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Poem Of The Week: ‘Spellbound’ By Emily Brönte (1818-1848)
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Emily Brönte
The truly intriguing thing about literary critic Kathryn Hughes’ recent article in the Guardian on the subject of Emily Brönte was her unaccountable omission of the writer’s entire poetic oeuvre.

In a brutally dismissive piece, the critic derogated Brönte’s monomaniacal thinking - what she perceived to be her naivety respecting human nature, her childishly simplistic reading of motive and her inattention to structural detail in Wuthering Heights.

That Hughes’ judgement is sincere, if sincerely wrong-headed, does not excuse the elision of a body of poetry which many others have regarded as being amongst the finest of the nineteenth century.

It would, in any case, be injudicious and unprofitable to evaluate the work of Emily Brönte without recourse to a commonality of poems which both nourish and shadow the atmosphere and mood of her novel/masterwork. In the best sense, the poetry and the prose are indivisible.

Spellbound

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.
And 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.


‘Spellbound’ is a succinct declaration of the writer’s sense of blind forces of compulsion acting to draw her narrator towards an unnamed darkness. Even if we were to remove the figure of Catherine Earnshaw from the contextual equation we could not divest the narrative of her visceral and resonant presence. The figure of the narrator is rendered inert by the elemental forces which rage and bluster round her. Yet her inaction is also willed; there is agency in her decision-making process, and she resists the impulsion to abandon herself to the maelstrom as she is also anchored within it.

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Such agency is reinforced by the double repetition of the rhyming personal pronoun in the first and third quatrains; the reader is obliged to recognise her stoicism and her defiance. The repeated ‘me’ is the crack of a whip of independence, and the lone figure is transfixed by raw atmospheric forces, and by the tumultuous power of the imagination. She is an oak waiting to burst from the stones of a shattered grave.

Emily Brönte could be awkward and prickly. Hughes’ balancing coda to her lengthy article is an acknowledgment of that independence of spirit, that sense of certainty which underlined Emily’s determination to declare her mandate as a woman, and to alchemise an absolutely unique sensibility into words.

Poem Of The Week: ‘Spellbound’ By Emily Brönte (1818-1848), 8th September 2018, 12:06 PM