A Celebration of Women Writers

"Gilbert." by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)

First Publication: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell London: Aylott and Jones, 8, Paternoster Row, 1846. pp. 60-75.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

GILBERT.

I.

THE GARDEN.

ABOVE the city hung the moon,
  Right o'er a plot of ground
Where flowers and orchard-trees were fenced
  With lofty walls around:
'Twas Gilbert's gardenthere, to-night
  Awhile he walked alone;
And, tired with sedentary toil,
  Mused where the moonlight shone.

[Page 61]

This garden, in a city-heart,
  Lay still as houseless wild,
Though many-windowed mansion fronts
  Were round it closely piled;
But thick their walls, and those within
  Lived lives by noise unstirred;
Like wafting of an angel's wing,
  Time's flight by them was heard.

Some soft piano-notes alone
  Were sweet as faintly given,
Where ladies, doubtless, cheered the hearth
  With song, that winter-even.
The city's many-mingled sounds
  Rose like the hum of ocean;
They rather lulled the heart than roused
  Its pulse to faster motion.

Gilbert has paced the single walk
  An hour, yet is not weary;
And, though it be a winter night,
  He feels nor cold nor dreary.
The prime of life is in his veins,
  And sends his blood fast flowing,
And Fancy's fervour warms the thoughts
  Now in his bosom glowing.

Those thoughts recur to early love,
  Or what he love would name,

[Page 62]

Though haply Gilbert's secret deeds
  Might other title claim.
Such theme not oft his mind absorbs,
  He to the world clings fast,
And too much for the present lives,
  To linger o'er the past.

But now the evening's deep repose
  Has glided to his soul;
That moonlight falls on Memory,
  And shows her fading scroll.
One name appears in every line
  The gentle rays shine o'er,
And still he smiles and still repeats
  That one nameElinor.

There is no sorrow in his smile,
  No kindness in his tone;
The triumph of a selfish heart
  Speaks coldly there alone;
He says: " She loved me more than life;
  And truly it was sweet
To see so fair a woman kneel,
  In bondage, at my feet.

There was a sort of quiet bliss
  To be so deeply loved,
To gaze on trembling eagerness
  And sit myself unmoved.

[Page 63]

And when it pleased my pride to grant,
  At last some rare caress,
To feel the fever of that hand
  My fingers deigned to press.

'Twas sweet to see her strive to hide
  What every glance revealed;
Endowed, the while, with despot-might
  Her destiny to wield.
I knew myself no perfect man,
  Nor, as she deemed, divine;
I knew that I was gloriousbut
  By her reflected shine;

Her youth, her native energy,
  Her powers new-born and fresh,
'Twas these with Godhead sanctified
  My sensual frame of flesh.
Yet, like a god did I descend
  At last, to meet her love;
And, like a god, I then withdrew
  To my own heaven above.

And never more could she invoke
  My presence to her sphere;
No prayer, no plaint, no cry of hers
  Could win my awful ear.
I knew her blinded constancy
  Would ne'er my deeds betray,

[Page 64]

And, calm in conscience, whole in heart,
  I went my tranquil way.

Yet, sometimes, I still feel a wish,
  The fond and flattering pain
Of passion's anguish to create,
  In her young breast again.
Bright was the lustre of her eyes,
  When they caught fire from mine;
If I had powerthis very hour,
  Again I 'd light their shine.

But where she is, or how she lives,
  I have no clue to know;
I 've heard she long my absence pined,
  And left her home in woe.
But busied, then, in gathering gold,
  As I am busied now,
I could not turn from such pursuit,
  To weep a broken vow.

Nor could I give to fatal risk
  The fame I ever prized;
Even now, I fear, that precious fame
  Is too much compromised."
An inward trouble dims his eye,
  Some riddle he would solve;
Some method to unloose a knot,
  His anxious thoughts revolve.

[Page 65]

He, pensive, leans against a tree,
  A leafy evergreen,
The boughs, the moonlight, intercept,
  And hide him like a screen;
He startsthe tree shakes with his tremor,
  Yet nothing near him pass'd,
He hurries up the garden alley,
  In strangely sudden haste.

With shaking hand, he lifts the latchet,
  Steps o'er the threshold stone;
The heavy door slips from his fingers,
  It shuts, and he is gone.
What touched, transfixed, appalled, his soul ?
  A nervous thought, no more;
'Twill sink like stone in placid pool,
  And calm close smoothly o'er.

II.

THE PARLOUR.

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.

[Page 66]

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.

[Page 67]

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.

[Page 68]

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;
Nochanged, as by some wizard's touch,
  The present prospect flies.

A tumult vaguea viewless strife
  His futile struggles crush;
'Twixt him and his, an unknown life
  And unknown feelings rush.
He seesbut 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.
Sustained and strong, a wondrous blast
  Above and round him blows;
A greenish gloom, dense overcast,
  Each moment denser grows.

He nothing knowsnor clearly sees,
  Resistance checks his breath,
The high, impetuous, ceaseless breeze
  Blows on him. cold as death.

[Page 69]

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 a 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 drownedsunk 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.

[Page 70]

No effort from the haunted air
  The ghastly scene could banish;
That hovering wave, arrested there,
  Rolledthrobbedbut 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.

[Page 71]

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 gonegone 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.

[Page 72]

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,
Are 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."

[Page 73]

III.

THE WELCOME HOME.

ABOVE the city hangs the moon,
  Some clouds are boding rain,
Gilbert, erewhile on journey gone,
  To-night comes home again.
Ten years have passed above his head,
  Each year has brought him gain;
His prosperous life has smoothly sped,
  Without or tear or stain.

'Tis somewhat latethe city clocks
  Twelve deep vibrations toll,
As Gilbert at the portal knocks,
  Which is his journey's goal.
The street is still and desolate,
  The moon hid by a cloud;
Gilbert, impatient, will not wait,
  His second knock peals loud.

The clocks are hushed; there's not a light
  In any window nigh,
And not a single planet bright
  Looks from the clouded sky;
The air is raw, the rain descends,
  A bitter north-wind blows;
His cloak the traveller scarce defends
  Will not the door unclose ?

[Page 74]

He knocks the third time, and the last;
  His summons now they hear,
Within, a footstep, hurrying fast,
  Is heard approaching near.
The bolt is drawn, the clanking chain
  Falls to the floor of stone;
And Gilbert to his heart will strain
  His wife and children soon.

The hand that lifts the latchet, holds
  A candle to his sight,
And Gilbert, on the step, beholds
  A woman, clad in white.
Lo ! water from her dripping dress
  Runs on the streaming floor;
From every dark and clinging tress,
  The drops incessant pour.

There's none but her to welcome him;
  She holds the candle high,
And, motionless in form and limb,
  Stands cold and silent nigh;
There's sand and sea-weed on her robe,
  Her hollow eyes are blind;
No pulse in such a frame can throb,
  No life is there defined.

Gilbert turned ashy-white, but still
  His lips vouchsafed no cry;
He spurred his strength and master-will
  To pass the figure by,

[Page 75]

But, moving slow, it faced him straight,
  It would not flinch nor quail:
Then first did Gilbert's strength abate,
  His stony firmness quail.

He sank upon his knees and prayed;
  The shape stood rigid there;
He called aloud for human aid,
  No human aid was near.
An accent strange did thus repeat
  Heaven's stern but just decree:
" The measure thou to her didst mete,
  To thee shall measured be !"

Gilbert sprang from his bended knees,
  By the pale spectre pushed,
And, wild as one whom demons seize,
  Up the hall-staircase rushed;
Entered his chambernear the bed
  Sheathed steel and fire-arms hung
Impelled by maniac purpose dread,
  He chose those stores among.

Across his throat, a keen-edged knife
  With vigorous hand he drew;
The wound was widehis outraged life
  Rushed rash and redly through.
And thus died, by a shameful death,
  A wise and worldly man,
Who never drew but selfish breath
  Since first his life began.

CURRER.

[Page 76]

ERRATA:

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom