Emily Bronte is a Victorian female writer perhaps best known for her novel Wuthering Heights. However, she also published several poems, many of which are recognized today for their powerful emotion and distinct voice so unlike the poetic voice of the other female poets of her day.
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Her poetry was primarily written sometime before 1845 and would perhaps never have seen publication had it not been for her sister, Charlotte Bronte’s, finding them in 1845. “Of course, I was not surprised, knowing that she could and did write verse: I looked it over, and something more than surprise seized me, – a deep conviction that these were not common effusions, not at all like the poetry women generally write. I thought them condensed and terse, vigorous and genuine. To my ear, they had also a peculiar music – wild, melancholy, and elevating” (Charlotte Bronte cited in Jack, 1988, p. 359). Within her writing, Emily revealed a close affinity with nature and a dichotomous worldview; she saw everything in terms of balanced oppositions.
She was also strongly influenced by the many tragedies she experienced in her lifetime, losing her mother at age 3 and her two older sisters at age 7. Although much of her life was spent at the family home, she was avidly interested in the intellectual study, particularly in the literature coming out of Germany. Her poem “Remembrance” is a perfect example of the many ways in which the German literary tradition, itself strongly influenced by music, influenced the way in which Emily Bronte expressed her particular view of the world.
The poem is elegiac in nature, meaning that it is lamenting the loss of someone within the conception of a song. However, it is also affirming of life in much the same way that the music of Beethoven was at once a lament for the past as well as a beautiful expression of the living present. Beethoven’s music played a tremendous role not only in the development of Bronte’s literate thinking but also in the thinking of numerous other authors. “The German Romantic writers relied upon music as a necessary ingredient of their poetry, and even Goethe has a love-hate relationship with Beethoven, although each admired the talent of the other.
Beethoven composed several pieces of music based on Goethe’s texts” (Allen, 2005, p. 9). According to Wallace, Emily’s “assimilation of his [Beethoven’s] music and his legend in the 1840s sets in a new light the time lag between the Romantic equilibrium he achieved at the beginning of the Romantic age in music and she achieved near the end of the Romantic age in literature” (Wallace, 1986, p. 9). The primary means by which poets such as Bronte worked to incorporate the sounds of music into their written verse were through such effects as assonance and rhyme (Allen, 2005). Examples of these can be found throughout the poem. Assonance is immediately evident in the round o sound of the second quatrain (underlined): “Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover / Over the mountains, on that northern shore, / Resting their wings where heath and fern leave cover / Thy noble heart forever, evermore?” (5-8).
Assonance can be found as Bronte writes in rhyming quatrains: “Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee, / While the world’s tide is bearing me along; / Other desires and other hopes beset me, / Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!” (13-16) in which she follows an abab pattern. This pattern of smoothing matching sounds throughout the structure of the poem contributes to the establishment of its rhythm and the music within the written words.
Emily Bronte wrote her poetry with a definite idea of the type of rhythm she wished it to have. The lines of the poem have a tendency to follow one of Bronte’s favorite rhythms in that there are typically four stressed beats per line. “From a purely formal point of view … the rhythm finally resulting from the combination of four-beat lines in four-line stanzas with alternating rhymes tends to impart to poetry a smooth sense of cyclical recurrence” (Veronese, 2003, p. 50).
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This consistent beat helps to establish a constant pattern that reassures and soothes even as it conveys ideas and thoughts they might be disturbing, such as a living person’s desire to be in the grave with the loved one or the concept that this same person might also wish to experience the moments they have to remain on the earth. “[Emily’s] fascination with recurrences in nature and in human lives is reflected in the repetitive chiming ballad-forms in which she mostly wrote [which] have the effect of holding the mind in a reassuring rhythmical order” (Grove, 1976: 49-50).
This repetitiveness is not only reflected in the content of the poem, with repetitions of words and phrases such as that found in lines 19-20: “All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given, / All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee” in which the first four lines of each line are identical, but also in the repetition of ideas. It is pointed out by critics such as Stevie Davies that “one of Emily’s favorite sentence-structures takes the rhetorical form of the chiasmus” (1988, p. 13).
Chiasmus is basically a form of reverse parallelism in which two different ideas are brought together to illustrate their differences with the express purpose of making a larger point.
Examples of this rhetorical device are perhaps most evident in the final stanza in which she brings together “rapturous pain” and “most divine anguish” (30-31). Through such means, the poet is able to express a greater depth of emotion difficult to define that exists outside of the bounds of language while still retaining her structural patterns and rhythms. “The recurrence of patterns of doubles in Emily Bronte’s poetry suggests that the poet recognized in binary structures a means of organizing and systematizing her approach to reality” (Veronese, 2005, p. 52). The poet, having found comfort in a repetitive rhythm and reliable rhyme is able to express deeper ideas and greater levels of thought.
The last element of music that Bronte includes in her poem is the element of motion. The poem is never permitted to stand still but must continually move on. “In grammar, the referent of action is the verb; and verbs, of movement, in particular, are dense in Emily Bronte’s poetry.
Action, movement, and dynamism embody the vitality of Nature which is contrasted to the sticky rigidity and immobility of the means of expression provided by language” (Veronese, 2005, p. 52).
Within the first stanza alone, the reader has already experienced the concepts of ‘piled’, ‘removed’, and ‘severed’.
While her thoughts “no longer hover”, the suggestion of where they might have been as they did “hover / Over the mountains, on that northern shore” (5-6) sends the reader’s thoughts drifting in this direction before being called back on ‘resting’ wings. It is notable, though, that the verbs employed in this poem are predominantly past tense, suggesting movement that once took place and takes place no longer. This makes the few present tense verbs stand out all the more – ‘resting’, ‘suffering’, ‘bearing’, ‘yearning’, ‘burning’, and ‘drinking’. In isolating these present tense verbs, the reader identifies the same kind of dualisms and patterns that have been present in other elements of the poem.
In every element of her poem, Emily Bronte incorporates the elements of music so as to provide the kind of cyclical balance she had found in nature and in the literature and music coming out of Germany. Influenced by Beethoven and the German writers who were inspired by him, Bronte adopted a lyrical approach to her poetry that depended upon sound, rhythm, and pattern as a means of conveying meaning to her reader.
Through a careful rhyme scheme at the end of each line, Bronte invokes a sense of the nursery rhyme and the comforting balance these poems typically provided. At the same time, the use of assonance within the lines further helped to augment this smooth flow of words into a song-like structure. The use of a steady rhythmic pattern is also contributory to this sense of music within the written word. The reading of the lines occurs according to a slow and formal beat in keeping with the mood of the poem and the style of her work. Bronte was not the frivolous, light-hearted writer many of her contemporaries were but was instead deeply insightful, naturally spiritual, and fully aware of how the music of her poetry might affect the reading public.
Finally, through her repetitions and patterns, Bronte is able to emphasize her rhythm even while she explores how two seemingly opposite concepts, such as utterly happy and utterly depressed, might be capable of existing at one and the same time within the same individual. By combining words that are seemingly opposites, Bronte is able to convey a sense of emotions that exist far beyond the constraints of the language and with emotion that far surpasses the ability of written language to convey, but can only be suggested. “Remembrance”, through these various techniques, demonstrates Bronte’s brilliance in incorporating the sounds and emotions of music within the written lines of her poem to convey a sense of grief – still sharp yet dulled, old but still fresh.
Allen, Maggie. “Emily Bronte and the Influence of the German Romantic Poets.” Bronte Studies. Vol. 30, N. 1, (2005), 7-10.
Bronte, Emily. “Remembrance.” Web.
Davies, Stevie. Emily Bronte. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1988.
Grove, Robin. “’It would not do’: Emily Bronte as a Poet.” The Art of Emily Bronte. A. Smith (Ed.). London: Vision and Barnes and Noble, 1976.
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Jack, Ian. “A Chronology of Emily Brontë.” Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: The World’s Classics. New York and Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1988, pp. xxvi-xxvii.
Veronese, Cosetta. “Patterns of Doubles in Emily Bronte’s Poetic World.” Bronte Studies. Vol. 28, N. 1, (2003).
Wallace, Robert K. Emily Bronte and Beethoven. Athens: University of Chicago Press, 1986.