I have been preparing for a presentation I have to give on Friday about a poem by Emily Brontë, entitled The night is darkening round me (or not exactly entitled, since as many of her poems, the first line is used as the title as well), and I thought I’d share my ideas about it here. I’d appreciate if no one used this for anything they shouldn’t, since I put a lot of effort and thought into this.
“The night is darkening round me” by Emily Brontë
The poem “The night is darkening round me” was written by Emily Brontë in 1837. The poem consists of three stanzas, all of which are rhyming quatrains following the rhyme pattern of ABAB. The A-lines all contain three unstressed + stressed syllable pairs, and end with an extra unstressed syllable. The B-lines contain only the three unstressed + stressed syllable pairs, and thus end in a stressed syllable. The exception to this rule are the two first lines of the third stanza, which jump over the first unstressed syllable, but otherwise follow the usual pattern. This change, even though it seems small, breaks the rhythm of the rest of the poem, since it needs to be read differently, and therefore cause more attention to be paid there.
In the first stanza, we meet a character, who remains unidentified throughout the whole of the poem. We don’t even get any clues on whether the speaker is a man or a woman; all we know is that they are bound by a “tyrant spell”, which prevents them from leaving the place they are in – something that stays unclear as well. What we are told here, is that night is approaching fast, and there is a cold wind blowing.
In the second stanza, the nature and the approaching storm are described in further detail. We learn that it is winter, as the “giant trees” have “their bare boughs weighed with snow”, and that the wind is so strong the trees are bending with it. And despite the harshness of all this, the speaker still states that they “cannot go”.
In the third and final stanza, the devastation is taken even further, as there are “clouds beyond clouds” on the sky and “wastes beyond wastes” on the ground. And once more the character states that they “cannot go” since “nothing drear can move” them. However, now we notice a slight change in the way this inability is portrayed, for they add the notion of ‘will’ (“I will not, cannot go.”) This addition changes the whole tone of the poem, as we learn now that the speaker is actually not even wanting to leave; they are satisfied (or if not satisfied, in terms with) their incarceration or bewitching, or whatever it is that keeps them in that place, no matter how the forces of nature try to shake them (or their will).
The poem is part of Emily Brontë’s personal poems (since her poems can be basically grouped into two categories; those more personal and those based on the imaginary world of Gondal created by Emily and her sister Anne). However, some researchers seem to think that it might have originally been a part of a longer context based on the world of Gondal, which would further explain both the character and the situation.
The poem includes a lot of negative, harsh imagery, caused by the use of words such as ‘wild’, ‘cold’, ‘dark, ‘bare’, all of which would seen common in Emily Brontë’s poetry. Repetition is also an important aspect of the poem’s language: the last line of all stanzas, even with their variations, and the two first lines of the third stanza – “clouds beyond clouds” and “wastes beyond wastes”. This is also an important point of opposition, where the clouds and wastes signify heaven and earth, respectively. Here, it seems, the character suggest that no matter what, nothing above nor below them can “move” them, make them change their mind.
The poem seems appears to focus on the idea of a stormy night (in brief relation to ‘me’), with only the last lines concentration on the person present. There is a sort of storyline, a progression of some sort, within these lines as well. The speaker goes from ‘absolutely not being able to go’, to ‘there is a possibility that I could go, but I am still stuck here’, to ‘I could go, but I don’t want to’. The last point turns the first one on its head, and instead of ‘not being able to go somewhere’, we can interpret it as ‘not being able to tear oneself away from this place’.
In the first stanza, we could think that it is merely this coming storm that has got the speaker locked up somewhere, maybe, until we come to the notion of a “tyrant spell”. This notion is not further developed in itself, but the last line reveals something important. So what is this “tyrant spell”? This part seems essential in unlocking the meaning of the poem. However, even if we remember the last line of the poem, it still remains a very open poem. Here are some possibilities, all based on recurring themes of Emily Brontë’s work.
- death – death has come upon me, and there is no escape, but then again, I am actually not even afraid of it (OR, maybe not as strong as death, but a big problem in life, a great struggle. Not ‘we cannot escape death’ but ‘we shouldn’t escape our problems’.)
- love – it does not matter what life throws on me, I love this place (or person?) so that I will never leave (tyrant as in something big, huge, greater than oneself, as love often is described)
- imagination – I am stuck with a burst of imagination, and I cannot escape it, and would not even want to
- nature – the appreciation I feel for nature has struck me senseless as I’m watching the stormy night, and even though it might frighten me, I want to stay and contemplate
The poem could be linked with other works by Emily Brontë. For example, in the poem “I’ll come when thou art saddest”, the author seems to present a similar atmosphere, but from another point of view. It is as if we could, perhaps, read these two poems as two sides to the same story. The only exception is that this poem has a slight hint of happiness – or content, at least, – which is not present in the other. Although, the speaker of the second might just not be aware of this willingness of the first, since Emily Brontë seems to always reduce her poems to a narrower perspective – one mind, of one speaker.
Another example would be the novel, Wuthering Heights, which has a lot of the same language, vocabulary and imagery of storms, urgency, and the opposition of wanting and not being able to do something (as in Catherine’s love for Heathcliff and Edgar Linton).
And here is the poem:
The night is darkening round meThe night is darkening round me,The wild winds coldly blow;But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.The giant trees are bendingTheir bare boughs weighed with snow;The storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.Clouds beyond clouds above me,Wastes beyond wastes below;But nothing drear can move me;I will not, cannot go.
Any comments, ideas or suggestions (or corrections, perhaps), will be very much appreciated!