' echoes of all the miseries and useless
rebellions of the earth. She spells over the fading characters in dying
faces, unflinchingly, with an austere curiosity; and looks closely into
the eyes of shame, not dreading what she may find there. She is always
arguing with herself, and the answers are inflexible, the answers of a
clear intellect which rebels but accepts defeat. Her doubt is itself an
affirmation, her defiance would be an entreaty but for the 'quenchless
will' of her pride. She faces every terror, and to her pained
apprehension birth and death and life are alike terrible. Only
Webster's dirge might have been said over her coffin.
What my soul bore my soul alone
Within itself may tell,
she says truthfully; but some of that long endurance of her life, in
which exile, the body's weakness, and a sense of some 'divinest
anguish' which clung about the world and all things living, had their
share, she was able to put into ascetic and passionate verse. It is
sad-coloured and desolate, but when gleams of sunlight or of starlight
pierce the clouds that hang generally above it, a rare and stormy
beauty comes into the bare outlines, quickening them with living