By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Although she is best-known for her one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), Emily Brontë started out as a poet and left behind some widely anthologised pieces of verse.
Below are eight of the shortest and sweetest of the poems she wrote before her untimely death, from tuberculosis, at just 30 years of age. The two great poems we haven’t included are ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’ and ‘Remembrance’, because they’re slightly longer; but you can read ‘Remembrance’ here and ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’ here.
1. ‘All hushed and still within the house’.
This is a short piece, almost a fragment. The powerful two-word phrase ‘Never again’ and its near-synonyms (consider Edgar Allan Poe’s use of ‘Nevermore’ in ‘The Raven’) is put to effective use in this seven-line verse:
All hushed and still within the house;
Without – all wind and driving rain;
But something whispers to my mind,
Through rain and through the wailing wind,
Never again? Why not again?
Memory has power as real as thine.
2. ‘O come with me’.
This is an even shorter poem, a single quatrain, more of a fragment than a complete poem – but rather pleasing nevertheless:
O come with me, thus ran the song,
The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky,
And thou hast toiled and laboured long
With aching head and weary eye.
3. ‘Had there been falsehood in my breast’.
And this one is just four lines, too. Although like the previous poem it’s somewhat fragmentary, it stands as a more successful self-contained little poem. Written in around 1843, it wasn’t published until the early twentieth century.
Had there been falsehood in my breast
No thorns had marred my road,
This spirit had not lost its rest,
These tears had never flowed.
4. ‘She dried her tears, and they did smile’.
Talking of tears, the following eight-line poem could rival Tennyson’s famous song ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ for the sheer amount of weeping going on:
She dried her tears, and they did smile
To see her cheeks’ returning glow;
Nor did discern how all the while
That full heart throbbed to overflow.
With that sweet look and lively tone,
And bright eye shining all the day,
They could not guess, at midnight lone
How she would weep the time away.
5. ‘What winter floods, what showers of spring’.
Tears feature again in the following wintry poem, which once again shows Brontë’s skill with the quatrain form.
What winter floods, what showers of spring
Have drenched the grass by night and day;
And yet, beneath, that spectre ring,
Unmoved and undiscovered lay
A mute remembrancer of crime,
Long lost, concealed, forgot for years,
It comes at last to cancel time,
And waken unavailing tears.
6. ‘Long neglect has worn away’.
And from that we turn to a slightly more famous Brontë poem, about lost love:
Long neglect has worn away
Half the sweet enchanting smile;
Time has turned the bloom to grey;
Mould and damp the face defile.
But that lock of silky hair,
Still beneath the picture twined,
Tells what once those features were,
Paints their image on the mind.
Fair the hand that traced that line,
‘Dearest, ever deem me true’;
Swiftly flew the fingers fine
When the pen that motto drew.
7. ‘It will not shine again’.
You’re probably detecting a theme, or a few themes, by now: love, loss, and sorrow. The next poem is perhaps the shortest (though hardly the sweetest) of all of Emily Brontë’s poems.
It will not shine again:
Its sad course is done;
I have seen the last ray wane
Of the cold, bright sun.
8. ‘I know not how it falls on me’.
From the sun to a summer’s evening – this final poem sounds a familiarly sorrowful note.
I know not how it falls on me,
This summer evening, hushed and lone;
Yet the faint wind comes soothingly
With something of an olden tone.
Forgive me if I’ve shunned so long
Your gentle greeting, earth and air!
But sorrow withers even the strong,
And who can fight against despair?
For a good edition of Emily Brontë’s complete poems, the Penguin edition The Complete Poems (Classics) is the one to get. It contains all of her poems plus very helpful background information and annotations.