I believe the poem is about Charlotte’s brother Branwell, who suffered from alcoholism.
SHE will not sleep, for fear of dreams,
But, rising, quits her restless bed,
And walks where some beclouded beams
Of moonlight through the hall are shed.
Obedient to the goad of grief,
Her steps, now fast, now lingering slow,
In varying motion seek relief
From the Eumenides of woe.
Wringing her hands, at intervals–
But long as mute as phantom dim–
She glides along the dusky walls,
Under the black oak rafters, grim.
The close air of the grated tower
Stifles a heart that scarce can beat,
And, though so late and lone the hour,
Forth pass her wandering, faltering feet;
And on the pavement, spread before
The long front of the mansion grey,
Her steps imprint the night-frost hoar,
Which pale on grass and granite lay.
Not long she stayed where misty moon
And shimmering stars could on her look,
But through the garden arch-way, soon
Her strange and gloomy path she took.
Some firs, coeval with the tower,
Their straight black boughs stretched o’er her head,
Unseen, beneath this sable bower,
Rustled her dress and rapid tread.
There was an alcove in that shade,
Screening a rustic-seat and stand;
Weary she sat her down and laid
Her hot brow on her burning hand.
To solitude and to the night,
Some words she now, in murmurs, said;
And, trickling through her fingers white,
Some tears of misery she shed.
” God help me, in my grievous need,
God help me, in my inward pain;
Which cannot ask for pity’s meed,
Which has no license to complain;
Which must be borne, yet who can bear,
Hours long, days long, a constant weight–
The yoke of absolute despair,
A suffering wholly desolate ?
Who can for ever crush the heart,
Restrain its throbbing, curb its life ?
Dissemble truth with ceaseless art,
With outward calm, mask inward strife ?”
She waited–as for some reply;
The still and cloudy night gave none;
Erelong, with deep-drawn, trembling sigh,
Her heavy plaint again begun.
” Unloved–I love; unwept–I weep;
Grief I restrain–hope I repress:
Vain is this anguish–fixed and deep;
Vainer, desires and dreams of bliss.
My love awakes no love again,
My tears collect, and fall unfelt;
My sorrow touches none with pain,
My humble hopes to nothing melt.
For me the universe is dumb,
Stone-deaf, and blank, and wholly blind;
Life I must bound, existence sum
In the strait limits of one mind;
That mind my own. Oh ! narrow cell;
Dark–imageless–a living tomb !
There must I sleep, there wake and dwell
Content, with palsy, pain, and gloom.”
Again she paused; a moan of pain,
A stifled sob, alone was heard;
Long silence followed–then again,
Her voice the stagnant midnight stirred.
” Must it be so ? Is this my fate ?
Can I nor struggle, nor contend ?
And am I doomed for years to wait,
Watching death’s lingering axe descend ?
And when it falls, and when I die,
What follows ? Vacant nothingness ?
The blank of lost identity ?
Erasure both of pain and bliss ?
I’ve heard of heaven–I would believe;
For if this earth indeed be all,
Who longest lives may deepest grieve,
Most blest, whom sorrows soonest call.
Oh ! leaving disappointment here,
Will man find hope on yonder coast ?
Hope, which, on earth, shines never clear,
And oft in clouds is wholly lost.
Will he hope’s source of light behold,
Fruition’s spring, where doubts expire,
And drink, in waves of living gold,
Contentment, full, for long desire ?
Will he find bliss, which here he dreamed ?
Rest, which was weariness on earth ?
Knowledge, which, if o’er life it beamed,
Served but to prove it void of worth ?
Will he find love without lust’s leaven,
Love fearless, tearless, perfect, pure,
To all with equal bounty given,
In all, unfeigned, unfailing, sure ?
Will he, from penal sufferings free,
Released from shroud and wormy clod,
All calm and glorious, rise and see
Creation’s Sire–Existence’ God ?
Then, glancing back on Time’s brief woes,
Will he behold them, fading, fly;
Swept from Eternity’s repose,
Like sullying cloud, from pure blue sky ?
If so–endure, my weary frame;
And when thy anguish strikes too deep,
And when all troubled burns life’s flame,
Think of the quiet, final sleep;
Think of the glorious waking-hour,
Which will not dawn on grief and tears,
But on a ransomed spirit’s power,
Certain, and free from mortal fears.
Seek now thy couch, and lie till morn,
Then from thy chamber, calm, descend,
With mind nor tossed, nor anguish-torn,
But tranquil, fixed, to wait the end.
And when thy opening eyes shall see
Mementos, on the chamber wall,
Of one who has forgotten thee,
Shed not the tear of acrid gall.
The tear which, welling from the heart,
Burns where its drop corrosive falls,
And makes each nerve, in torture, start,
At feelings it too well recalls:
When the sweet hope of being loved,
Threw Eden sunshine on life’s way;
When every sense and feeling proved
Expectancy of brightest day.
When the hand trembled to receive
A thrilling clasp, which seemed so near,
And the heart ventured to believe,
Another heart esteemed it dear.
When words, half love, all tenderness,
Were hourly heard, as hourly spoken,
When the long, sunny days of bliss,
Only by moonlight nights were broken.
Till drop by drop, the cup of joy
Filled full, with purple light, was glowing,
And Faith, which watched it, sparkling high,
Still never dreamt the overflowing.
It fell not with a sudden crashing,
It poured not out like open sluice;
No, sparkling still, and redly flashing,
Drained, drop by drop, the generous juice.
I saw it sink, and strove to taste it,
My eager lips approached the brim;
The movement only seemed to waste it,
It sank to dregs, all harsh and dim.
These I have drank, and they for ever
Have poisoned life and love for me;
A draught from Sodom’s lake could never
More fiery, salt, and bitter, be.
Oh ! Love was all a thin illusion;
Joy, but the desert’s flying stream;
And, glancing back on long delusion,
My memory grasps a hollow dream.
Yet, whence that wondrous change of feeling,
I never knew, and cannot learn,
Nor why my lover’s eye, congealing,
Grew cold, and clouded, proud, and stern.
Nor wherefore, friendship’s forms forgetting,
He careless left, and cool withdrew;
Nor spoke of grief, nor fond regretting,
Nor even one glance of comfort threw.
And neither word nor token sending,
Of kindness, since the parting day,
His course, for distant regions bending,
Went, self-contained and calm, away.
Oh, bitter, blighting, keen sensation,
Which will not weaken, cannot die,
Hasten thy work of desolation,
And let my tortured spirit fly !
Vain as the passing gale, my crying;
Though lightning-struck, I must live on;
I know, at heart, there is no dying
Of love, and ruined hope, alone.
Still strong, and young, and warm with vigour,
Though scathed, I long shall greenly grow,
And many a storm of wildest rigour
Shall yet break o’er my shivered bough.
Rebellious now to blank inertion,
My unused strength demands a task;
Travel, and toil, and full exertion,
Are the last, only boon I ask.
Whence, then, this vain and barren dreaming
Of death, and dubious life to come ?
I see a nearer beacon gleaming
Over dejection’s sea of gloom.
The very wildness of my sorrow
Tells me I yet have innate force;
My track of life has been too narrow,
Effort shall trace a broader course.
The world is not in yonder tower,
Earth is not prisoned in that room,
‘Mid whose dark pannels, hour by hour,
I’ve sat, the slave and prey of gloom.
One feeling–turned to utter anguish,
Is not my being’s only aim;
When, lorn and loveless, life will languish,
But courage can revive the flame.
He, when he left me, went a roving
To sunny climes, beyond the sea;
And I, the weight of woe removing,
Am free and fetterless as he.
New scenes, new language, skies less clouded,
May once more wake the wish to live;
Strange, foreign towns, astir, and crowded,
New pictures to the mind may give.
New forms and faces, passing ever,
May hide the one I still retain,
Defined, and fixed, and fading never,
Stamped deep on vision, heart, and brain.
And we might meet–time may have changed him;
Chance may reveal the mystery,
The secret influence which estranged him;
Love may restore him yet to me.
False thought–false hope–in scorn be banished !
I am not loved–nor loved have been;
Recall not, then, the dreams scarce vanished,
Traitors ! mislead me not again !
To words like yours I bid defiance,
‘Tis such my mental wreck have made;
Of God alone, and self-reliance,
I ask for solace–hope for aid.
Morn comes–and ere meridian glory
O’er these, my natal woods, shall smile,
Both lonely wood and mansion hoary
I’ll leave behind, full many a mile.
First Publication: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell London: Aylott and Jones, 8, Paternoster Row, 1846. pp. 46-56.
Click here for a short biography of Charlotte Bronte