About Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte was born in 1818, the daughter of Irishman Patrick Bronte, perpetual curate of Haworth, Yorkshire. Emily’s mother died in 1821, leaving five daughters and a son to the care of their aunt. Four of the daughters were sent to school at Cowan Bridge, where the eldest two were victims of a typhus epidemic and died soon after they were brought home. Emily and her elder sister, Charlotte, also returned home, where Emily stayed for most of the rest of her short life. She was especially close to her younger sister, Anne, with whom she created the imaginary world of Gondal, the setting of many of her finest poems, including ‘The Prisoner’.
In the Autumn of 1845, Charlotte discovered a notebook in which Emily had secretly written poems of remarkable power and originality and insisted that they be allowed to reach a wider audience. Emily was furious at the invasion of her privacy, but, when Anne revealed that she too had been writing poetry, Emily gave permission for the private publication of poems by all three sisters under the pseudonym Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Despite encouraging reviews, only two copies were sold.
Emily saw the human condition as ‘the brotherhood of misery’ and many of her lyric poems reflect the dark themes of her only novel, Wuthering Heights. ‘Stars’ describes a moment of deeply felt experience: she lies in her low camp bed under the window of her narrow room and takes comfort from the cold, impersonal light shining in the darkness. She longs to escape from the room, even from her mortal body, and dreads the coming morning.
In ‘The Night Wind’, again there is an open window at night, but this time a cloudless moon and a gentle night wind. The wind is a seducer almost too powerful to resist; the poem conveys Bronte’s longing for release at war with her fear of losing her sense of self, only resolved in the last verse when her heart is resting beneath the churchyard stone. It is a marvellously direct recreation of her all too human unease.
According to Charlotte, ‘No Coward Soul’ is Emily’s last work. It describes a personal visionary moment and is a cry of triumphant belief in the god within her breast. This is no conventional deity, but an assertion of her own uniqueness and the heroic power of her will, spirit and imagination. Refusing to take medicine or to rest in bed, Emily died of consumption at the age of thirty.
Recording commissioned by the Poetry Archive, used here with kind permission of the reader.