Welcome to 'Lost in the Myths of History'
It often seems that many prominent people of the past are wronged by often-repeated descriptions, which in time are taken as truth. The same is also true of events, which are frequently presented in a particular way when there might be many alternative viewpoints. This blog is intended to present a different perspective on those who have often been lost in the myths of history.
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Emily Bronte, the Mystic
While Emily Bronte is remembered as a writer, it often seems that she would be better remembered as a mystic. The enduring fame of her only novel, Wuthering Heights, has often overshadowed her poetry but, since her poems were written originally for her own self-expression, they capture her essence even more clearly than the novel.
Emily was an intensely private person – perhaps partly because she was reluctant or unable to share the intensity of her inner life. Her dislike
of small-talk and socialising led many people to view her as cold or unfriendly but, had they been aware of the passion within her, she would probably have been seen in a different light. Emily was first and foremost a ‘free spirit’ and a child of nature. She walked for hour upon hour on the ‘wild and windy’ Moors around Haworth absorbed in her innate spirituality and imagination. So profound was her sense of connection to that environment and the creatures who lived on the Moors that when she was sent away to be a governess she became physically ill. At the same time, the parsonage in which she lived overlooked the stark graveyard and, since the average life expectancy in Haworth at that time was very brief, she must have seen numerous funerals (including those of her own mother and elder sisters) and this gave Emily a sense of the transience of earthly things.
As do many passionate souls, Emily suffered intensely from a kind a nostalgia for the eternal. After being absorbed in her meditations and the glory of her own inner world, it was torture for her to ‘return’ to the mundane reality of life. Her poetry creates the sense of a soul trapped in a physical body and always seeking escape. These lines from her poem ‘The Prisoner’ capture that sense so brilliantly that they seem to me to be some of the most powerful lines in all of English literature:
Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels:
Its wings are almost free - its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulf, it stoops and dares the final bound,
Oh I dreadful is the check - intense the agony -
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
Wuthering Heights is, of course, an incredibly ‘dark’ novel, filled with violence, macabre notions and even implied incest, but at the same time it demonstrates Emily’s inability to create anything superficial. In spite of the Hollywood interpretations, it is not a simple, tragic love story but a powerful – and quite horrific – expression of the connection between souls, and of the ‘shadow side’ of humanity and the spiritual/inner world.
I do not believe anyone will ever or has ever fully understood the depths of Emily Bronte but, though she would probably shrink from any attempts to penetrate her innermost thoughts and spirit, I believe she deserves to be remembered as one of the truly great English mystics.