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A Short Analysis of Emily Bronte’s ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’

A summary of a classic poem

When Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell was published in 1846, it initially sold just two copies. The authors of the poems, better known as Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë, had published the volume in the hope of raising some much-needed cash, but it was not to be. Copies were sent to established poets, including William Wordsworth, but none of them wrote back to the then unknown Brontë siblings. Included in the volume was the following poem by Emily Brontë (1818-1848), best known for her novel Wuthering Heights but also a gifted poet. ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’ wonderfully showcases Emily’s dauntless and elemental spirit, as the following brief analysis is designed to show.

No Coward Soul Is Mine

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.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life – that in me hast rest,
As I – Undying Life – have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though Earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every Existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou – Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

In summary, Brontë’s speaker asserts that her soul is not afraid because her faith in heaven arms her against fear. Her relationship with God is a reciprocal one: God has ‘rest’ or welcome within her soul, and in return she has ‘Power Emily Brontein Thee’. The ‘thousand creeds’ which most men believe in are ‘unutterably vain’ – with ‘vain’ carrying the double meaning of both ‘egotistical’ and ‘fruitless’. They are no stronger than the ‘idlest froth’ or foam of the sea, the ‘boundless main’: short-lived, constantly changing, inconsequential and insubstantial. No, what really awakens one’s sense of God, what really strengthens one in the face of life’s hardships, is not creeds or religious beliefs but a more elemental faith or trust in Gods, rather than in the tenets of organised religion. This is a very personal relationship, founded deeply on the core Protestant idea of a personal sense of God.

In the penultimate stanza, Brontë writes:

Though Earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every Existence would exist in Thee.

– In essence, even if the material world and universe (indeed, universes, plural: Emily Brontë seems to have been one of the first to advocate the multiverse theory) should all disappear and only God remained, every soul would be able to exist within God. The Almighty is all that is required. And because God is everything living and within everything living, everything that lives is, effectively, eternal, since God is eternal. Brontë’s concept of God is boundless, the scope of her poem infinite.

‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’ remains probably Emily Brontë’s most famous and best-loved poem. It’s even rumoured that Emily Dickinson asked for ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’ to be read at her funeral (and certainly the similarities between Dickinson’s poems and some of the Brontës’ are striking). In the last analysis, though, Brontë’s is a distinctive poetic voice, and nowhere is this more apparent than in this poem.

Image: Emily Brontë, portrait by Branwell Brontë, via Wikimedia Commons.

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About interestingliterature

A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on July 8, 2016, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. What a brave, dauntless soul she was! You get a sense of her unflinching honesty in reading ‘Wuthering Heights’. When I was a teenager and struggling with my feelings of dislocation and despair – this was a poem I regularly turned to. Thank you so much for your fine analysis:)

  2. Reblogged this on Jude's Threshold and commented:
    Emily Bronte’s natal data is only rated C for ‘accuracy in question’ (born July 30, 1818 2:49 pm LMT Thornton, UK) but a quick look makes her chart seem plausible. Currently transit Mars adorns and activates her natal Ascendant (the lady herself) while the transit Jupiter-North Node plays around her Virgo Midheaven (Career Point). Check out her chart if you wish: http://www.astro.com/astro-databank/Bronte,_Emily along w/ this excellent post:

  1. Pingback: 8 Short Poems by Emily Brontë Everyone Should Read | Interesting Literature

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