I’m going to take a walk around to get to a good small poem by Emily Bronte today. It won’t be a walk about the English moors, alas, but it’ll have to do in this otherwise wild and windy place we call the Internet.
My spouse and I have a worthwhile understanding that we are both a sort of introvert. Definitions vary between peoples and time, but one short definition of an introvert is that they are the people that gain strength and restoration from solitude rather than from gatherings of people. One can easily suspect that writers and their close allies, the readers, may be more likely introverts, but of course that’s not always so. That indispensable pioneer French Modernist Apollinaire* was famously sociable within his element, a joyous bohemian boulevardier. Other writers, even while writing, seek out crowded places filled with voices and humanity to concentrate on their silent work. August Wilson, the great 20th century American dramatist, liked to write in cafes and coffee shops, places where other peoples’ voices were staging their own improvised plays.
But we can’t be sure that those two, or others like them, still aren’t introverts. My wife is good in typical social situations. I’m not. I’m so bad at social interactions that I’m sure I often leave a bad first, second, or last impression.** Still, one thing that joins most introverts is that however well we perform the social whirl, it tires us out—and when we need to recharge it’s not a different self-selected group, even a group of friends or family, that we seek in order to recharge, instead it’s solitude.
So, I have a phrase that I use with my wife when she needs to recharge: “Oh, have a good time at your Introverts’ Support Group.” Which of course isn’t a group—it’s time alone.
I have a phrase that I use with my wife when she needs to recharge: “Oh, have a good time at your Introverts’ Support Group.” Which of course isn’t a group—it’s time alone.
This sort of time alone is particularly hard for non-wealthy women to find. In Bronte’s time a great deal of domestic and family labor was assumed to be their unquestionable duty, something that modern times and insufficient good intentions haven’t eliminated. I have some idea of the particular domestic duties of Emily Bronte admirer and like-named Emily, Emily Dickinson, but less of Bronte’s own family obligations, but I assume they were considerable.***
In our current Covid-19 age of shelter in place recommendations, the pressures of everyone at home may make more and more of us like unto residents of an isolated parsonage in the North of England like the Bronte’s. If so, today’s Emily Bronte poem, written it says in her collected poems on Sunday December 13th, 1840, may still speak to us. Arithmetic tells me Bronte would have been 22 when she wrote this. Here’s a link to the complete text in case you’d like to follow along.
Introvert Irony: the only image we have of Emily Bronte is a group portrait painted by her brother of her with her sisters.
On publication this poem bore the title “Retirement,” but I’ve chosen not to use it as I don’t think Bronte is using the word in the sense most of us use it today. I believe the sense she intends is more at a wish to retire (as one would “retire to bed”) to rest and refresh oneself after a day of labor.
Indeed, the scene she wishes for and describes may be staged in sleep and dreams—though if so, her dreams are outside, alone, and in God’s nature. My wife’s most favored respite spots are walking in parks, nature reserves, and around wild lake shores. For introverts like Emily Bronte, my wife, and I, a concertedly apprehended nature is the other that somehow comforts us.
When we last did an Emily Bronte poem as part of this project, it was her spooky poem “Spellbound” in which the poem’s speaker seems to be suspended in the air figuratively or in imaginative actuality. Interestingly, in today’s joyous poem, the speaker speaks poetically of “wings,” and a wish to “quit this joyless sod,” and so is again in “mental flight” somewhere between heaven and earth. Just as if I wondered if A. E. Housman’s spell-caster’s poem and Bronte’s were in conversation, and if Emily Dickinson’s bird and hope poem was reacting to an Emily Bronte bird and hope poem, Bronte herself returns to an airborne state in today’s poem.
Wishing all the readers and listeners here the companionship and solitude they need and desire, and, and but, in the proper mixture! The player gadget to hear my performance of Emily Bronte’s “O Let Me Be Alone Awhile” is below.
*102 years ago this month, Apollinaire died of the 1918 great influenza pandemic while still weakened from a wound he suffered in combat during the final days of WWI. The flu virus got him before he could see the end of that war, as noted in Tristan Tzara’s moving poem that I translated and presented here three years ago.
**I have something of the novelist’s eye for how those interactions can go wrong, but the social klutziness to do it all wrong anyway.
***Wikipedia says she did “most of the cooking, ironing, and cleaning” for her family.