"Self-Congratulation." by Anne Brontë (1820-1849)
First Publication: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell London: Aylott and Jones, 8, Paternoster Row, 1846. pp. 155-157.
ELLEN, you were thoughtless once
Of beauty or of grace,
Simple and homely in attire,
Careless of form and face;
Then whence this change? and wherefore now
So often smooth your hair?
And wherefore deck your youthful form
With such unwearied care?
Tell us–and cease to tire our ears
With that familiar strain–
Why will you play those simple tunes
So often, o'er again?
"Indeed, dear friends, I can but say
That childhood's thoughts are gone;
Each year its own new feelings brings,
And years move swiftly on:
I've noticed many a youthful form,
Upon whose changeful face
The inmost workings of the soul
The gazer well might trace;
The speaking eye, the changing lip,
The ready blushing cheek,
The smiling, or beclouded brow,
Their different feelings speak.
But, thank God! you might gaze on mine
For hours, and never know
The secret changes of my soul
From joy to keenest woe.
Last night, as we sat round the fire
We heard, without, approaching steps
Of one well known to me!
There was no trembling in my voice,
No blush upon my cheek,
No lustrous sparkle in my eyes,
Of hope, or joy, to speak;
And yet my comrades marked it not:
My voice was still the same;
They saw me smile, and o'er my face
No signs of sadness came.
They little knew my hidden thoughts;
And they will never know
The aching anguish of my heart,
The bitter burning woe!
In its original form, which was substantially modified before publication, this piece is titled simply "A Fragment". It is noted as written January 1st, 1840. Chitham (1979) believes this to be the first of Anne's poems of personal experience, and not a Gondal poem as might be suggested by its signature "Olivia Vernon". Its portrayal of passionate feeling combined with stern self-control is in keeping with Anne's character, and the beloved person who "came not nigh" is believed by some to have been William Weightman, Patrick Brontë's curate.