Emily Bronte's Poetry: Audio and Interpretation
Most people think of Emily Bronte as a novelist, not a poet, yet she wrote far more poems than she did book chapters. It's her poetry, and not that one famous novel, that draws me.
More than a century after Bronte's death, there is still so much to explore in her verse. Some people are drawn to her poems for the fantasy element. Indeed, many of Bronte's poems poems are set in a mythical land: Gondola.
For others, the allure is the sound. For an auditory person, much of the emotion in literature is captured by the rhythms. Here Bronte shines. I still audiate when I read. I like the pairing of regular rhyme scheme and cadence with themes that are enigmatic and blur around the edges. The cadence and rhyme pull me along, but the themes invite me to add tones and layers or even break momentarily from the rhythm.
This page is an introduction to Emily Bronte's poetry. I have included my own audio readings and some brief interpretation as well as links to poetry analysis from around the web. (The audio poems are hosted on Audioboo; you can listen by clicking the word "Listen".)
There's also a musical version of "The Visionary" included here.
The Night Wind: Audio Poem and Analysis
In "The Night Wind", the speaker is visited by a wind who speaks to her and tries to engage her. The wind is a spiritual force of some sort. Its nature though, is debatable. (Is is it her own imagination? Is is it a dark force? Would it lure her toward death, or would it lure her away from it?)
I see the wind as a positive force. There are hints that the speaker is quite depressed -- she wants to be left to her cares and worries. When she says, "Leave my human feelings in their own course to flow," it suggests that the wind wants to carry her away from those worries. The last lines surely reference death, but what the wind says is that the speaker will have time to be alone after she's dead. Now is not the time for that. I think the speaker is already pondering death when that old friend from the natural world shows up!
There are lines that could be construed as malice on the part of the night wind. At one point, for example, the night wind says that he'll win the speaker against her will. There's a gentler interpretation of those lines, however. How often have we had the experience, when grieving or wallowing in loss, of someone trying to lure us away -- to go out and have a good time? They may say I know you don't want to, but you're coming anyway. The behavior of the wind here isn't out of line with our own common experience.
The last lines confirm that it's the speaker herself who has been thinking dark thoughts. The wind tells her that there will be plenty of time for her to be alone (and for him to miss her) once she's in the grave. The implication is that now is a time to live and enjoy.
The Night Wind Resources
What is the precise nature of the figure who addresses the speaker? There are multiple interpretations. Here some more writers share their analysis.
- A Dark or Seductive Force?
This writer breaks down the images one by one and gives them a metaphorical meaning.
- A Serpent?
This is a very detailed and well-expressed interpretation, though I don't equate the night wind with the serpent myself. You can read the poem here, too.
- The Night Wind as Imagination?
This writer sees the night wind as a metaphor for imagination. It would like to show her again the magic.
The Nature of the Night Wind?
What is the nature of the enigmatic night wind who visits Bronte? And would you succumb to its requests that you join it in in its activities?
Would You Hang Out With the Night Wind?
Audio Poem: Spellbound
"Spellbound" is one of Emile Bronte's Gondola poems. Thus the speaker, who is held in place by some unnamed force even as a storm descends around her, is not to be confused with Emily herself.
Thoughts to ponder: Is it a literal winter storm that holds her in her place, or is it a metaphorical one? And what is the force that holds her? Is it something sinister -- or might it be love?
Spellbound... Set to Music - November 1837
The poem in the above recording sometimes goes by the title "Spellbound" and sometimes simply by the date "November 1837".
I don't believe that there is a definitive answer to the meaning of the poem. Some give it a darker, fantasy interpretation and believe there has been mischief afoot in the kingdom of Gondal. Some see the spellbound state as a more positive type of enchantment such as being entranced by nature.
Here is some background to consider: Bronte was very young when she wrote the poem. She set it in a fantasy place.
A musical rendition of this evocative piece can be found below.
The Lady to Her Guitar
The guitar is a modern musical image for a nineteenth century poem; the theme itself is timeless. A woman ponders how the guitar still manages to call up so strongly emotions that have long since ceased to be.
The guitar may be the woman's, but we can imagine that someone else played it in a time gone by. Conversely, we could see metaphor in the opening lines and not assume that the once-loved person had played the actual instrument.
Bronte uses figurative language to make vivid a seeming paradox. A torrent of emotion pours forth, yet it seems that the emotion no longer has a source! She no longer loves the person over whom she cries. Doesn't water need a source from which to flood?
In the third stanza, Bronte suggests that it's as if, still reflected in the brook's waters, were trees long since cut down.
Audio Poem: Love and Friendship
In "Love and Friendship", Emily Bronte uses a nature metaphor to contrast the nature of romantic love with that of friendship. The rose -- romantic love -- blooms brightly in the fair months, but in the winter, it is the holly that retains its beauty. Those summer months, with their dazzling display of color, might be thought of as youth or as the excitement of a new relationship. The speaker admonishes others to give their love to the holly -- the true friend -- even now, in the fair months.
Audio Poem: The Visionary
"The visionary" is credited to Emily Bronte, but her sister, Charlotte, apparently wrote the last eight lines. The additions give a more hopeful feel to the poem as the speaker waits, with faith and constancy, for the return of a loved one.
In the early stanzas, we find the persona in a warm, comfortable home, but with her heart far away, in a sense, tracking someone who may be out there in the snow and cold. We learn that she is not concerned with those that ridicule her. Her belief in "the wanderer" is hinted at in the reference to the "angel" that "nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow". It is not until the last two stanzas (Charlotte's?) that it is clearly stated that the woman believes in that wanderer's love for her, though the title might hint at it. (Here are questions to consider: What is the connotation of the word "visionary"? What might the speaker suggest by referring to herself as a visionary?)
The Visionary: Musical Version
This musical rendition is like a lullaby. I like the repetition of "I trim it well to be the wanderer's guiding star".
High Waving Weather
High Waving Heather is another poem with a strong musical rhythm. Quite a few lines in the first two stanzas end on the same two syllables. The latter part of each stanza contains more rhymes than the first half; the poem has an A-B-A-A-A-B rhyme scheme, and this contributes to the sense that something is building. Repetition also adds movement: "Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars".
Theme? "High Waving Heather" can be read as an extolling of nature or as an expression of faith and hope. I go with the latter. It seems less about the physical landscape than about some presence behind the landscape, something that the landscape might help us sense. One line that stands out or me is "changing forever from midnight to noon". Obviously this is not a literal description of the storm!
Discussion and Interpretation of Emily Bronte's Poetry
- Discussion of The Visionary
Brief discussion from someone who performed the piece.
Read Emily Bronte's Poetry Online
- The Visionary and Other Poems
A free PDF poetry book.
Poetry Out Loud Competition: Emily Bronte
High school students who compete in the national Poetry Out Loud competition must choose poems from the anthology. Currently, four Emily Bronte poems are included.
More About Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte lived to just thirty. Much of what we know about her life comes from her sister, Charlotte. How well did Charlotte do representing her to the world? If we dig deeper, we find some very different images of Emily.
- Her Sister's Interpreter
Was Charlotte Bronte an unbiased witness to her sister's life?
Emily Bronte's Poetry... Parting Thoughts?
Md Akbar Ali from Dhaka, Bangladesh on March 05, 2018:
Appreciable. Good work, indeed.
RandySturridge on December 06, 2012:
Great lens...just wonderful.
moonlitta on November 20, 2012:
I've only heard vaguely about her poetry; still, it's not long since I last read "Wuthering Heights" for the tenth or eleventh time (it stays on my night lampstand next to the bed I sleep in each summer when visiting parents, and I read it every time I happen to be there). There's the same dark, strong and powerful longing in the poems as it is in the novel, so I guess I'll also love the poems.
AJ from Australia on July 24, 2012:
I was unfamiliar with Emily Bronte's poetry. Thank you for broadcasting them and sharing such beautiful, evocative images.
jballs6 on May 05, 2012:
It is surprising to see what authors of famous works have also written but is often left in the background. Great lens
siobhanryan on April 26, 2012:
Good lens on Bronte-I did her poems for my Leaving Cert many moons ago. I sure will never forget her
Paul from Montreal on November 14, 2011:
Neat use of audio, blessed!
lovelylashes on April 15, 2011:
I love your audio presentation of the poems.The way you read brings a special magic to the poems. I also like her poetry better than her novels. Blessed by a poetry loving SquidAngel!