Thursday, September 21, 2017

the guardian moon and her comrade star

Crescent moon with Venus at evening

[Image source:]

I recently wrote a post about Emily Brontë's earliest dated poem.

Here's the poem again:

Cold clear and blue the morning heaven
Expands its arch on high
Cold clear and blue Lake Werna's water
Reflects that winter's sky
The moon has set but Venus shines
A silent silvery star

(In or before July 1836, age 17)

I've been reading Emily's complete poems in chronological order of composition, and now I've reached the other end of her output, some ten years later on. And suddenly there comes a flicker of memory of that early poem:

M.A. Written on the Dungeon Wall - N. C.

I know that tonight, the wind is sighing,
The soft August wind, over forest and moor
While I in a grave-like chill am lying
On the damp black flags of my dungeon-floor --

I know that the Harvest Moon is shining;
She neither will wax nor wane for me.
Yet I weary, weary, with vain repining,
One gleam of her heaven-bright face to see!

For this constant darkness is wasting the gladness
Fast wasting the gladness of life away;
It gathers up thoughts akin to madness
That never would cloud the world of day

I chide with my soul -- I bid it cherish
The feelings it lived on when I was free,
But shrinking it murmurs, 'Let Memory perish
Forget for thy Friends have forgotten thee!'

Alas, I did think that they were weeping
Such tears as I weep -- it is not so!
Their careless young eyes are closed in sleeping;
Their brows are unshadowed, undimmed by woe --

Might I go to their beds, I'd rouse that slumber,
My spirit should startle their rest, and tell
How hour after hour, I wakefully number
Deep buried from light in my lonely cell!

Yet let them dream on, though dreary dreaming
Would haunt my pillow if they were here
And I were laid warmly under the gleaming
Of that guardian moon and her comrade star --

Better that I my own fate mourning
Should pine alone in the prison-gloom
Than waken free on the summer morning
And feel they were suffering this awful doom

[No. 164 in Janet Regazi's edition, dated August 1845.]

* M.A. is a Gondal character, not known from other sources. N.C. : the Northern College. This was indeed a college, where children of the Gondal nobility were educated. But in the Gondal world every building has its dungeon.

Both Emily and Anne wrote "dungeon wall" poems. And in fact Anne's dungeon wall poem of 16 Dec 1844 "Though not a breath can enter here" had introduced the motifs of sensory exclusion and of being neglected by the free world.  Emily's poem meditates further on that. It passes to and fro between the captive's evocation of luminous late summer evenings and the absolute exclusion of those luminous evenings from the captive's present dungeon.

And a drastic choice looms. Since the captive's fate is forgotten by the people above, shouldn't the captive forget the world above? That is to say, forget her/his own memories? That impulse comes from within and we see it's driven by despair and disappointment but also by self-preservation. It's the residual connection with that other life, now thinned to memory, that is torturing.

It was written only a few weeks before "The Prisoner". Self-pity is explicit in this sketchy lyric, while the heroine of "The Prisoner" conspicuously defies self-pity and she mentions no friends upon this earth;  nevertheless, her pitifulness does seem to be an understood thing.

Anyway, "that guardian moon and her comrade star" means the moon and Venus.  The two have been linked since very early times.  As the brightest objects in the night sky, they often seem to have the sky to themselves, particularly during a misty twilight when fainter objects can't be seen. They sometimes appear quite close together: a waxing crescent with the evening star after sunset (as in the photo above), or a waning crescent with the morning star near dawn.  A fairly close conjunction takes place around 8 times a year (about half of them during hours of darkness)

[As on the well-known crescent-and-star symbol on many flags. This is often mistakenly identified with Islam, but Islamic thought deplores visual images, especially for the divine. The crescent-and-star was an emblem of the Ottoman Empire; its origins are pre-Islamic.]

Emily's poems usually speak rapturously of the heavens, and especially of these two comrades. In the sensation-starved and solitary life of Haworth, their appearance in a window was something that mattered. She saw them as nurturers and comforters.

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