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Charlotte Brontë's "On the Death of Anne Brontë"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "On the Death of Anne Brontë"

Charlotte Brontë's "On the Death of Anne Brontë" consists of four quatrains, each with the rime scheme ABAB. The formal feeling provided by the strict structure of this poem gives it the seriousness that its title addresses. The speaker is dramatizing her reaction to the death of her belovèd sister, who was so important to her own life as well as to the family dynamic that the speaker would have chosen to die to save that sister if she could have done so. Such sisterly love is rare on this mud ball of a planet.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

On the Death of Anne Brontë

There's little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I've lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.

Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
O'er those belovèd features cast.

The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank Him well and fervently;

Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.

Reading of "On the Death of Anne Brontë"

Anne Brontë

Commentary

In this poem, the speaker is dramatizing her reaction to the death of her sister.

First Quatrain: Equanimity and Existence

There's little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I've lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.

The speaker asserts that she feels a certain equanimity toward existence with "little joy" for living and "little terror" of dying. But she also implies that she is experiencing a time of sorrow, because she has lived long enough to see the death of someone about whom she cared deeply. The speaker expresses her great affection for this person, who is, of course, the poet's sister, by claiming she would have died to save her. But such is life and death, and here she is expressing her utter sorrow in a poem.

Second Quatrain: The Final Hours

Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
O'er those belovèd features cast.

In the second quatrain, the speaker dramatizes the final hours of watching her sister as Anne is dying. As the dying one gasps for breath, the watcher can only helplessly "wish" that each "failing breath" would be the last. The saddened speaker intuits that her poor sister is suffering, and she wants that suffering to end. And although it is, of course, the last thing she would "wish" and "long" for, she is forced to anticipate "the shade of death / O'er those beloved features cast." The speaker struggles as she wishes for her sister's soul to finally experience its exit from the body because she finds it so painful to see her sister's body suffering.

Third Quatrain: Death as a Cloud

The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank Him well and fervently;

The speaker likens death to a "cloud" and to "stillness" that will take her beloved sister's soul from her body, thus "part[ing] / The darling of my life from me." The speaker anticipates that she will "thank God from [her] heart." The speaker will be grateful when her sister's soul has departed, and the dying one no longer has to suffer the sorrowful and painful transition she is now undergoing. The speaker attempts to report as calmly and objectively as possible as she, at the same time, dramatizes the event that is so crucial, so vitally important. The experience of dying represents one of the most critical events for the individual soul as well as for the loved ones who have become attached to that individual as a loving personality.

Fourth Quatrain: Importance

Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.

In the fourth quatrain, the speaker expresses how important that sister was to her and the rest of the family. They had "lost / The hope and glory of [their] life." And each family member now has to "bear alone the weary strife," as each feels "benighted" and "tempest-tossed."

The Brontë Sisters, Anne, Emily, Charlotte

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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