Sunday Poetry – Charlotte Brontë

I’ve been reading Claire Harman’s new biography of Charlotte Brontë & she writes that a draft of this poem was found on the back of the draft of a letter Charlotte wrote to W S Williams, who worked at her publishers, Smith, Elder. The letter was about her first novel, The Professor, which wasn’t published in Charlotte’s lifetime although she kept revising it in the hope that Smith, Elder would publish it. Eventually she reused some of the material based on her time in Brussels in her last novel, Villette. The circumstances of the speaker in this poem reflect Charlotte’s relationship with Monsieur Heger, her tutor, & her unrequited love for him.

He saw my heart’s woe, discovered my soul’s anguish,   
  How in fever, in thirst, in atrophy it pined;   
Knew he could heal, yet looked and let it languish,   
  To its moans spirit-deaf, to its pangs spirit-blind.   

But once a year he heard a whisper low and dreary,           
  Appealing for aid, entreating some reply;   
Only when sick, soul-worn and torture-weary,   
  Breathed I that prayer—heard I that sigh.   

He was mute as is the grave, he stood stirless as a tower;   
  At last I looked up, and saw I prayed to stone:           
I asked help of that which to help had no power,   
  I sought love where love was utterly unknown.   

Idolater, I kneeled to an idol cut in rock,   
  I might have slashed my flesh and drawn my heart’s best blood,   
The Granite God had felt no tenderness, no shock;           
  My Baal had not seen nor heard nor understood.   

In dark remorse I rose. I rose in darker shame,   
  Self-condemned I withdrew to an exile from my kind;   
A solitude I sought where mortal never came,   
  Hoping in its wilds forgetfulness to find.           

Now, Heaven, heal the wound which I still deeply feel;   
  Thy glorious hosts look not in scorn on our poor race;   
Thy King eternal doth no iron judgement deal   
  On suffering worms who seek forgiveness, comfort, grace.   

He gave our hearts to love, he will not love despise,           
  E’en if the gift be lost, as mine was long ago.   
He will forgive the fault, will bid the offender rise,   
  Wash out with dews of bliss the fiery brand of woe;   

And give a sheltered place beneath the unsullied throne,   
  Whence the soul redeemed may mark Time’s fleeting course around earth;           
And know its trial overpast, its sufferings gone,   
  And feel the peril past of Death’s immortal birth.   

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