The Bronte sisters, Emily and Charlotte, are without parallels in English literature. Daughters of an impoverished clergyman, they overcame privations and death of siblings to produce works that have stood the test of time. For women who lived in the Victorian era when women donned passive roles, they produced robust female characters who charted their own path in life. Conditions existing then made it necessary for the sisters to adopt pen names to hide their real personality. Emily Bronte is chiefly remembered for her classic novel Wuthering Heights but her collections of verses of rare quality do justice to her reputation as a writer, par excellence.
The poem moves from the despair of having lost a loved one who now lies buried under feet of snow. “Fifteen wild Decembers” have gone past and now the poet wonders whether she has to move on with live instead of moping over the dead loved one. Life is full of”other hopes and desires” and the effort of being faithful to a memory puts a strain on her. The tone is a surprisingly practical one that strikes as unusual in a Victorian woman. She wants to be forgiven if she stops loving him though she has not felt love of that intensity for anyone else ever after.
The poem, an elegy or a poem of mourning, opens with a description of the grave of the lover that is cold under several feet of snow. “Fifteen wild Decembers” have gone past now and the poet wonders if time has taken a toll on her love. She then asks her dead lover who was the “Sweet Love of youth” to forgive her if she forgets him as life is too full of other desires and hopes. She has never felt that kind of love after his death and her idea of bliss has been to be in the grave with him. But as more time passes her spirit is crushed by loss and despair and she is stronger in mind even when there is no sustaining joy nourishing it. So she has decided not to hasten her end with purposeless mourning. Dwelling too much on her loss and pain would only empty her life further and she does not want that.
In true elegiac style, the poem begins with the mention of the cause for grief – the demise of the lover. Then, slowly using caesura and long syllables that express that much time has passed since the death, she moves on to the consolation that time is smoothening the raw edges of grief. She wonders whether her grief has reduced with the passage of time and she is forgetting the loved one.
The second stanza reinforces the idea of physical distance between the lover and the poet. He lies somewhere on the northern shore beyond the northern mountains. Along with physical distance, the passage of time indicated by the words “now” and “no longer” provides a buffer from the raw sorrow of earlier days. Her thoughts no longer continuously hover over his grave which is now overgrown with heath and ferns.
There is a sense of duality in this stanza. Winter is moving into spring and the snows are melting down. But there is no warmth in the poet’s heart. Here it is all coldness. She has been faithful to a memory though “fifteen wild Decembers” have swung past. Fifteen years is a long time to mourn a person as much can change within that period but she has been faithful to the memory of her late lover.
This poem is honest about how love can fade away when it is starved by the passage of time. The dead man was the love of her youthful days. But fifteen years have passed by sweeping her along in its wake. She hopes he understands how it has been with her and wants him to forgive her. Life has not been standing still but it has brought new hopes and desires to her doorstep. These may obscure his memory but cannot snuff it out completely even now.
The anaphora rich stanza helps to reinforce ideas with emphasis. After the death of the young man, there has been no “later light” or “second morn” for her. All her “life’s bliss” came from him and it now lies in his grave with him. This stanza is meant to tell the reader that though her life has thrown up “hopes and desires” they have not led to another man in her life.
There was a time when dark despair destroyed all her golden dreams. But now it is powerless to further ruin her life. Now she realizes that though those golden days have been left behind, her life has become stronger even without the help of heady joy. There are streams of hope and strength which flow into her that are not fed by joy.
This realization helps to check her grief and her tears. It is not as though she loves him any less but her life moves on without him by her side. There are other forces that sustain her life. Her passion has no use for her anymore as the tears that flowed from it have only ruined her life. This new found strength ensures that she too does not follow her lover to an untimely end.
Though she is now stronger than before, she does want to slip down into that dark abyss anymore. That sorrow had a rapturous quality as though it was an indulgence that was addictive. Her had “drunk deep” of that pain that had kept her in its thrall. But now she wants to break free from its hold. That is an empty world which she does not want to inhabit again.
Though Emily Bronte’s Remembrance has been rated as one of the most mournful of poems, it shows us a heroine who has enormous pluck. She knows that is good for her and she does not hesitate to call a halt to needless sorrow and despair. For a Victorian woman poet to show so much fortitude strikes us as unusual.