Last Lines

 Overview

Brontë’s final written words embrace her impending death with the surety of faith and her ascension to heaven and eternal bliss. She positions herself as being without fear as a result and is critical of those who allow their earthly pleasures to make them doubt the paradise that awaits in the after life. Her lines also lavish worship and flattery upon God, presumably as a way of buttering him up before she reaches the pearly gates.

Mini-Glossary
creeds – 
beliefs;
boundless main – meaning the ocean;
fast – tight or strong grip;
pervades – being present everywhere all at once.

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life–that in me has rest,
As I–undying Life–have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as wither’d weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine Infinity;
So surely anchor’d on
The steadfast rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou were left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou–Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

Analysis
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

I am a little bit ashamed to tell you that I have never read a single text from any of the Brontë sister. If I mentioned that at work I would almost certainly get lynched. Anyway, analysing this poem renders that no longer true.

The Brontës were the nineteenth centuries literary equivalent of the Kardashians with three sisters all finding literary acclaim for their talents. Emily was the fifth of six children and the fourth daughter in the family and is most famous for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, which is a tragic romance and was published under a male pseudonym as she and her sisters felt that their writing would be judged unfeminine and thus be criticised.

A year after it was published, with Emily only 30 years old, she died of tuberculosis after refusing any medical assistance.

We know very little about her character as she was very shy and lived a secluded life. Although religious faith dominates this poem, the details we do have about her life don’t paint her to be any more or less devout than was common at the time. However, the religious sentiment within the poem could be seen as being amplified by her perilous health.

Her elder sister, Charlotte (the author of Jane Eyre), released this poem as her sister’s final written work and is clearly the reflections of someone who knows the end if approaching.

 Themes

Another reflection and perspective on death, this time heavily influenced by religious convictions. As Brontë faces her own death, she finds comfort in her faith and therefore sees this as a step not to be feared, but embraced, and blasts those who have let their earthly pleasures make them doubt that eternal bliss awaits after death.

Content

Brontë begins by describing herself as strong and brave in the face of her impending death, which may seem contrary to the popular reaction. Within the stanza she justifies her bravery by painting the world as being the troubled place and heaven as being all shiny, bright and perfect.

She next flatters the big chap in the sky with some platitudes about his power, which reflect her belief that despite her death she will still have life through God and thus in heaven.

From praise to criticism, in the third and fourth stanzas, she gets on her high horse and throws stones at those who do fear death as a result of enjoying their earthly existence too much or losing their faith. In the fifth and sixth, their stupidity is explained as Brontë explains again how God’s power is infinite and all-embracing that our own deaths are insignificant as we will all continue to exist as part of God as he is our creator and our essence.

She ends with a reflection that God’s power makes it impossible for our existence to ever be over or there to be a complete finality to existence as represented by death. It almost sounds scientific when she references the impossibility of an atom simply vanishing from existence, as when we die the atoms that were our make up with be repurposed by the universe. I doubt Brontë meant this, but she wanted to get across that she believes that nothing created by God could simply cease to exist, but that the form must change.

Language and techniques

Brontë conveys her faith that death leads to paradise through a combination of forthright critique of those lacking faith and statements of conviction and certainty making her brave in the face of her demise.

Initially she reflects her own faith through comparison with those that lack it. She is ‘no coward’, ‘no trembler’, but these pejorative words suggests that she views those who do not share her faith with contempt and looks down upon them.

In the third stanza she adds to this by repeating her view that they are ‘vain’, in fact so much so that the second time it becomes ‘unutterabl[e]’, which suggests it disgusts her to think of these people who dare to put their own earthly lives above their faith in God. In addition, she sees them as ‘worthless as wither’d weeds’ (the alliteration in this simile here almost forces you to spit these words out, again conveying her contempt) and therefore lowly, unimportant and something she wants rid of from her garden.

Stemming across the third and fourth stanzas, we have another comparison (metaphor) between those lacking faith and the ‘idlest froth’ of the ‘boundless ocean’, which is a powerful piece of imagery conveying the magnitude of God and his power in the form of an endless ocean and the individual human existence to some barely noticeable, insignificant and unremarkable froth. I will touch on this again, when exploring the way Brontë perceives herself in relation to death.

The effect of using these pejorative expressions and demonstrating extreme contempt towards those lacking faith is two fold. Firstly it acts as a strong message requiring self-reflection by the audience: are we so vain as to worry about our death as if it was of any significance? You may be shouting yes, but if you consider the context of the society this poem was written within, the majority of people would have had strong religious conviction and thus have felt guilty for effectively questioning God by fearing their own demise. Secondly, the severity of her rebukes serve to reflect upon her staunch faith and separate her from any notion of religious doubt at any stage of her existence.

Next, let’s look at the way Brontë uses language to positively demonstrate the certainty of her faith. In the opening stanza she compares faith to a suit of armour ‘arming [her] from fear’, which protects her from the ‘storm-troubled sphere’ that is the world and the doubts that earthly existence can allow to pervade faith. However, what I find particular powerful here is the absolute certainty of the statement as it she ‘see[s] Heaven’s glories shine’ as if she has already seen the truth of what awaits after death.

If we revisit the metaphor relating God’s power to an endless ocean, Brontë positions herself as ‘holding so fast’ the ‘steadfast rock of immortality’ and thus, even within this heavenly infinity, she knows her place in existence and where she fits in God’s grand scheme. Again we have no trace of doubt, her certainty further emphasised by her description of her being ‘so surely anchor’d’ and thus in no danger whatsoever of being swayed by doubt and drifting without direction in this ocean.

Another aspect to explore here is the way the reciprocity between the human soul and God is developed. The opening line connects us with the idea that death is a departure from the body, but continued existence comes in the form of the ‘soul’. This soul is ‘God within my breast’ and thus part of our existence comes directly from the Divine, but also ‘I have power in Thee’ suggests that even when our bodies die we continue to exist within God as our souls represent a part of him.

In the sixth stanza, Brontë creates this powerful image of the end of all life, our planet and solar system ceasing to exist and yet ‘every existence would exist in Thee’ and thus the human soul is positioned as being inseparable from God’s being. This idea culminates in the final stanza dismissing the notion of Death as an end to existence or leading to a nothingness. The capitalisation here shows that Brontë is tackling the popular idea of the grim reaper or Death figure who ferries away our souls. For Brontë this is impossible as our very atoms exist as part of God and thus cannot be ‘render[ed] void’ or ‘destroyed’.

I read a lovely, succinct piece of analysis that might do a better job than me in part and you can read that if you click here.

Structure

The first thing to comment on here is the regularity of stanza construction and rhyme. Each of the seven stanzas is organised as a quatrain with an ABAB rhyme scheme and the rhyming lines share syllable count.

Combine this with the majority of the poem being punctuated so that it is read in a calm and steady pace. Brontë only deviates from this on a couple of occasions, using caesura and enjambment, only when moved by praise she is showering on God or contempt she is pouring upon those who do not share her steadfast faith.

This regularity and the pace of the poem reflect the calm manner in which Brontë is facing death. The structure and the pace of the poem convey no sense of panic, fear or distress, but instead demonstrate that she is at peace with herself and awaiting her end with open arms.

If you are very clever and feel you can word it effectively, you might want to comment on the one example of imperfect/half rhyme used in the sixth stanza and explained in the blog posted I referred to at the end of the previous section.

The words ‘gone’ and ‘alone’ have a similar form, but pronunciation renders the rhyme strained at best. This isn’t Brontë screwing up, but is a deliberate attempt to draw attention to her subject matter at this point. The jarring rhyme in fact reflects jarring concepts as she explains in this stanza that man cannot cease to exist or be gone and neither can God be alone as the two are inseparable and exist as part of each other.

Tone

Such is Brontë’s conviction and certainty in her faith, this poem is read in a calm and reflective tone with a sense of looking forward to the change that her life ending will bring. There are little spikes of passion, both positive and negative, when referencing her devotion/admiration toward God and contempt towards those who doubt their faith.

Animated Social Media Icons by Acurax Wordpress Development Company
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter