Here is an untitled poem by Emily Brontë
The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.
The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow;
The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.
Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.
Cathy read this poem to us at our First Literary Meeting in January.
I love this gloomy, dark atmosphere of Emily Brontë. She is of course best known for having written Wuthering Heights — hard to get any scarier with the Brontë sisters, huh? 🙂
Emily was born in England in 1818 and was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings. They were originally five siblings. Maria and Elizabeth died during their childhood during a typhoid epidemics at a boarding school. The living conditions in the 1900’s were not that great, and on top of it, the two girls suffered abuse and deprivation at school. Many of such punishments Charlotte Brontë later described in “Jane Eyre“, one of my favorite books.
The three remaining sisters and their brother were then educated at home by their father and an aunt. Their father was a very strict Irish clergyman. He would work in his office during the day and force the children to be silent the entire time, gathered in an adjacent room.
Maybe that was good after all. The kids, probably all bored to death, were surrounded by books. They had access to a wide range of published material, including pieces by Sir Walter Scott, Byron, Shelley, and Blackwood’s Magazine, some of their favorites.
The Brontë brother, Bramwell, had a box of toy soldiers he had received as a gift, and that was the vessel for them to start writing all sorts of stories and poems about imaginary worlds where the soldiers had to fight.
The poem above that Cathy read to us takes place in one of the imaginary worlds Emily created — I’m guessing probably Gondal, a fictional island whose myths and legends made Emily and Anne’s imagination run amok throughout their lives. Unfortunately, most of the kids’ writing on those world weren’t preserved, except for Emily’s Gondal poems and Anne’s lists of Gondal’s characters and place-names.
Emily believed that her health, like her sisters’, had been weakened by the harsh local climate and by unsanitary conditions at home, the source of water being contaminated by runoff from the church’s graveyard. (May that have been another source of dark inspiration in their lives?)
She caught a severe cold during the funeral of her brother in September 1848 and was soon showing symptoms of tuberculosis. (Let me say that what was called “consumption” or tuberculosis back in the day does not originate from catching a cold. It’s transmitted by inhaling airborne droplets of mucus or saliva carrying this bacterium. But contaminated people can go long periods of time after the infection without symptoms, and developing the disease later on when the immune system becomes weak.)
Her condition worsened steadily, and she rejected medical help and all available remedies, saying that she would have “no poisoning doctor” near her. She died in 1848, less than three months since Bramwell’s death. Some people say that she died of a broken heart for love of her brother.
Emily Brontë never knew the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, as she died a year after its publication, aged 30. I keep wondering what other amazing books and poems we would be reading today if Emily — if all the Brontë siblings had lived longer. They were such prolific writers, and so talented.
They all needed more time. All of us need more time. There are so many stories to be written and read.