Reprinted from 'Selections from the Literary Remains of Ellis and Acton Bell,' first published in the 1850 Edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey.
SELECTIONS FROM POEMS BY ELLIS BELL
It would not have been difficult to compile a volume out of the papers left by my sisters, had I, in making the selection, dismissed from my consideration the scruples and the wishes of those whose thoughts these papers held. But this was impossible: an influence, stronger than could be exercised by any motive of expediency, necessarily regulated the selection. I have, then, culled from the mass only a little poem here and there. The whole makes but a tiny nosegay, and the colour and the perfume of the flowers are not such as fit them for festal uses.
It has been already said that my sisters wrote much in childhood and girlhood. Usually it seems a sort of injustice to expose in print the crude thoughts of the unripe mind, the rude efforts of the unpractised hand: yet I venture to give three little poems of my sister Emily's, written in her sixteenth year, because they illustrate a point in her character.
At that period she was sent to school. Her previous life, with the exception of a single half-year, had been passed in the absolute retirement of a village parsonage, amongst the hills bordering Yorkshire and Lancashire. The scenery of these hills is not grand—it is not romantic; it is scarcely striking. Long low moors, with heath, shut in little valleys, where a stream waters, here and there, a fringe of stunted copse. Mills and scattered cottages chase romance from these valleys; it is only higher up, deep in amongst the ridges of the moors, that Imagination can find rest for the sole of her foot; and even if she finds it there, she must be a solitude-loving raven, no gentle dove. If she demand beauty to inspire her, she must bring it inborn: these moors are too stern to yield to any product so delicate. The eye of the gazer must itself brim with a 'purple light,' intense enough to perpetuate the brief flower-flush of August on the heather, or the sunset smile of June; out of his heart must well the freshness, that in latter spring and early summer brightens the bracken, nurtures the moss, and cherishes the starry flowers that spangle for a few weeks the pasture of the moor-sheep. Unless that light and freshness are innate and self-sustained, the drear prospect of a Yorkshire moor will be found as barren of poetic as of agricultural interest: where the love of wild nature is strong, the locality will perhaps be clung to with the more passionate constancy, because from the hill-lover's self comes half its charm.
My sister loved the moors. Flowers brighter than the rose bloomed in the blackest of the heath for her; out of a sullen hollow in a livid hill-side her mind could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best loved was—liberty. Liberty was the breath of Emily's nostrils; without it, she perished. The change from her own home to a school, and from her own very noiseless, very secluded, but un-restricted and inartificial mode of life, to one of disciplined routine (though under the kindliest auspices) was what she failed in enduring. Her nature proved here too strong for her fortitude. Every morning when she woke, the vision of home and the moors rushed on her, and darkened and saddened the day that lay before her. Nobody knew what ailed her but me—I knew only too well. In this struggle her health was quickly broken: her white face, attenuated form, and failing strength, threatened rapid decline. I felt in my heart she would die, if she did not go home, and with this conviction obtained her recall. She had only been three months at school: and it was some years before the experiment of sending her from home was again ventured on. After the age of twenty, having meantime studied alone with diligence and perseverance, she went with me to an establishment on the continent; the same suffering and conflict ensued, heightened by the strong recoil of her upright, heretic and English spirit from the gentle Jesuitry of the foreign and Roman system. Once more she seemed sinking, but this time she rallied through the mere force of resolution: with inward remorse and shame she looked back on her former failure, and resolved to conquer in this second ordeal. She did conquer: but it cost her dear. She was never happy till she carried her hard-won knowledge back to the remote English village, the old parsonage house, and desolate Yorkshire hills. A very few years more, and she looked her last on those hills, and breathed her last in that house, and under the aisle of that obscure village church found her last resting-place. Merciful was the decree that spared her when she was a stranger in a strange land, and guarded her dying bed with kindred love and congenial constancy.
The following pieces were composed at twilight, in the schoolroom, when the leisure of the evening play-hour brought back in full tide the thought of home.
EDITED BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË
'A little while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile,
Alike, while I have holiday.
Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart—
What thought, what scene invites thee now?
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?
There is a spot, 'mid barren hills,
Where winter howls, and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.
The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight's dome;
But what on earth is half so dear—
So longed for—as the hearth of home?
The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o'ergrown,
I love them—how I love them all!
Still, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away;
And from the midst of cheerless gloom,
I passed to bright, unclouded day.
A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.
A heaven so clear, an earth so calm,
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air;
And, deepening still the dream-like charm,
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.
That was the scene, I knew it well;
I knew the turfy pathway's sweep,
That, winding o'er each billowy swell,
Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep.
Could I have lingered but an hour,
It well had paid a week of toil;
But Truth has banished Fancy's power;
Restraint and heavy task recoil.
Even as I stood with raptured eye,
Absorbed in bliss so deep and dear,
My hour of rest had fleeted by,
And back came labour, bondage, care.
The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit's care.
There is a spell in purple heath
Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath,
But fragrance will not cheer.
The trees are bare, the sun is cold,
And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold,
And earth her robe of green.
And ice upon the glancing stream
Has cast its sombre shade;
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed.
The Bluebell cannot charm me now,
The heath has lost its bloom;
The violets in the glen below,
They yield no sweet perfume.
But, though I mourn the sweet Bluebell,
'Tis better far away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile to-day.
For, oh! when chill the sunbeams fall
Adown that dreary sky,
And gild yon dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy,
How do I weep, how do I pine
For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine,
To mourn the fields of home!
Loud without the wind was roaring
Through th' autumnal sky;
Drenching wet, the cold rain pouring,
Spoke of winter nigh.
All too like that dreary eve,
Did my exiled spirit grieve.
Grieved at first, but grieved not long,
Sweet—how softly sweet!—it came;
Wild words of an ancient song,
Undefined, without a name.
'It was spring, and the skylark was singing';
Those words they awakened a spell;
They unlocked a deep fountain, whose springing,
Nor absence, nor distance can quell.
In the gloom of a cloudy November
They uttered the music of May;
They kindled the perishing ember
Into fervour that could not decay.
Awaken, o'er all my dear moorland,
West-wind, in thy glory and pride!
Oh! call me from valley and lowland,
To walk by the hill-torrent's side!
It is swelled with the first snowy weather;
The rocks they are icy and hoar,
And sullenly waves the long heather,
And the fern leaves are sunny no more.
There are no yellow stars on the mountain;
The bluebells have long died away
From the brink of the moss-bedded fountain—
From the side of the wintry brae.
But lovelier than corn-fields all waving
In emerald, and vermeil, and gold,
Are the heights where the north-wind is raving,
And the crags where I wandered of old.
It was morning: the bright sun was beaming;
How sweetly it brought back to me
The time when nor labour nor dreaming
Broke the sleep of the happy and free!
But blithely we rose as the dawn-heaven
Was melting to amber and blue,
And swift were the wings to our feet given,
As we traversed the meadows of dew.
For the moors! For the moors, where the short grass
Like velvet beneath us should lie!
For the moors! For the moors, where each high pass
Rose sunny against the clear sky!
For the moors, where the linnet was trilling
Its song on the old granite stone;
Where the lark, the wild skylark, was filling
Every breast with delight like its own!
What language can utter the feeling
Which rose, when in exile afar,
On the brow of a lonely hill kneeling,
I saw the brown heath growing there?
It was scattered and stunted, and told me
That soon even that would be gone:
It whispered, 'The grim walls enfold me,
I have bloomed in my last summer's sun.'
But not the loved music, whose waking
Makes the soul of the Swiss die away,
Has a spell more adored and heartbreaking
Than, for me, in that blighted heath lay.
The spirit which bent 'neath its power,
How it longed—how it burned to be free!
If I could have wept in that hour,
Those tears had been heaven to me.
Well—well; the sad minutes are moving,
Though loaded with trouble and pain;
And some time the loved and the loving
Shall meet on the mountains again!
The following little piece has no title; but in it the genius of a solitary region seems to address his wandering and wayward votary, and to recall within his influence the proud mind which rebelled at times even against what it most loved
Shall earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee,
Shall nature cease to bow?
Thy mind is ever moving,
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving,
Come back, and dwell with me.
I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee still,
I know my sunshine pleases,
Despite thy wayward will.
When day with evening blending,
Sinks from the summer sky,
I've seen thy spirit bending
In fond idolatry.
I've watched thee every hour;
I know my mighty sway:
I know my magic power
To drive thy griefs away.
Few hearts to mortals given,
On earth so wildly pine;
Yet few would ask a heaven
More like this earth than thine.
Then let my winds caress thee;
Thy comrade let me be:
Since nought beside can bless thee,
Return—and dwell with me.
Here again is the same mind in converse with a like abstraction. 'The Night-Wind,' breathing through an open window, has visited an ear which discerned language in its whispers.
In summer's mellow midnight,
A cloudless moon shone through
Our open parlour window,
And rose-trees wet with dew.
I sat in silent musing;
The soft wind waved my hair;
It told me heaven was glorious,
And sleeping earth was fair.
I needed not its breathing
To bring such thoughts to me;
But still it whispered lowly,
How dark the woods will be!
'The thick leaves in my murmur
Are rustling like a dream,
And all their myriad voices
Instinct with spirit seem.'
I said, 'Go, gentle singer,
Thy wooing voice is kind:
But do not think its music
Has power to reach my mind.
'Play with the scented flower,
The young tree's supple bough,
And leave my human feelings
In their own course to flow.'
The wanderer would not heed me;
Its kiss grew warmer still.
'O come!' it sighed so sweetly;
'I'll win thee 'gainst thy will.
'Were we not friends from childhood?
Have I not loved thee long?
As long as thou, the solemn night,
Whose silence wakes my song.
'And when thy heart is resting
Beneath the church-aisle stone,
I shall have time for mourning,
And thou for being alone.'
In these stanzas a louder gale has roused the sleeper on her pillow: the wakened soul struggles to blend with the storm by which it is stayed.
'Aye—there it is! it wakes to-night
Deep feelings I thought dead;
Strong in the blast—quick gathering light—
The heart's flame kindles red.
'Now I can tell by thine altered cheek,
And by thine eyes' full gaze,
And by the words thou scarce dost speak,
How wildly fancy plays.
'Yes—I could swear that glorious wind
Has swept the world aside,
Has dashed its memory from thy mind
Like foam-bells from the tide:
'And thou art now a spirit pouring
Thy presence into all:
The thunder of the tempest's roaring,
The whisper of its fall:
'An universal influence,
From thine own influence free;
A principle of life—intense—
Lost to mortality.
'Thus truly, when the breat is cold,
Thy prisoned soul shall rise;
The dungeon mingle with the mould—
The captive with the skies.
Nature's deep being, thine shall hold,
Her spirit all thy spirit fold,
Her breath absorb thy sighs.
Mortal! though soon life's tale is told;
Who once lives, never dies!'
Love is like the wild rose-brier;
Friendship like the holly-tree.
The holly is dark when the rose-brier blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?
The wild rose-brier is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again,
And who will call the wild-brier fair!
Then, scorn the silly rose-wreath now,
And deck thee with the holly's sheen,
That, when December blights thy brow,
He still may leave thy garland green.
'Listen! When your hair, like mine,
Takes a tint of silver gray;
When your eyes, with dimmer shine,
Watch life's bubbles float away:
When you, young man, have borne like me
The weary weight of sixty-three,
Then shall penance sore be paid
For those hours so wildly squandered;
And the words that now fall dead
On your ear, be deeply pondered—
Pondered and approved at last:
But their virtue will be past!
'Glorious is the prize of Duty,
Though she be "a serious power";
Treacherous all the lures of Beauty,
Thorny bud and poisonous flower!
'Mirth is but a mad beguiling
Of the golden-gifted time;
Love—a demon-meteor, wiling
Heedless feet to gulfs of crime.
'Those who follow earthly pleasure,
Heavenly knowledge will not lead;
Wisdom hides from them her treasure,
Virtue bids them evil-speed!
'Vainly may their hearts repenting,
Seek for aid in future years;
Wisdom, scorned, knows no relenting;
Virtue is not won by fears.'
Thus spake the ice-blooded elder gray;
The young man scoffed as he turned away,
Turned to the call of a sweet lute's measure,
Waked by the lightsome touch of pleasure:
Had he ne'er met a gentler teacher,
Woe had been wrought by that pitiless preacher.
THE WANDERER FROM THE FOLD
How few, of all the hearts that loved,
Are grieving for thee now;
And why should mine to-night be moved
With such a sense of woe?
Too often thus, when left alone,
Where none my thoughts can see,
Comes back a word, a passing tone
From thy strange history.
Sometimes I seem to see thee rise,
A glorious child again;
All virtues beaming from thine eyes
That ever honoured men:
Courage and truth, a generous breast
Where sinless sunshine lay:
A being whose very presence blest
Like gladsome summer-day.
O, fairly spread thy early sail,
And fresh, and pure, and free,
Was the first impulse of the gale
Which urged life's wave for thee!
Why did the pilot, too confiding,
Dream o'er that ocean's foam,
And trust in Pleasure's careless guiding
To bring his vessel home?
For well he knew what dangers frowned,
What mists would gather, dim;
What rocks and shelves, and sands lay round
Between his port and him.
The very brightness of the sun,
The splendour of the main,
The wind which bore him wildly on
Should not have warned in vain.
An anxious gazer from the shore—
I marked the whitening wave,
And wept above thy fate the more
Because—I could not save.
It recks not now, when all is over:
But yet my heart will be
A mourner still, though friend and lover
Have both forgotten thee!
In the earth—the earth—thou shalt be laid,
A grey stone standing over thee;
Black mould beneath thee spread,
And black mould to cover thee.
'Well—there is rest there,
So fast come thy prophecy;
The time when my sunny hair
Shall with grass roots entwined be.'
But cold—cold is that resting-place,
Shut out from joy and liberty,
And all who loved thy living face
Will shrink from it shudderingly.
'Not so. Here the world is chill,
And sworn friends fall from me:
But there—they will own me still,
And prize my memory.'
Farewell, then, all that love,
All that deep sympathy:
Sleep on; Heaven laughs above,
Earth never misses thee.
Turf-sod and tombstone drear
Part human company;
One heart breaks only—here,
But that heart was worthy thee!
I knew not 'twas so dire a crime
To say the word, 'Adieu';
But this shall be the only time
My lips or heart shall sue.
The wild hillside, the winter morn,
The gnarled and ancient tree,
If in your breast they waken scorn,
Shall wake the same in me.
I can forget black eyes and brows,
And lips of falsest charm,
If you forget the sacred vows
Those faithless lips could form.
If hard commands can tame your love,
Or strongest walls can hold,
I would not wish to grieve above
A thing so false and cold.
And there are bosoms bound to mine
With links both tried and strong;
And there are eyes whose lightning shine
Has warmed and blest me long:
Those eyes shall make my only day,
Shall set my spirit free,
And chase the foolish thoughts away
That mourn your memory.
THE LADY TO HER GUITAR
For him who struck thy foreign string,
I ween this heart has ceased to care;
Then why dost thou such feelings bring
To my sad spirit—old Guitar?
It is as if the warm sunlight
In some deep glen should lingering stay,
When clouds of storm, or shades of night,
Have wrapt the parent orb away.
It is as if the glassy brook
Should image still its willows fair,
Though years ago the woodman's stroke
Laid low in dust their Dryad-hair.
Even so, Guitar, thy magic tone
Hath moved the tear and waked the sigh;
Hath bid the ancient torrent moan
Although its very source is dry.
Heavy hangs the rain-drop
From the burdened spray;
Heavy broods the damp mist
On uplands far away.
Heavy looms the dull sky,
Heavy rolls the sea;
And heavy throbs the young heart
Beneath that lonely tree.
Never has a blue streak
Cleft the clouds since morn;
Never has his grim fate
Smiled since he was born.
Frowning on the infant,
Shadowing childhood's joy
Guardian-angel knows not
That melancholy boy.
Day is passing swiftly
Its sad and sombre prime;
Boyhood sad is merging
In sadder manhood's time:
All the flowers are praying
For sun, before they close,
And he prays too—unconscious—
That sunless human rose.
Blossom—that the west-wind
Has never wooed to blow,
Scentless are thy petals,
Thy dew is cold as snow!
Soul—where kindred kindness,
No early promise woke,
Barren is thy beauty,
As weed upon a rock.
Wither—soul and blossom!
You both were vainly given:
Earth reserves no blessing
For the unblest of heaven!
Child of delight, with sun-bright hair,
And sea-blue, sea-deep eyes!
Spirit of bliss! what brings thee here,
Beneath these sullen skies?
Thou shouldst live in eternal spring,
Where endless day is never dim;
Why, Seraph has thine erring wing
Wafted thee down to weep with him?
'Ah! from heaven am I descended,
Nor do I come to mingle tears;
But sweet is day, though with shadows blended;
And, though clouded, sweet are youthful years.
'I—the image of light and gladness—
Saw and pitied that mournful boy,
And I vowed—if need were—to share his sadness,
And give to him my sunny joy.
'Heavy and dark the night is closing;
Heavy and dark may its bidding be:
Better for all from grief reposing,
And better for all who watch like me—
'Watch in love by a fevered pillow,
Cooling the fever with pity's balm;
Safe as the petrel on tossing billow,
Safe in mine own soul's golden calm!
'Guardian-angel he lacks no longer;
Evil fortune he need not fear:
Fate is strong, but love is stronger;
And my love is truer than angel-care.'
Silent is the house: all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o'er the snow-wreaths deep,
Watching every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the wildering drift, and bends the groaning trees.
Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Not one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, its rays shoot strong and far:
I trim it well, to be the wanderer's guiding-star.
Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame;
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame:
But neither sire nor dame, nor prying serf shall know,
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.
What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
What loves me, no word of mine shall e'er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.
Burn, then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear—
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air:
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me;
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.
I do not weep; I would not weep;
Our mother needs no tears:
Dry thine eyes, too; 'tis vain to keep
This causeless grief for years.
What though her brow be changed and cold,
Her sweet eyes closed for ever?
What though the stone--the darksome mould
Our mortal bodies sever?
What though her hand smooth ne'er again
Those silken locks of thine?
Nor, through long hours of future pain,
Her kind face o'er thee shine?
Remember still, she is not dead;
She sees us, sister, now;
Laid, where her angel spirit fled,
'Mid heath and frozen snow.
And from that world of heavenly light
Will she not always bend
To guide us in our lifetime's night,
And guard us to the end?
Thou knowest she will; and thou mayst mourn
That we are left below:
But not that she can ne'er return
To share our earthly woe.
Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:
To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.
I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.
I'll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain-side.
What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
The following are the last lines my sister Emily ever wrote.
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life—that in me has rest,
As I—undying Life—have power in Thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idle froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The stedfast rock of immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou were left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou—Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.