Emily Jane Bronte

3 Nov

It is rare among authors accomplished in two disparate genres to see both their accomplishments receive equal acknowledgement. Robert Louis Stevenson’s essays are often urbane and stimulating, but we would sooner invoke the presence of a “Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” than a “Stevenson, author of Virginibus Puerisque D.H. Lawrence wrote very good poetry, but will almost always be thought of as “D.H. Lawrence,  novelist” before we recall the existence of “D.H. Lawrence, poet”.  Appreciation is somewhat more evenly distributed across the two spheres in Thomas Hardy’s case, but again it could be said that the memory of the novelist overtakes that of the poet.

So it is with Emily Jane Bronte. The achievement of Wuthering Heights so overshadows everything else she published that her poetry sometimes goes unread. But her best poems – “No coward soul is mine”; “Long neglect has worn away”; “Often rebuked, yet always back returning” – are equally deserving of attention.

The last is probably my favourite of her poems. “What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?” In this poem at least, what is worth revealing is all there, “Often rebuked, yet always back returning”. It’s a startling achievement:

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 moment 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.

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