The Poetry Corner

The Parlour. (From Gilbert)

By Charlotte Bronte

Warm is the parlour atmosphere, Serene the lamp's soft light; The vivid embers, red and clear, Proclaim a frosty night. Books, varied, on the table lie, Three children o'er them bend, And all, with curious, eager eye, The turning leaf attend. Picture and tale alternately Their simple hearts delight, And interest deep, and tempered glee, Illume their aspects bright. The parents, from their fireside place, Behold that pleasant scene, And joy is on the mother's face, Pride in the father's mien. As Gilbert sees his blooming wife, Beholds his children fair, No thought has he of transient strife, Or past, though piercing fear. The voice of happy infancy Lisps sweetly in his ear, His wife, with pleased and peaceful eye, Sits, kindly smiling, near. The fire glows on her silken dress, And shows its ample grace, And warmly tints each hazel tress, Curled soft around her face. The beauty that in youth he wooed, Is beauty still, unfaded; The brow of ever placid mood No churlish grief has shaded. Prosperity, in Gilbert's home, Abides the guest of years; There Want or Discord never come, And seldom Toil or Tears. The carpets bear the peaceful print Of comfort's velvet tread, And golden gleams, from plenty sent, In every nook are shed. The very silken spaniel seems Of quiet ease to tell, As near its mistress' feet it dreams, Sunk in a cushion's swell And smiles seem native to the eyes Of those sweet children, three; They have but looked on tranquil skies, And know not misery. Alas! that Misery should come In such an hour as this; Why could she not so calm a home A little longer miss? But she is now within the door, Her steps advancing glide; Her sullen shade has crossed the floor, She stands at Gilbert's side. She lays her hand upon his heart, It bounds with agony; His fireside chair shakes with the start That shook the garden tree. His wife towards the children looks, She does not mark his mien; The children, bending o'er their books, His terror have not seen. In his own home, by his own hearth, He sits in solitude, And circled round with light and mirth, Cold horror chills his blood. His mind would hold with desperate clutch The scene that round him lies; No, changed, as by some wizard's touch, The present prospect flies. A tumult vague, a viewless strife His futile struggles crush; 'Twixt him and his an unknown life And unknown feelings rush. He sees, but scarce can language paint The tissue fancy weaves; For words oft give but echo faint Of thoughts the mind conceives. Noise, tumult strange, and darkness dim, Efface both light and quiet; No shape is in those shadows grim, No voice in that wild riot. Sustain'd and strong, a wondrous blast Above and round him blows; A greenish gloom, dense overcast, Each moment denser grows. He nothing knows, nor clearly sees, Resistance checks his breath, The high, impetuous, ceaseless breeze Blows on him cold as death. And still the undulating gloom Mocks sight with formless motion: Was such sensation Jonah's doom, Gulphed in the depths of ocean? Streaking the air, the nameless vision, Fast-driven, deep-sounding, flows; Oh! whence its source, and what its mission? How will its terrors close? Long-sweeping, rushing, vast and void, The universe it swallows; And still the dark, devouring tide A typhoon tempest follows. More slow it rolls; its furious race Sinks to its solemn gliding; The stunning roar, the wind's wild chase, To stillness are subsiding. And, slowly borne along, a form The shapeless chaos varies; Poised in the eddy to the storm, Before the eye it tarries. A woman drowned, sunk in the deep, On a long wave reclining; The circling waters' crystal sweep, Like glass, her shape enshrining. Her pale dead face, to Gilbert turned, Seems as in sleep reposing; A feeble light, now first discerned, The features well disclosing. No effort from the haunted air The ghastly scene could banish, That hovering wave, arrested there, Rolled, throbbed, but did not vanish. If Gilbert upward turned his gaze, He saw the ocean-shadow; If he looked down, the endless seas Lay green as summer meadow. And straight before, the pale corpse lay, Upborne by air or billow, So near, he could have touched the spray That churned around its pillow. The hollow anguish of the face Had moved a fiend to sorrow; Not death's fixed calm could rase the trace Of suffering's deep-worn furrow. All moved; a strong returning blast, The mass of waters raising, Bore wave and passive carcase past, While Gilbert yet was gazing. Deep in her isle-conceiving womb, It seemed the ocean thundered, And soon, by realms of rushing gloom, Were seer and phantom sundered. Then swept some timbers from a wreck. On following surges riding; Then sea-weed, in the turbid rack Uptorn, went slowly gliding. The horrid shade, by slow degrees, A beam of light defeated, And then the roar of raving seas, Fast, far, and faint, retreated. And all was gone, gone like a mist, Corse, billows, tempest, wreck; Three children close to Gilbert prest And clung around his neck. Good night! good night! the prattlers said, And kissed their father's cheek; 'Twas now the hour their quiet bed And placid rest to seek. The mother with her offspring goes To hear their evening prayer; She nought of Gilbert's vision knows, And nought of his despair. Yet, pitying God, abridge the time Of anguish, now his fate! Though, haply, great has been his crime: Thy mercy, too, is great. Gilbert, at length, uplifts his head, Bent for some moments low, And there is neither grief nor dread Upon his subtle brow. For well can he his feelings task, And well his looks command; His features well his heart can mask, With smiles and smoothness bland. Gilbert has reasoned with his mind, He says 'twas all a dream; He strives his inward sight to blind Against truth's inward beam. He pitied not that shadowy thing, When it was flesh and blood; Nor now can pity's balmy spring Refresh his arid mood. "And if that dream has spoken truth," Thus musingly he says; "If Elinor be dead, in sooth, Such chance the shock repays: A net was woven round my feet, I scarce could further go; Ere shame had forced a fast retreat, Dishonour brought me low. "Conceal her, then, deep, silent sea, Give her a secret grave! She sleeps in peace, and I am free, No longer terror's slave: And homage still, from all the world, Shall greet my spotless name, Since surges break and waves are curled Above its threatened shame."