I have known this poem since I was fourteen, when I first performed it for my Poetry Society examination. The poem’s power and mystique has stayed with me ever since. I was surprised to learn at that time that Emily Brontë also wrote poetry. Everyone is so familiar with the tumultuous prose of Wuthering Heights and yet her equally turbulent poetry gets little or no recognition.
I felt that the subject matter was topical for a cold wintry day and shows the power of the elements within her poetry. The isolation of Haworth meant the freedom of the open moors. Emily Brontë seemed to experience the world in terms of elemental forces outside of conventional categories of good and evil. Her vision was essentially mystical, rooted in the experience of a supernatural power, which she expressed in her poems.
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:
Who loves me, no word of mine shall e’er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.
But 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.
It is interesting to note that Charlotte Brontë took lines 1-12 of Emily’s original poem, “Julian M. and A.G Rochelle,” and added 8 lines of her own to make the final version of the poem as it stands today.
Posted by Alison Walters