Essay / Misc.

Wuthering Hits

Last month I got to teach Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights to a group of students. I had never read the book before, so I put in some serious time reading and re-reading it (impossible structure!), watching the Fiennes/Binoche movie version (too smoochy), and reading some scholarly articles (archetypal quests, doppelgängers, King Lear, lesbianism, vampires, and about a half dozen articles on the role of dogs in this novel).

The hardest thing for me to figure out is the religious vision of the novel. It’s not just my tendency to read God into everything that makes me say that there’s something spiritual going on here. Emily Bronte’s imagination is of the visionary variety. But I think I found a shortcut to the main thing.

In 1841, Emily wrote a little poem with the first line “Shall earth no more inspire thee.” It was published by Charlotte in 1850, with this note:

The following little piece has no title, but in it the genius of a solitary region seems to address his wandering and wayward votary, and to recall within his influences the proud mind which rebelled at times against what it most loved.

The next voice you hear is some kind of chthonic spirit speaking to its devotee with complete authority:

Shall Earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee
Shall Nature cease to bow?

Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving–
Come back, and dwell with me.

I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee still–
I know my sunshine pleases
Despite thy wayward will.

When day with evening blending
Sinks from the summer sky,
I’ve seen thy spirit bending
In fond idolatry.

I’ve watched thee every hour;
I know my mighty sway:
I know my magic power
To drive thy griefs away.

Few hearts to mortals given
On earth so widely pine;
Yet few would ask a Heaven
More like this Earth than thine.

Then let my winds caress thee;
Thy comrade let me be–
Since nought beside can bless thee,
Return and dwell with me.

Not for Emily the pedestrian question of how to distinguish this earth spirit from a truly transcendent God! Worship is worship for this oddest Bronte (which is really saying something, after all). This little poem is a microcosm of the spiritual vision of Wuthering Heights.

I didn’t say I could explain it. I just think I found the whole mystery in a short piece that fits on a page.

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