Saturday, 29 September 2012

Spellbound, by Emily Bronte


by Emily Bronte

The setting of Emily Bronte's poem “Spellbound” is the Yorkshire Moors in England, the same setting as for her novel “Wuthering Heights.” The speaker is there on a cold winter's night, and the atmosphere is very bleak. Emily Bronte wrote the poem in 1837, at the age of nineteen. She and her sisters, Charlotte and Ann, had imagined a world that they called Gondal. In Gondal, the heroes and heroines they wrote about found themselves in romantic and sometimes tragic circumstances. Juliet Barker and Fannie Ratchford, both authorities on the poems of Emily Bronte, believe that “Spellbound” revolves around a mother who leaves her child out on the moors to die of exposure. Watching her child die is torture for her, but the woman is under a spell and finds herself unable to walk away. There is, however, no actual reference to a child in the poem.

The opening line of the poem “Spellbound” tells us that darkness is descending and surrounding the speaker. In the following line, Bronte uses alliteration in the phrase “wild winds” to make the description more vivid; not only are the winds strong, but they are also cold. The word “But” at the beginning of the third line conveys the sense that nobody would want to stay out on a cold, dark night. The speaker, however, is under “a tyrant spell,” the adjective implying that the spell is a particularly harsh, cruel one. Bronte connects the third line to the fourth with enjambment, thus linking the idea that because of the spell, the speaker is unable to leave the place where she is. The repetition of “cannot” emphasises the fact that it is impossible for her to go away.

The second stanza continues the description of the setting and intensifies the extreme weather conditions. The trees are “giant,” which stresses their size but also perhaps personifies them and creates a sense of fear. Bronte uses alliteration once again in the phrase “bending / their bare boughs.” Snow is laying heavily on the boughs of the trees, so the wintery conditions are indeed severe. In line seven the speaker says that a storm is brewing, but the second stanza closes in a similar way to the first: “And yet I cannot go.”

In the third and final stanza, Bronte uses repetition to underline the difficult conditions. First of all there are “Clouds beyond clouds” in the sky, then “Wastes beyond wastes below.” Wastes are barren land, creating the impression of a lonely, uninhabited place where a woman would not wish to be alone on a stormy winter's night. Despite this, the speaker says in line 11 that nothing “drear,” which means dismal or depressing, will make her move from the spot. In the final line of the poem she states not only that she cannot go, as she says at the end of the first two stanzas, but that she “will not” go. The spell seems to have taken such a hold upon her that she would not even make any attempt to leave.

The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CBCB ABAB, which forms a symmetrical pattern. The first, third, ninth and eleventh lines all in fact end with the word “me” so they are identical rather than rhyming words. This serves to accentuate the predicament of the woman; she is surrounded by darkness and severe weather, but the force of the spell makes her unable to move. The fact that the second stanza, which is also the middle one, has the rhyming words “bending” and descending” sets it apart from the other two stanzas. The first and last stanzas are similar in the length of lines, as in both of them the first and third lines are slightly longer than the second and fourth. In the second stanza, line six appears to be the longest one in the poem, although it is not the one with the most syllables. The fact that the first and third stanzas look very similar, however, does add to the feeling of symmetry that is established by the rhyme scheme.

“Spellbound” is a brief poem but within the three stanzas Emily Bronte creates a powerful atmosphere through the use of vivid description, repetition of words and phrases and rhyming patterns. Initially there is a sense of the desperation of the woman who is speaking, but by the end of the poem, when “will not” is added to her statement “cannot go,” the idea that she is under a “tyrant spell” becomes all too convincing.

Here is the full text of the poem:

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.
And 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.

Originally published on

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