When reading poetry it always feels like you have transcended into a different realm. In many of the poems in Emily Brontë’s The Night is Darkening Around Me you get the feeling that Bronte too has transcended somewhere else amidst the night sky. But you cannot always work out the meaning of her meander.
As a nineteenth-century woman, Brontë is very much trapped. Trapped by her gender and confined to a house. At night she can be alone with the only thing she owns — her mind. The imagination is the most powerful place. You can create realms of your own in which you are liberated. But it is also viewed as a dangerous and powerful tool. The imagination can spark resistance — writing manifests this. Brontë’s possession of a pen has shown how her yearning for spiritual freedom has transgressed over the centuries.
However, in these poems, there is a sense that Brontë is tired. She’s growing “weary”. The night may be darkening as her resistance is over — for freedom and death.
Memory plays a strong role in these poems. In “Remembrance” she writes: “Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain”. It’s hard to control your mind and memory. They arise from nowhere, anything can trigger them. She is taunted by the past. By her youth and by the lack of freedom she has experienced within life.
In “Anticipation” she writes “It is hope’s spell that glorifies, / Like youth to my maturer eyes, / All Nature’s million mysteries”. Her youthful hope saw good in things that are incapable of being good. Young Brontë sought things that own brought her pain. And reflecting on these past mistakes her mature eyes show that there is no sense to the world. The world is cruel and she should not try to understand it.
She further emphasises the end of her youth in “Stanzas”: “… summer’s glory / Must always end in gloom”. Here Brontë could mean all life comes to an end — you cease to be. But it may also infer that the hopeful youth always comes out battered and despaired. The title of the poem violently separating these two periods of her life. Youth stanza one, adulthood stanza two.
In one of the last poems “21”, we find Brontë asking for memory to leave her mind alone, so she can sit with it in the present. Brontë wants to be content with the present and the time she has left. Ignore all that has been wasted with fanciful hopes. She writes: “The mind is every moving / In regions dark to thee; / Recall its useless roving — / Come back and dwell with me”.
This small anthology was dark and daunting and oddly put me at ease. Brontë wrote about the foreboding nature of memory, time, nature and death, but seems at ease with their inevitability. Brontë welcomes death and only wants peace. After all, everyone is equal in heaven.
The Night is Darkening Around Me is not the most creative work of poetry but is displays beautifully the unease of the youth and the readiness of the adult to let the world slip through their fingers.