Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems

By Janet Gezari | Go to book overview

2

Last Things

Did you ever read one of her Poems backward, because the plunge
from the front overturned you? I sometimes (often have, many
times) have—A something overtakes the Mind—

We don't know which poet Emily Dickinson read backward— sometimes, often, many times swimming against the current of her words. Susan Howe thinks that Emily Brontë and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, both poets Dickinson admired, are the likely choices. She suggests that Dickinson 'found sense in the chance meeting of words',1 but Dickinson's account of her backward reading points to a defensive tactic for keeping her balance rather than an aleatory one for discovering new meanings. She imagines herself as a person on horseback trying to curb her horse's strength. Hurtling through space, the horse pitches its rider forward (she is overturned by the 'plunge from the front') or leaves her behind ('A something overtakes the Mind'). Given these terms of engagement, Emily Brontë is more likely than Barrett Browning to be the poet Dickinson reads backward. Charlotte Brontë's description of her sister's progress toward death applies as well to the progress of her poems: they do not linger. They often convey something of the speed of her sensations and the urgency of her writing. An early poem, 'High waving heather' neath stormy blasts bending', communicates an excess of vital stimulation and a readiness for sudden and fleeting visionary flights and plunges with a gallop of present participles that imitates the rapidly shifting motions of the natural world. In the poem she titled 'Wuthering Heights', Sylvia Plath evokes Brontë's nature worship and its dangers for her:

There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction

-8-

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Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Figures x
  • A Note on Texts xi
  • 1: And First 1
  • 2: Last Things 8
  • 3: Fathoming 'Remembrance' 41
  • 4: Outcomes and Endings 59
  • 5: Fragments 79
  • 6: The First Last Thing 106
  • 7: Posthumous Brontë 126
  • Notes 151
  • Bibliography 169
  • Index 179
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