No Coward Soul is Mine copy

The Old Stoic

by Emily Bronte

Riches I hold in light esteem,

And love I laugh to scorn,

And lust of fame was but a dream

That vanished with the morn.

          And if I pray, the only prayer

          That moves my lips for me

          Is, “Leave the heart that now I bear,

          And give me liberty!”

Yes, as my swift days near their goal,

`Tis all that I implore-

In life and death, a chainless soul,

With courage to endure.

A halo of mystery and legend still sits above the heads of the Bronte sisters; the deeper we delve into their lives, the greater the power they exert upon our imaginations. Their works were originally published under male pseudonyms because the prudish age they lived in would have been outraged at the moral degeneracy of a woman not simply publishing her scribblings, but of writing about sex, extra-marital affairs, abuse of all kinds on women and children, but also of the double standards men used to empower themselves and their selfish, misogynistic interests and attitudes at the expense of anyone perceived as weaker than themselves. To be a woman with attitude was a tough call, and risked the individual blessed with an independent mind, being ostracised and repudiated by “decent” society. Emily was the most enigmatic of the sisters: a character like a wisp of ephemeral smoke, impossible to grasp and hold fast; there are no theories, pigeon holes to comfortably place her in, or preconceptions to nail her down; she simply is what she is, different to every eye that tries to see her. According to Charlotte`s friend Ellen Nussey, she was a “law unto herself, and a heroine in keeping to that law.” Her immense talent worked solely for the joy and satisfaction of creation, for no other but herself; the world beyond her imagination was a foreign land which she neither needed nor sought. She could be prickly and high-minded when confronted by obstacles, or by others not operating on the same intellectually astral level as herself, to such an extent that her sister Charlotte once remarked that she was no gentle dove, but a bird of prey with sharp talons. Because of the scarcity of any reliable contemporary information about her life, her works and the slap-dash way they were ill-used, catalogued and broken up for individual sale by publishers , it has become a necessity to try and understand the real nature of this enigmatic personality through the writings which have survived. Emily never intended to write for an audience, and so her poetry is entirely free of the restraints of form, indulging herself to her heart`s content and experimenting on the hoof as it were. She can seem melodramatic, intense, defiant and emotional, all in the space of a few short lines, but she was perfectly aware of composition, care and deliberation. This was no isolated, ill-educated rustic, but a woman of a razor sharp, high intellect who wrote one of the greatest and definitive novels in the English language. Emily Bronte may not have been easy to know or understand to an outsider, but she was a genius with words whose life came to a tragically early end at the tender age of thirty–a life unfulfilled, unable to develop. Her works are passionate, intense, direct, stimulating and always involving; they come direct from a unique, unconventional imagination without rival. It is more than well worth while getting to know her–I think it is essential. 


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