Emily Bronte is best known for her novel, Wuthering Heights. However, she is also an extremely talented poet. She originally published her poems under a male pseudonym alongside her sisters. I decided to read an edition that included only her poems and not the works of her sisters, so I could experience her work as a whole.
One major theme that weaves through many of her poems is that happiness and the material world cannot last, so we should place our trust in faith and the hope of the afterlife. In “anticipation” the speaker points out that the beauties and joys of the natural world are fleeting and we should place our hope in everlasting life after death. In “The Bluebell” this theme is explored again as the blue bell flower that comes with summer must give way to winter, which leads the speaker to realize summer (a symbol of our joy) and beauty cannot last forever, causing the speaker to feel that even if the blue bell were to reappear and the lost sun return after winter she could no longer find cheer in them. The recognition of their temporality brings only sadness. In “Death” the poet presents an extended metaphor of a tree representing a life passing through time. Spring returns after winter to bring new hope, but the speaker wishes her tree would just wither and return to its eternal roots. In “Encouragement” this theme is explored yet again, but in the context of the speaker comforting a sister over the death of their mother.
Remember still, she is not dead;
She sees us, sister, now;
Laid, where her angel spirit fled,
’Mid heath and frozen snow.
And from that world of heavenly light
Will she not always bend
To guide us in our lifetime’s night,
And guard us to the end?
Thou knowest she will; and thou mayst mourn
That WE are left below:
But not that she can ne’er return
To share our earthly woe.
The speaker tries to comfort her sister by convincing her that their mother still watches over them from heaven and is in a better place. Her fate is more enviable because she no longer needs to “share [their] earthly woe.”
“No Coward’s Soul is Mine” is probably one of Bronte’s best poems and favorite of Emily Dickinson.
“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.”
She apparently wanted it to be read at her funeral. Even of the sound of the poem reminds me of something Emily Dickinson might write. It is another poem about being fearless in the face of death because of a belief that an afterlife awaits. In the “Night-Wind” the wind outside on a winter’s night brings about thoughts of life and death.
“Thus truly, when that breast is cold,
Thy prisoned soul shall rise;
The dungeon mingle with the mould—
The captive with the skies.
Nature’s deep being, thine shall hold,
Her spirit all thy spirit fold,
Her breath absorb thy sighs.
Mortal! though soon life’s tale is told;
Who once lives, never dies!”
The speaker comes to accept death because of her belief that it will lead to her immortality. The immortality is more ambiguous here, it seems less religious than previous iterations of this theme and can be seen as we are immortal in that we return to nature and life goes on for others.
Another theme that Bronte explores in many of her poems is choosing one’s own path and ignoring the expectations of society. This theme can be seen especially in the poem, “Honor’s Martyr,” which tells the tale of a lover who abandons her sleeping loved one and considers the scorn she will receive from the outside world for her decisions, but justifies her actions with the belief that she must be true to herself and there is no joy and rest to be found in this world. Likewise the poem “Hope” anthropomorphizes Hope as a figure that abandons the speaker when she truly needs it. The poem reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” but that poem offers the opposite take (i.e. hope is the one thing when have when we’re in desperate straits).
There are quite a few other poems dealing with other topics. Some deal with love (especially false or superficial vows of love), others friendship. Nature motifs is a reoccurring feature of the poems. She really is a talented poet..