"Pilate's Wife's Dream." by Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)
First Publication: Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell London: Aylott and Jones, 8, Paternoster Row, 1846. pp. 1-7.
I've quenched my lamp, I struck it in that start
Which every limb convulsed, I heard it fall–
The crash blent with my sleep, I saw depart
Its light, even as I woke, on yonder wall;
Over against my bed, there shone a gleam
Strange, faint, and mingling also with my dream.
It sunk, and I am wrapt in utter gloom;
How far is night advanced, and when will day
Retinge the dusk and livid air with bloom,
And fill this void with warm, creative ray ?
Would I could sleep again till, clear and red,
Morning shall on the mountain-tops be spread!
I'd call my women, but to break their sleep,
Because my own is broken, were unjust;
[Page 2]They've wrought all day, and well-earned slumbers steep
Yet, Oh, for light ! one ray would tranquilise
My nerves, my pulses, more than effort can;
I'll draw my curtain and consult the skies:
These trembling stars at dead of night look wan,
Wild, restless, strange, yet cannot be more drear
Than this my couch, shared by a nameless fear.
All black–one great cloud, drawn from east to west,
Conceals the heavens, but there are lights below;
Torches burn in Jerusalem, and cast
On yonder stony mount a lurid glow.
I see men stationed there, and gleaming spears;
A sound, too, from afar, invades my ears.
Dull, measured, strokes of axe and hammer ring
From street to street, not loud, but through the night
Distinctly heard–and some strange spectral thing
Is now upreared–and, fixed against the light
Of the pale lamps; defined upon that sky,
It stands up like a column, straight and high.
I see it all–I know the dusky sign–
A cross on Calvary, which Jews uprear
[Page 3]While Romans watch; and when the dawn shall shine
Dreams, then, are true–for thus my vision ran;
Surely some oracle has been with me,
The gods have chosen me to reveal their plan,
To warn an unjust judge of destiny:
I, slumbering, heard and saw; awake I know,
Christ's coming death, and Pilate's life of woe.
I do not weep for Pilate–who could prove
Regret for him whose cold and crushing sway
No prayer can soften, no appeal can move;
Who tramples hearts as others trample clay,
Yet with a faltering, an uncertain tread,
That might stir up reprisal in the dead.
Forced to sit by his side and see his deeds;
Forced to behold that visage, hour by hour,
In whose gaunt lines, the abhorrent gazer reads
A triple lust of gold, and blood, and power;
A soul whom motives, fierce, yet abject, urge
Rome's servile slave, and Judah's tyrant scourge.
How can I love, or mourn, or pity him ?
I, who so long my fettered hands have wrung;
[Page 4]I, who for grief have wept my eye-sight dim;
And at this hour–although I be his wife–
He has no more of tenderness from me
Than any other wretch of guilty life;
Less, for I know his household privacy–
I see him as he is–without a screen;
And, by the gods, my soul abhors his mien !
Has he not sought my presence, dyed in blood–
Innocent, righteous blood, shed shamelessly ?
And have I not his red salute withstood ?
Aye,–when, as erst, he plunged all Galilee
In dark bereavement–in affliction sore,
Mingling their very offerings with their gore.
Then came he–in his eyes a serpent-smile,
Upon his lips some false, endearing word,
And, through the streets of Salem, clanged the while,
His slaughtering, hacking, sacrilegious sword–
And I, to see a man cause men such woe,
Trembled with ire–I did not fear to show.
And now, the envious Jewish priests have brought
Jesus–whom they in mockery call their king–
[Page 5]To have, by this grim power, their vengeance wrought;
Accessible is Pilate's heart to fear,
Omens will shake his soul, like autumn leaf;
Could he this night's appalling vision hear,
This just man's bonds were loosed, his life were safe,
Unless that bitter priesthood should prevail,
And make even terror to their malice quail.
Yet if I tell the dream–but let me pause.
What dream ? Erewhile the characters were clear,
Graved on my brain–at once some unknown cause
Has dimmed and rased the thoughts, which now appear,
Like a vague remnant of some by-past scene;–
Not what will be, but what, long since, has been.
I suffered many things, I heard foretold
A dreadful doom for Pilate,–lingering woes,
In far, barbarian climes, where mountains cold
Built up a solitude of trackless snows,
There, he and grisly wolves prowled side by side,
There he lived famished–there methought he died;
But not of hunger, nor by malady;
I saw the snow around him, stained with gore;
[Page 6]I said I had no tears for such as he,
More I recall not, yet the vision spread
Into a world remote, an age to come–
And still the illumined name of Jesus shed
A light, a clearness, through the enfolding gloom–
And still I saw that sign, which now I see,
That cross on yonder brow of Calvary.
What is this Hebrew Christ ? To me unknown,
His lineage–doctrine–mission–yet how clear,
Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn !
How straight and stainless is his life's career !
The ray of Deity that rests on him,
In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.
The world advances, Greek, or Roman rite
Suffices not the inquiring mind to stay;
The searching soul demands a purer light
To guide it on its upward, onward way;
Ashamed of sculptured gods–Religion turns
To where the unseen Jehovah's altar burns.
Our faith is rotten–all our rites defiled,
Our temples sullied, and methinks, this man,
With his new ordinance, so wise and mild,
Is come, even as he says, the chaff to fan
[Page 7]And sever from the wheat; but will his faith
* * * * *I feel a firmer trust–a higher hope
Part, clouds and shadows ! glorious Sun appear !
Part, mental gloom ! Come insight from on high !
Dusk dawn in heaven still strives with daylight clear,
The longing soul, doth still uncertain sigh.
Oh ! to behold the truth–that sun divine,
How doth my bosom pant, my spirit pine !
This day, time travails with a mighty birth,
This day, Truth stoops from heaven and visits earth,
Ere night descends, I shall more surely know
What guide to follow, in what path to go;
I wait in hope–I wait in solemn fear,
The oracle of God–the sole–true God–to hear.