Emily Bronte: The Bluebell

Emily Bronte from the village of Haworth on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors is justifiably lauded as the author of Wuthering Heights, her only novel. She was also the sister of fellow novelists Charlotte and Anne, and the most mysterious.

Following her tragically early death aged just 30, Charlotte wrote of her:

“My sister’s disposition was not naturally gregarious; circumstances favoured and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of home. Though her feeling for the people round was benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought; nor, with very few exceptions, ever experienced. And yet she knew them: knew their ways, their language, their family histories; she could hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, minute, graphic, and accurate; but with them, she rarely exchanged a word.”

So to try and understand Emily we look to her writing and here we have more than just Wuthering Heights for during her short life she also wrote 73 poems which she kept in two neatly written notebooks.

The Bluebell was composed in the week before Christmas 1838, when she was aged just 20.

The Bluebell

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

There is a spell in purple heath
Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath,
But fragrance will not cheer,

The trees are bare, the sun is cold,
And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold,
And earth her robe of green.

And ice upon the glancing stream
Has cast its sombre shade;
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed.

The Bluebell cannot charm me now,
The heath has lost its bloom;
The violets in the glen below,
They yield no sweet perfume.

But, though I mourn the sweet Bluebell,
‘Tis better far away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile to-day.

For, oh! when chill the sunbeams fall
Adown that dreary sky,
And gild yon dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy;

How do I weep, how do I pine
For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine,
To mourn the fields of home!

Wilfred Owen: Dulce et Decorum est

Born in the small market town of Oswestry on the border of England and Wales into a solid middle-class family that espoused the traditional values of sobriety, hard work, belief in country and the established social order, the young Wilfred Owen also immersed himself in his Welsh heritage especially the stories of the Bards and from an early age he expressed his desire to be a poet.

Owen was resident in Southern France where he had taken a teaching post when war was declared but unlike Brooke and Sassoon he displayed no great desire to become involved.

Indeed, it seemed as if the war was occurring in some far-away place and had passed him by, and it wasn’t until late October, 1915, that he at last out of a sense of guilt returned to England to enlist for Officer training in the First Artists Rifles.

Commissioned as a Lieutenant he spent the first year of his service in England where he came to like the feel of his uniform and certainly the respect that seemed to come with it.

He was sent to France on 31 December, 1916, but he had little time with which to dwell upon his new surroundings for within the week he had been transferred to the front-line fully experiencing its rich panoply of horrors – the constant shelling, the rat-tat-tat of the machine gun, the fear of the ever-present sniper, and the dread of gas.

The brutality of it all, and the fact that there were people out there who wanted to kill him, came as a profound shock.

It was all a little too much for the dream-like Owen who began composing the first of the more than 650 letters he was to write home to his mother complaining of the filth and dreariness of it all and of the contempt he had for the dullards under his command whom he described as unimaginative lumps.

The difference in attitude towards the common soldier with whom they served of the aspirational middle-class Owen and the more aristocratic Sassoon was stark, though Owen’s opinion would change over time.

Having had more than one brush with death in April, 1917, Owen was blown high into the air by a trench mortar which left him with severe concussion. Badly shaken he was diagnosed as suffering from shell-shock and evacuated back to England where he found himself at Craiglockhart at the same time as Siegfried Sassoon.

The two men quickly became close friends spending long nights together discussing poetry during which time Sassoon, whom Owen admired greatly describing him as great, or even greater, than Shakespeare, encouraged him to write and write.

Owen was to act on his friend’s advice and almost all of the poetry we now remember him for was written in the fifteen months of life he had remaining to him.

His shell-shock meant that he could have completed his military service in England and despite Sassoon threatening him with violence if he did so he followed the example previously set by his friend and volunteered to return to the Western Front to be with his men.

In July 1918, he returned to active service in time to participate in the Allied push towards final victory.

On 4 November 1918, he was leading his men in a crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal when he was shot and killed.

On 11 November, as the Church bells in England rang out at the announcement of the Armistice and people took to the streets to celebrate the end of the war, Owen’s parents received a knock on the door and the telegram informing them that their only son had been killed in action a week earlier.

In 1919, in recognition of the great courage and endeavour he displayed in leading his men in a series of actions the previous autumn he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Wilfred Owen is acknowledged by many to have been the greatest of the war poets more adroit and technically gifted but also more adventurous in his use of language experimenting with rhyme and vowel sounds to recreate the intense suffering of the common soldier often with a simplicity of language that reflected the simple sense of duty upon which they had entered the fight and endured its torments:

Dulce Et Decorun Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks’
Knock-kneed, coughing like old hags we cursed through the sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shot. All went lame, all blind,
Drunk with fatigue, deaf even to hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick boys! – an ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out at stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime –
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Thomas Gray: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Born in London on 26 December 1716, to a family prosperous enough for him to have little need of gainful employment Thomas Gray was to be a Cambridge scholar lost in his books and in love with thought not deed.

And he would write a little poetry from time-to-time, or so he would have us believe.

Yet his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is considered by some to be the greatest work of verse in the English literary canon, and certainly the greatest poem of the Georgian Era.

Dealing with death, a preoccupation of the Georgians as it would later be of the Victorians, though adopting the Romantic tone of its day rather than the maudlin and insinuating religiosity of the latter, it is notable for its many changes of rhythm and style and for introducing certain phrases into the English language such as – Celestial Fire, Paths of Glory, and Far from the Madding Crowd.

Gray completed his Elegy in 1750, eight years after first putting pen to paper in the graveyard of St Giles Church at Stoke Poges.

It was a sensation from the moment of its first publication much to its author’s embarrassment.

Even General Wolfe was heard to remark – I would rather have written that poem than take Quebec, tomorrow.

Gray, who had always doubted his literary abilities, was less impressed and when offered the post of Poet Laureate on the back of ‘Elegy’ he declined it.

He died 30 July 1771, aged 52, having only written 13 poems in his lifetime.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bowed the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn isle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire,
Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.

Th’ applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learned to stray;
Along the cool sequestered vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet even these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Rupert Brooke: The Soldier

The 27 year old Rupert Brooke was already an established poet feted by the literati and those such as the Bloomsbury Set before the outbreak of World War One, though he was as much admired for his boyish good looks as he was his literary abilities attracting in equal measure the attention of both men and women, which caused him some early confusion.

He was the son of a Master at Rugby Public School and had a sheltered, if not gilded childhood, but one which allowed him to dream and his dreams of an idyllic England were ones he expressed in his poetry, though always with wit and humour.

His was not an England of ship-building, blast furnaces and mines but one of panoramic vistas, country Churches, and lakes glimmering in the summer sun.

When the opportunity came to fight for his rural idyll he embraced it and he is looked upon with scorn now by some critical of his unquestioning belief in country and unbridled patriotism.

But Brooke never lived long enough to experience the meat-grinder war of the Western Front and his idealistic verse reflected the feelings of many swept up in the enthusiasm of those early months of the war.

Brooke’s connections ensured that even with no military experience, or indeed the required training, he was commissioned as a sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve but the patriotic Rupert’s war was to be a short one.

On 23 April 1915, he died in delirium en-route to Gallipoli from the effects of a mosquito bite:

The Soldier

“If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away’
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends, and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven,”

Henry John Newbolt: Vitai Lampada (Torch of Life)

If, as the Duke of Wellington is believed to have said, the Battle of Waterloo was won on the Playing Fields of Eton then by the late Victorian period it was firmly believed that the preservation of the British Empire depended upon a belief in God and the masculine virtues learned in the sporting arena.

No poem reinforces this view better than Vitai Lampada with its emphasis on discipline, commitment, and selfishness by Henry John Newbolt.

Making reference to the Battle of Abu Klea in 1885, and the attempt to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum, Newbolt draws direct parallels between the cricket pitch as an arena of conflict and the battlefield.

That those lessons learned as a child in play would serve the Empire well in times of conflict.
Sporting virtues were martial virtues.

It may take a leap of the imagination for us today to understand why this poem along with Kipling’s, If, Tennyson’s, Charge of the Light Brigade, and many others, would have been known by heart by every school child in Victorian Britain.

But like much literature of the time it was a poem written with a moral and for a purpose.

Vitai Lampada

There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;—
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

Anne Lesley: Another Heart

By Guest Author:

Another Heart

You are my heart, you are my whole
Without you there would be no soul

I would drift along on an open sea
Making waves with the light breeze

Do you have heart, do you feel whole
Would I be missed, within your soul

Would you, seek me out and find
Or put me straight from your mind

Without the heart, without the whole
Nothing would ever have a soul

Ever onward I would drift
Further afar to never be missed

I have no heart, I have no soul
In life I never had a goal

In death therefore I will be all alone
No heart, no soul, just flesh and bone

Copyright © 2015 Anne Lesley

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Kubla Khan

The son of a vicar from the parish of Mary St Ottery in rural Devon Samuel Taylor Coleridge was to become one of the most significant literary critics of his time and the founder along with his friend William Wordsworth of the Romantic Movement which would later also include Byron, Shelley, Blake, and the always somewhat detached Robert Southey.

Suffering from ill-health and depression all his life there is a darkness in Coleridge’s soul that etched in the ink of his quill is perhaps lacking in the other Romantic Poets with the exception of Blake.

Coleridge took drugs not just for recreation but from pain and was a laudanum addict from an early age. Whilst staying with Wordsworth and his sister in the Lake District he began taking a potent mix of opium and alcohol known as Kendall Black Drop that gave him the most terrible nightmares that tormented his sleeping hours but inspired his waking ones.

Kubla Khan, written in 1797 but not published until 1816 was, he later wrote, inspired by an opium induced vision of Xanadu – but it was a dream not a nightmare.

Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil
seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And ‘mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

William Blake: The Proverbs of Hell

William Blake’s ‘The Proverbs of Heaven and Hell’ is taken from his 1793 book ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ his musings on the perpetual torment of Biblical Prophecy.

In his own words is expressed the best explanation of its content and meaning:

“Without Contraries is no progression – Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.

Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.

The Proverbs of Hell

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.
All wholesome food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
A dead body revenges not injuries.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloak of knavery.
Shame is Pride’s cloke.
Prisons are built with stones of law, brothels with bricks of religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity, too great for the eye of man.
The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
Let man wear the fell of the lion, woman the fleece of the sheep.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
The selfish, smiling fool, and the sullen, frowning fool shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
What is now proved was once only imagin’d.
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits.
The cistern contains: the fountain overflows.
One thought fills immensity.
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.
The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
He who has suffer’d you to impose on him, knows you.
As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
Listen to the fool’s reproach! it is a kingly title!
The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.
The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.
If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
The soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.
When thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!
As the caterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
Damn braces. Bless relaxes.
The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!
Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!
The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands and feet Proportion.
As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl that every thing was white.
Exuberance is Beauty.
If the lion was advised by the fox, he would be cunning.
Improvement makes strait roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Where man is not, nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.
Enough! or too much.

John McCrae: In Flanders Fields

On 3 May 1915, the Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae who had just presided over the funeral of his friend Alexis Helmer killed at the Second Battle of Ypres wrote arguably the most famous poem to emerge from the First World War – In Flanders Fields.

Disappointed at the attempt to express his emotions and sense of loss he threw the poem away.

It was retrieved by one of his soldiers.

Like his friend McCrae did not survive the war, dying of pneumonia in January, 1918.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

in flanders fields x

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: How Do I Love Thee

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in County Durham in 1806, a sickly child who suffered from severe migraines and a constant spinal pain that was to see her not only become addicted to laudanum in adult life but live in constant fear and expectation of imminent death.

In what was to become one of the great love stories of the Victorian era in her late 30’s, and after being diagnosed with tuberculosis, she met fellow poet Robert Browning who courted her despite Elizabeth’s failing health and the disapproval of her father who would later disinherited her.

The new Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were, a loving couple but they didn’t always see eye-to-eye and their disagreements were often played out in the letters columns of various newspapers.

Despite her always frail health Elizabeth remained an active campaigner against slavery and the exploitation of child labour.

She was also one of the most popular poets of her time, so much so that she was considered a serious rival to Alfred, Lord Tennyson for the position of Poet Laureate vacated by the death of William Wordsworth at a time when a woman was expected to be the ‘Angel in the House’ and little more.

How Do I Love Thee, was published in 1850, five years before Elizabeth’s death, and remains one of the most popular and enduring love poems in the English language.

How Do I Love Thee
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.