A Celebration of Women Writers

"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.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


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 usand 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:

[Page 156]

"And for these little simple airs
  I love to play them o'er
So muchI dare not promise, now,
  To play them never more."
I answeredand it was enough;
  They turned them to depart;
They could not read my secret thoughts,
  Nor see my throbbing heart.

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
  Conversing merrily,
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;

[Page 157]

But, oh! my spirit burned within,
  My heart beat full and fast!
He came not nighhe went away
  And then my joy was past.

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!



Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


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.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom