There are very few literary works by Charlotte Brontë that I haven’t read. I’ve read all of her famous novels (Fun Fact: Other than Jane Eyre, the ultimate Victorian romance, Shirley is my favourite, which is a rather unpopular opinion among Victorianists!), and I’ve also read several biographies of her life. Having said that, it is a wonder to me that I hadn’t gotten around to reading her poetry until this week. I’ve been immersed in Claire Harman’s new biography Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, and all the quotes from Charlotte’s poems as well as the discussion of how she went about getting her first collection of poetry (along with her sisters’ poems) published was fascinating to me, and made me feel that I absolutely had to read this first text published by the Brontë sisters. So, I got my hands on a copy of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (aka Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë) and I started reading, planning to finish the poetry of one sister each day. I did just that, I have now completed the entire tome. As a result, I’ve decided to review each of the sisters’ poems separately and document my exact thoughts on some of the poems I enjoyed the most and that spoke to me most profoundly. I’ve also documented lines and passages that I found particularly moving. Today, I’ll begin my study of the poetry of the Bells with an analysis of the works of Currer, the eldest sibling.
Charlotte Brontë is basically my god, my inspiration, my daily encouragement and idol. I’m obsessed with her novels, as I stated above, but I’ve also always enjoyed whatever poems are included in her novels, such as “Rochester’s Song for Jane Eyre” and the lovely poem featured in her first completed novel The Professor. It’s no wonder, then, that I thoroughly enjoyed the poems she published as Currer Bell, all of which tell a distinct story and speak profoundly about love and human relationships. Here are the highlights of what I thought about many of Currer’s poems:
Pilate’s Wife’s Dream = impressive to behold, in terms of sheer length.
Mementos = such a distinct and clear voice; I really felt the description of the woman and the child profoundly.
“The bookshelves were her darling treasure /
She rarely seemed the time to measure /
While she could read alone.”
The Wife’s Will = “For oh! most truly – I love thee!”
Life = more upbeat and positive.
“Oft a little morning rain /
Foretells a pleasant day.”
The Letter = so simple but lovely and sad; possibly reflective of CB’s letter writing process.
Presentiment = conversation between CB and her sister Emily (as character Jane, which was her middle name)? Does CB wish to die?
Passion = “Could I gain thy love to-night / I’d hazard death to-morrow.”
Stanzas = just as moving and melancholy as Presentiment and Passion.
“My love is almost anguish now, /
It beats so strong and true.”
Apostasy = reminiscent of CB’s own confession at the Catholic Church in Brussels…perhaps autobiographical?
“Priest – MUST I cease to think of him?”
The Missionary = the model for St. John Rivers of Jane Eyre?
My Favourite Poems of CB’s Collection
Frances = heartbreaking, especially if you know CB’s biography and details about her unrequited love for Monsieur Constantin Héger. “Mementos, on the chamber wall” (= connection to poem of this name? both poems intended for one specific reader/Héger?)
“She will not sleep, for fear of dreams”
“Stamped deep on vision, heart and brain”
~Hope for rekindled love…BUT then CB chastises herself.
“Love may restore him yet to me /
False thought – false hope – in scorn be banished! /
I am not loved – nor loved have been.”
Gilbert = woman helpless and weak in love. Is this how CB felt? As if she lost her dignity?
“And truly it was sweet /
To see so fair a woman kneel, /
In bondage, at my feet.”
= the man is heartless, egotistical and mean. “a selfish heart” The poem is critical of how men treat and use women. GOTHIC!
“No kindness in his tone…
Speaks coldly there alone.”
= the man should therefore be haunted and punished (an investigation of his guilty psychology).
“His features well his heart can mask, /
With smiles and smoothness bland.”
= Vengeance! Revenge! Gilbert commits suicide and CB gets her sinister revenge and makes the man suffer.
These notes may seem a bit scattered, but they give an adequate picture of my experience while reading Currer Bell’s poetry. As with any of Charlotte Brontë’s works, so many emotions are at play, all at once, and Charlotte is not shy about speaking up and expressing her emotions and sentiments without veil or reluctance. In reading Charlotte’s poems while immersed in her biography, it is clear just how acutely she suffered in love, but also just how big and expressive her gorgeous and wonderful heart was.
I would recommend Currer Bell’s poems to any reader who adored the heart-wrenching quality of Jane Eyre and Villette.
Girl with a Green Heart