Emily Jane Bronte did not write her poems for publication. They contained her private thoughts and emotions intended for herself alone. Charlotte discovered the poems and persuaded her to submit them for publication, in a book containing the work of all three Bronte sisters, using the male pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.
Her poems make painful reading, reflecting the love, loss and sorrow she experienced in her young life. In one poem, Emily decides that life has passed her by and says she has no friends. “As friendless after eighteen years, As lone as on my natal day” Sadly her two elder sisters Maria and Elizabeth lay buried in the graveyard, which her bedroom overlooked.
They had died from tuberculosis after being sent away to school. Her mother was also buried there. Emily said that she hid these sad feelings well “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.”
Emily never wanted to leave home and had to return from Belgium, where she went for tuition with Charlotte, due to homesickness. At the Rectory she busied herself with helping the family servant Tabby with housework, and walking on the Moors with her dog Keeper. Secretly there were the poems she was writing, which although she couldn’t know it, secured her a place in English Literature.
This was even before the publication of her novel Wuthering Heights in 1847. The poems were published in 1846, three years before her death, at the age of thirty in 1848.
Her love of the moors and her home is expressed in her poetry “The Bluebell is the sweetest flower, That waves in summer air” and But what on earth is half so dear, So longed for as the hearth of home”
Despite these deep attachments, Emily’s poems have dark undertones. She says “Sleep brings no rest to me, The shadows of the dead, My waking eyes may never see, Surround my bed” In the poem “The Philosopher” she longs for a sign “Had I but seen his glorious eye ONCE light the clouds that wilder me, I ne’re had raised this cowards cry, To cease to think and cease to be” At this point Emily may have had suicidal ideation. She certainly longs for death to end her hidden sufferings and join the loved ones, who are buried, often deep in snow covered graves in the churchyard. Thankfully in the poem Remembrance, Emily seems to turn a corner and decides to go on with life, despite their loss, but still fears that loving memories will make life seem empty. In the poem “No coward soul is mine” Emily resolutely declares her faith.
My own favourite poem is one in which Emily celebrates the power of memory:-
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.