Emily Brontë – Start not….

by Elouise

Death is on my mind. Especially since I’m in the last chapter of my life—however long or short it may be. The photo above shows the Haworth churchyard as it may have looked in Emily B’s time. Note the flat-stone grave markers, like beds. My comments follow Emily’s poem and a second photo.

Start not upon the minster wall
Sunshine is shed in holy calm
And lonely though my footsteps fall
The saints shall shelter thee from harm

Shrink not if it be summer noon
This shadow should right welcome be
These stairs are steep but landed soon
We’ll rest us long and quietly

What though our path be o’er the dead
They slumber soundly in the tomb
And why should mortals fear to tread
The pathway to their future home?

Emily Brontë, from Brontë Poems, p. 33
Published by Alfred A. Knopf 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd.

Emily Brontë was born on 30 July 1818, and died on 19 December 1848, one month after her younger brother Bramwell’s death. She lived most of her adult life in Haworth, Yorkshire, where her father was the parson. The photo above shows the main street in the 1800s. The parsonage and churchyard were near the top of the steep climb uphill. The major things missing from the photo are horses, garbage of all kinds flowing downhill, and the stench.

When I read this poem, I imagine Emily B walking up the steep hill beside me, coaching and encouraging me.

First Stanza
Don’t flinch or turn aside! Don’t be startled when you ‘come upon’ the path leading to the churchyard wall, looming at the end. Don’t swerve with dread, like horses in the heat of battle. Stay calm. Trust you’re in the best of hands. It will warm and brighten your way.

Yes, it’s uncanny and even frightening to hear your own footsteps on the stony path up this particular hill. Just remember all the saints who went this way before you. You can’t see them, but they’re cheering you on, encouraging you to stay the course instead of breaking away as though you could escape harm, pain or death.

Second Stanza
Yes, the noonday sun is blazing hot right now. Don’t try to hide from it. Look up ahead! There’s a shadow that will welcome you sooner, not later. It probably feels steeper now than it did at the beginning. It’s normal to be weary of the uphill grind. Still, your goal is just ahead. It won’t be long now. Then we can rest for a long time in utter quiet.

Third Stanza
It doesn’t matter that this path might have us walking on resting places of the dead. They’re already sleeping soundly beneath the ground in the churchyard. Besides….

…why should mortals fear to tread
The pathway to their future home?

Something like that, I think.

Thanks for visiting and reading, even though the topic isn’t everyone’s favorite.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2018
Photos found at kleurrijkbrontesisters.blogspot.com