Tell me tell me | Emily Brontë
Here’s a Monday poem from our other Emily. My comments follow.
Tell me tell me
Tell me tell me smiling child
What the past is like to thee?
An Autumn evening soft and mild
With a wind that sighs mournfully
Tell me what is the present hour?
A green and flowery spray
Where a young bird sits gathering its power
To mount and fly away
And what is the future happy one?
A sea beneath a cloudless sun
A mighty glorious dazzling sea
Stretching into infinity
From selected poems of Emily Brontë, p. 28
Published in Everyman’s Library by Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd., sixth printing
In this little poem, Emily Brontë asks and answers three questions, each from her childhood point of view. Emily was the 5th of 6 children. She was 3 years old when her mother died of cancer. I don’t know what age she had in mind when she wrote the poem.
The first stanza is about her past. I’m surprised she’s smiling. Yes, the answer points to a lovely ending to a beautiful Autumn day. At the same time, she hears the sound of mourning, already in the air. Winter is coming.
The second stanza is about the present (her childhood present). I’m not sure whether the ‘spray’ is water, or the combined effect of leaves and flowers shooting up from the ground. Perhaps she’s in a meadow or beside the sea (which appears in the final stanza). In either case, a young bird is getting ready to leave the nest and fly away. No hint of mourning in the air.
The third stanza is about the future. By now (in the poem), the child is happy. No hints of mourning, regrets, or the agonies of adult life. And yet this seems the most painful stanza of all despite its happy ending. Perhaps it’s a small window into the hoped-for trajectory of Emily Brontë’s life, and a cautionary note?
I identify with this childhood dream. Once I flew the nest, I believed all would be well. Even the ‘small’ bumps in the road would, in the end, seem like nothing. Little did I know….
And yet this poem isn’t morose. It invites me to remember and hold close my childhood dreams. Not all will come true. Yet there’s that “mighty glorious dazzling sea stretching into infinity.” Who knows what yet will be? In life or in death.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2020
Photo found at wickipedia.org