Category Archives: Sebastiaen Vrancx

All overgrown by cunning moss

Aeneas meeting with his father in the Elysium, 1597, Sebastiaen Vrancx
Background Image: Aeneas meeting with his father in the Elysium, 1597, Sebastiaen Vrancx

The word “puzzled” is a remarkable adjective to use at the end of this poem because it implies that Charlotte Brontë will continue to be “This bird – observing others”, though who now will be applying her craft as a writer and observer in “Heaven”. Emily is suggesting that Charlotte will live forever and that her works will continue to inspire even though she is no longer with us.

Emily is quite bold in making a connection between Charlotte and Jesus, however I would assume that Charlotte was an incredibly important figure in Emily’s life, not just as a writer, but as a successful woman writer. Perhaps this is why Emily includes Charlotte’s pen-name, “Currer Bell” because she wants to recognize the struggle for female writers who work in a field dominated by men. The middle portion of the poem is dominated with the image of “anguish” which she compares to Jesus’ “anguish” in the Garden of “Gethsemane” (a topic Emily has written about in “I like a look of Agony“) to Charlotte’s struggle with her illness but also as a female writer.

In fact, Emily is keen on exploring the notion of “anguish” as it relates to the loss of one’s name and identity. “Currer Bell” was the name chosen so that Charlotte could publish without the public knowing she was a woman, but imagine the pain involved in such a decision, to spend so much of one’s self in the act of creation only to have born into the world as an orphan without its rightful mother. Emily would likely have felt the same way if someone had tried to separate her from her work, but as Christ agonized at “Gethsemane”, so too must have Charlotte who also wanted to be published and to allow her art to take flight but at the same time would most likely have been conflicted about having to change her name to make that happen. Which is the right choice? Allow your child to go of into the world without the protection of your name attached to them, or keep them at home in the nest never to fly? The parallel to Emily’s decision to remain anonymous is thus greatly illuminated.

But Emily is also concerned with transformation. The poem is structured so that by the end “Currer Bell” is rightfully identified as Charlotte “Bronte”; she no longer has to hide behind a false name, yet she is like the “Nightingale” who, though her song can still be heard, she remains hidden from mortal view in the next life at Elysium among the “Asphodel”. And as transformation involves growth, Emily uses the imagery of gardens (Elysium, “Gethsemane”, and “Eden”), and “cunning moss” and the “weed” to infuse the poem with a vitality of life that when cultivated has the potential to grow riot all over not just the mortal earth but also in the afterlife. Barren fields where “When frosts too sharp become” are reseeded the next season by “This bird” who seems to migrate between the gardens of this world where the cages of the dead artists gently fertilize the soil with art’s potential and the next world where the “Asphodel” grows and the dead listen with a “puzzled Ear” at the “soft” “sounds of Eden” for all eternity.