This poem is written in the first person and the present tense and this gives it an immediacy and vibrancy. The poem begins as night is falling; in the second stanza there is snow on the trees and the storm is coming; in the final stanza the narrator is surrounded by clouds and wastes. The narrator is held by ‘a tyrant spell’ (3), but there is a progression in her attitude: in the first two stanzas she says she ‘cannot’ (4,8) go, but in the final line she expresses defiance – ‘I will not go’ (12) – the act of braving the storm has become a conscious act.
The fact that it is written in the ballad form is important too: it gives it the feel of something old and ancient as well as creating an insistent rhythm. This rhythm is re-enforced by heavy alliteration – ‘wild winds (2), ‘bending... bare boughs’ (5-6) – simple repetition – ‘clouds’ (9) and ‘wastes’ (10) and ‘cannot’ (4,8) – and the consonance on the letter l especially in the first stanza, but throughout the poem. The speaker is encompassed by the storm – it is round her, above her and below her: there is no escape. The poem is given an added air of mystery by the ‘spell’ (3) – which like the trees – is personified.
Hirsch (pp 63-64) suggest that the original narrator of this poem was Augusta Geraldine Almeda. The poem originally was part of the Gondal chronicles: ‘Gondal’ was an imaginary world created with by the Brontës as children and they al wrote stories and poems that linked with each other. It has been suggested (Gezari p 95) that in its original ‘Gondal’ context it is the lament of a mother forced to abandon her baby on the moors. Gezari (p 96) rejects this notion saying that the “story of infanticide lacks psychological plausibility.” However, if we accept the context of this poem suggested – a mother who has abandoned her child on the moors – then this is a poem about the strength of maternal bonds and the fierceness and passion of a mother’s love. Even this terrible storm cannot force her away from her baby. In this interpretation the storm may be seen as a pathetic fallacy for her own mental state at the abandonment of her baby.
However, it was published on its own, without any reference to the original setting of Gondal and the poem means something different, we might argue, on its own. In Victorian times women really were second class citizens. Once they married all their property automatically transferred to their husbands; they did not have the vote and would not get it until the 20th century. The Brontë sisters growing up in a genteel, middle class vicar’s family would have been protected from the harsh realities of life and would have been expected to excel at needlework, drawing, playing musical instruments, water-colouring, painting. We know that Emily liked to wander around the moors near the family home, even in appalling weather conditions – and this was probably seen as slightly odd behaviour at the time.
If this is true, then ‘Spellbound’ becomes a poem of great courage and the wilful pursuit of risk and danger. It can be seen as an assertion of Brontë’s determination to experience the full energy and force of the storm, to give herself up to elemental forces, to rebel against the protected, insulated life that was expected of middle-class Victorian ladies. Remember the last line which expresses her wilful determination – ‘I will not go’ (12). This can be seen as a determined cry for independence and freedom – despite the risks that exist from being exposed to the storm.
This simple ballad powerfully communicates: a sense of the power of nature which inspires awe not fear; a woman’s determined struggle for freedom from the stifling conditions of Victorian middle class existence; a sense of courage and resilience even when faced with the most hostile conditions; the narrator’s sense of isolation; the narrator’s desire for danger, risk and excitement.
Gezari, Janet. Last Things: Emily Brontë’s Poems. Oxford:Oxford University Press.2007. Print
Hatfield, Charles William. The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë. New York: Columbia University Press. 1941 Print.
Hirsch, Edward, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Harcourt. 2000. Print.