High Waving Heather by Emily Jane Brontë


As part of a movement that embraced Romantic ideals (including a focus on emotion, individualism, and nature), Emily Jane Brontë composed this poem (published after her death in 1846) to celebrate the power of nature and imagination to transcend the dehumanizing realities of early industrialization. She was raised in a remote village in Yorkshire, England, surrounded by the imagery that characterizes her work. This work is an Italian sonnet that references the sensory experience of enduring a storm on the moor. While she recounts the beauty of the nature around her, her poem subtly reminds the reader of the fragility of life.

High waving heather 'neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars,
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man's spirit away from its drear dungeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.

All down the mountain sides wild forests lending
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind,
Rivers their banks in their jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.

Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing forever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lighning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.

Reflection Questions

  1. The poet presents the reader with contrasting images throughout the poem (e.g. darkness and glory, rivers leaving a desolate desert, coming and fading). How does the poem connect these images? 
  2. How does this poem relate to the tension between freedom and law? 
  3. How does the power of nature in this poem serve as a symbol? 

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