The 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 bending
Their 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.
Born on the 30th of July 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire, Emily Jane Bronte was an English novelist and poet, most famously recognised for her classic english novel Wuthering Heights.
Bronte’s novel ‘Spellbound’ looks at the theme of life after death and takes on an admirable approach towards nature and the regular course of life. Using alliteration, Bronte conveys the notion of purgatory; a desolate no-mans land in-between life and death, while suggesting the inability to move in any particular direction due to something the narrator is holding on to or unsure of.
Opening the poem with ‘The night is darkening around me’ , the audience is immediately placed in a moment in time. For me, the darkness represents the coming of sleep or loss of consciousness, which as it engulfs the narrator, is metaphorically conveying the belief that they are losing life; it is moving them towards another time and place. ‘Wild winds coldly blow’ refers to the individuals state of mind; an active mind, however ‘cold’ may indicate that death is not being easily accepted. By using ‘tyrant spell’, I believe Bronte is referencing a religious contribution to her immobility. Perhaps this religious input is part of her reluctance to accept death; a questioning of faith may be the reason she has been ‘bound’, why she ‘cannot, cannot go’.
Within the second stanza, trees are used as symbolic forms; typically, trees are a sign of life and good and evil. If ‘The giant trees are bending’, this could in fact have a two way representation; not only is a large life weakening, but the distinction and difference between good and evil is perhaps being hindered (perhaps this also contributes to the narrator’s questionable attitude towards her belief system?). ‘Their bare boughs weighed with snow’ contributes further to this symbolism as it illustrates the burden placed on the individual within their lifetime. ‘Bare’ may also indicate towards a life or religion that has been stripped of outside materialistic content, conveying to the reader that when it comes down to death, all you really can depend on is your own spirited self. The continual coming of judgement typical of purgatory is represented in the lines ‘The storm is fast descending’, while the point that the narrator ‘cannot go’ is again reiterated.
The third and final stanza clarifies the belief that the narrator is stuck in purgatory within the first two lines. ‘Clouds beyond clouds above me’ represents what’s beyond for the narrator as long as they move forward; salvation, peace and heaven, while ‘wastes beyond wastes below’ adheres to what is behind them; a dark hell full of discarded lives. The reader is grounded by the realisation that the narrator is in fact trapped on her own accord; ‘nothing drear can move me’ indicates that all along it is has been their choice to remain immobile.
Even as the poem concludes the reader is still left with the impression no progress has been made. The final lines stating that the narrator ‘will not, cannot go’, enhance the ideology that they are still holding onto the questioning of their faith. They can not accept it and move forward towards salvation without the unburdening of their thoughts.
The poem ‘Spellbound’ is relatively short and contains a vast amount of symbolism allowing may different meaning’s to be extracted from it. I feel the theme of death as an inevitable force is important within Emily Bronte’s poetry, as throughout her life she was constantly subjected to it’s ideology; the death of her mother, and her two sisters Maria and Elizabeth. With death so close to her, I also find it interesting that her faith may have also been effected by the fact so many loved ones were taken from her so soon. It is this that stuck in my mind throughout the evaluation.