Tuesday, 30 March 2010

An elegy

I'm not a big fan of poetry, as I've always found it baffling as a genre since my student days. So I've never really read much poetry, and I only came across this Emily Brontë poem when I was teaching. Such a beautiful elegy, and the message is so much deeper than what it apparently is.


Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee, 
  Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave! 
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee, 
  Sever'd at last by Time's all-severing wave? 
Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover         5
  Over the mountains, on that northern shore, 
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover 
  Thy noble heart for ever, ever more? 
Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers 
  From those brown hills have melted into spring:  10
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers 
  After such years of change and suffering! 
Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee, 
  While the world's tide is bearing me along; 
Other desires and other hopes beset me,  15
  Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong! 
No later light has lighten'd up my heaven, 
  No second morn has ever shone for me; 
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given, 
  All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.  20
But when the days of golden dreams had perish'd, 
  And even Despair was powerless to destroy; 
Then did I learn how existence could be cherish'd, 
  Strengthen'd and fed without the aid of joy. 
Then did I check the tears of useless passion—  25
  Wean'd my young soul from yearning after thine; 
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten 
  Down to that tomb already more than mine. 
And, even yet, I dare not let it languish, 
  Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain;  30
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish, 
  How could I seek the empty world again?

For more than once, I read this poem and imagined losing a beloved one. Indeed, the pain is so great there is no one you can share with, and words are perhaps your best companion then. The apparent forgetfulness and guilt is actually the exact opposite of what the speaker is really experiencing, as the memory of the lost love is still poignant after fifteen years. Fifteen years - so much could have happened and yet the speaker is still deeply buried in sorrow.

I find the sixth stanza particularly sad, when the speaker mentions that her present life is so deprived of hope that even Despair is powerless to destroy.
Then did I learn how existence could be cherish'd,

Strengthen'd and fed without the aid of joy.

How sad this is, how hopeless life seems, that you simply have to carry on without any hope or joy!

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