Pilate’s Wife’s Dream

Charlotte Bronte

“Pilate’s Wife’s Dream” from Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell (Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë)


Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë)


I’ve quenched my lamp, I struck it in that start
Which every limb convulsed, I heard it fall
The crash blent with my sleep, I saw depart
Its light, even as I woke, on yonder wall;
Over against my bed, there shone a gleam
Strange, faint, and mingling also with my dream.

It sunk, and I am wrapt in utter gloom; 
How far is night advanced, and when will day
Retinge the dusk and livid air with bloom,
And fill this void with warm, creative ray ? 
Would I could sleep again till, clear and red,
Morning shall on the mountain-tops be spread!

I’d call my women, but to break their sleep, 
Because my own is broken, were unjust;


They’ve wrought all day, and well-earned slumbers steep
Their labours in forgetfulness, I trust; 
Let me my feverish watch with patience bear, 
Thankful that none with me its sufferings share.

Yet, Oh, for light ! one ray would tranquilise 
My nerves, my pulses, more than effort can; 
I’ll draw my curtain and consult the skies: 
These trembling stars at dead of night look wan, 
Wild, restless, strange, yet cannot be more drear 
Than this my couch, shared by a nameless fear.

All blackone great cloud, drawn from east to west, 
Conceals the heavens, but there are lights below; 
Torches burn in Jerusalem, and cast 
On yonder stony mount a lurid glow. 
I see men stationed there, and gleaming spears; 
A sound, too, from afar, invades my ears.

Dull, measured, strokes of axe and hammer ring 
From street to street, not loud, but through the night 
Distinctly heardand some strange spectral thing 
Is now uprearedand, fixed against the light 
Of the pale lamps; defined upon that sky, 
It stands up like a column, straight and high.

I see it allI know the dusky sign
A cross on Calvary, which Jews uprear


While Romans watch; and when the dawn shall shine 
Pilate, to judge the victim will appear, 
Pass sentenceyield him up to crucify; 
And on that cross the spotless Christ must die.

Dreams, then, are truefor thus my vision ran; 
Surely some oracle has been with me,
The gods have chosen me to reveal their plan, 
To warn an unjust judge of destiny: 
I, slumbering, heard and saw; awake I know, 
Christ’s coming death, and Pilate’s life of woe.

I do not weep for Pilatewho could prove 
Regret for him whose cold and crushing sway 
No prayer can soften, no appeal can move;
Who tramples hearts as others trample clay, 
Yet with a faltering, an uncertain tread, 
That might stir up reprisal in the dead.

Forced to sit by his side and see his deeds; 
Forced to behold that visage, hour by hour, 
In whose gaunt lines, the abhorrent gazer reads 
A triple lust of gold, and blood, and power; 
A soul whom motives, fierce, yet abject, urge 
Rome’s servile slave, and Judah’s tyrant scourge.

How can I love, or mourn, or pity him ?
I, who so long my fettered hands have wrung;


I, who for grief have wept my eye-sight dim; 
Because, while life for me was bright and young, 
He robbed my youthhe quenched my life’s fair ray
He crushed my mind, and did my freedom slay.


And at this houralthough I be his wife 
He has no more of tenderness from me 
Than any other wretch of guilty life; 
Less, for I know his household privacy 
I see him as he iswithout a screen; 
And, by the gods, my soul abhors his mien !

Has he not sought my presence, dyed in blood 
Innocent, righteous blood, shed shamelessly ? 
And have I not his red salute withstood ? 
Aye,when, as erst, he plunged all Galilee 
In dark bereavementin affliction sore, 
Mingling their very offerings with their gore.

Then came hein his eyes a serpent-smile, 
Upon his lips some false, endearing word, 
And, through the streets of Salem, clanged the while,
His slaughtering, hacking, sacrilegious sword 
And I, to see a man cause men such woe, 
Trembled with ireI did not fear to show.

And now, the envious Jewish priests have brought
Jesuswhom they in mockery call their king


To have, by this grim power, their vengeance wrought; 
By this mean reptile, innocence to sting. 
Oh ! could I but the purposed doom avert, 
And shield the blameless head from cruel hurt!

Accessible is Pilate’s heart to fear, 
Omens will shake his soul, like autumn leaf; 
Could he this night’s appalling vision hear, 
This just man’s bonds were loosed, his life were safe, 
Unless that bitter priesthood should prevail, 
And make even terror to their malice quail.

Yet if I tell the dreambut let me pause.
What dream ? Erewhile the characters were clear,
Graved on my brainat once some unknown cause
Has dimmed and rased the thoughts, which now appear,
Like a vague remnant of some by-past scene;
Not what will be, but what, long since, has been.

I suffered many things, I heard foretold 
A dreadful doom for Pilate,lingering woes, 
In far, barbarian climes, where mountains cold 
Built up a solitude of trackless snows, 
There, he and grisly wolves prowled side by side, 
There he lived famishedthere methought he died;

But not of hunger, nor by malady;
I saw the snow around him, stained with gore;


I said I had no tears for such as he, 
And, lo ! my cheek is wetmine eyes run o’er; 
I weep for mortal suffering, mortal guilt, 
I weep the impious deedthe blood self-spilt.

More I recall not, yet the vision spread 
Into a world remote, an age to come 
And still the illumined name of Jesus shed 
A light, a clearness, through the enfolding gloom 
And still I saw that sign, which now I see, 
That cross on yonder brow of Calvary.

What is this Hebrew Christ ? To me unknown, 
His lineagedoctrinemissionyet how clear, 
Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn ! 
How straight and stainless is his life’s career ! 
The ray of Deity that rests on him, 
In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.

The world advances, Greek, or Roman rite
Suffices not the inquiring mind to stay;
The searching soul demands a purer light 
To guide it on its upward, onward way;
Ashamed of sculptured godsReligion turns 
To where the unseen Jehovah’s altar burns.

Our faith is rottenall our rites defiled,
Our temples sullied, and methinks, this man,
With his new ordinance, so wise and mild,
Is come, even as he says, the chaff to fan


And sever from the wheat; but will his faith 
Survive the terrors of to-morrow’s death ?

 

* * * * *

I feel a firmer trusta higher hope 
Rise in my soulit dawns with dawning day; 
Lo ! on the Temple’s roofon Moriah’s slope 
Appears at length that clear, and crimson ray, 
Which I so wished for when shut in by night; 
Oh, opening skies, I hail, I bless your light !

Part, clouds and shadows ! glorious Sun appear ! 
Part, mental gloom ! Come insight from on high ! 
Dusk dawn in heaven still strives with daylight clear, 
The longing soul, doth still uncertain sigh. 
Oh ! to behold the truththat sun divine, 
How doth my bosom pant, my spirit pine !

This day, time travails with a mighty birth, 
This day, Truth stoops from heaven and visits earth, 
Ere night descends, I shall more surely know 
What guide to follow, in what path to go; 
I wait in hopeI wait in solemn fear, 
The oracle of Godthe soletrue Godto hear.

CURRER.


What I really like about this poem is the way Brontë gives a uniquely feminine perspective to the Biblical story. With a few exceptions the Gospels have a  masculine perspective. Brontë writes with a voice that is infused with emotion, first foreboding, then pity and finally hope. She isn’t just telling the story, she’s narrating feelings, and from the things her narrator feels, we get a good picture of the character she is creating in Pilate’s wife. I think it’s pretty brilliant.

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