The Visionary – Emily Brontë Poem

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.

Note: the final two verses were actually written by Charlotte


Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë, born in 1818, is best known for her novel Wuthering Heights (Thomas Cautley Neuby, 1847). Her poetry is published in The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë (Hodder and Stoughton, 1923).

 

The Visionary, written by both Charlotte and Emily Bronte, is an enigmatic poem in which we, as the readers, note a sense of expectancy and desire. The voice is watching; vigilant, eagerly anticipating the arrival of something or someone – whose identity is left ambiguous to the readers. The rigid structure and regular rhyme scheme contain an exploration into imagination and passion, providing an interesting contrast between the unconstrained freedom of the mind and the strict structure of the poem.

The world of Bronte’s poem, it seems, is one of the inhospitable and the eerie. The poem’s opening lines reveal a sort of hostile environment and absolute isolation: “Silent is the House – all are laid asleep” – one can almost imagine the voice speaking these lines in hushed tones, adding to the sense of mystery and solitariness that is evident in the poem. The voice “alone”, dreads “every breeze / That whirls the wildering drifts and bends the groaning trees”. The hostility and sheer violence of the environment is conveyed in the alliteration in these lines. The repetition of the “w” sound is hard for the mouth to say, reflecting a sort of turbulence in nature, and is almost onomatopoeic of the fierce sound of the wind. This alliteration is similarly used in the phrase in the third stanza: “waste of winter snow”.

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The poem’s sense of secrecy focuses around the voice and the unknown identity of the “angel” she is waiting for. It seems that the voice is not speaking to the readers, but we are in fact being privileged to hear her private thoughts, although she will not reveal all of them to us. She speaks of what she is waiting for in a sort of sensual way – “what I love shall come” – and yet the numerous references to the unearthly leave readers perplexed. Perhaps, he is a lover , or an angel with “rustling wing” or perhaps it is the muse, the inspiration to write that she is waiting for. We are left speculating, the mystery remaining imprinted in our minds long after the poem is finished – perhaps, this is what makes the poem so potent and haunting.

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