Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The Complete Poems of Emily Bronte by Um... George W. Bush
A few months ago, I got a meme in Facebook, asking me to talk about my favorite books. The experience was a very dark, painful afternoon of thinking about books. Books are too much like friends for my relationships to be terribly healthy with - God knows I mistreat my friends. But in that meme, I wrote about Emily Dickinson, about how it was difficult to seperate the woman from the poetry. I have this sort of purist mind that tells me that's asign of weakness, that I'm conflating good writing with a good backstory. But, reading isn't a numbers game, and as Dead Poet Society puts it, poetry isn't American Bandstand. Honestly (Mr. Barca) I think that's why I don't like put ratings on books (the recent foray into it on Goodreads has already felt traumatic). I mean, I could rate how good my friends are too, with a star system, but in essence, I'm not rating my friends, I'm rating their friendship to me, aren't I? And if books or friends are to be judged by how well they can keep up good realtions with me, than... well, I wouldn't wish that standard on anyone. I feel cruel rating a book, because I'm passing a judgement on the book that has more to do with me than the book (The Lair of the White Worm being excluded from that sentence...). Imagine for a moment, after all, that everyone on earth was given the value their mother's attached to them... how unfair would that be? How meaningless? Why put on a star, if it means nothing? The only reason to put a star on is because it means something, and if it means something, it means somethign I don't feel good expressing.
Emily Bronte suffers from this disease in my mind - I do not love Wuthering Heights, I love Emily Bronte, and thereby love her children (which isn't to say I wouldn't love Wuthering Heights if it were by someone else...). When I read Wuthering HEights, I'm not on the moors with Heathcliff, I'm very small, and in a little parsonage, looking out on a storm with my dear one, Emily, who's murmuring out this story to me (Emily Dickinson, on the other hand is sitting very quietly in her garden and letting me read a little slip of paper she's taken from the pocket of her apron. I'm embarrased and awed, she is calm). There is something intensely personal in the writing of my favorite authors, a feeling that makes me feel that I have a friend who is much wiser and greater than I am.
If reading Wuthering Heights then, makes one feel as if they are a Bronte, reading this book is like constructing your childhood in reverse, starting with the evening listening to your sister read to you just before she died, and falling backwards through all the years of having her for a sister, 'remembering' who she was, how she grew, remembering the little corners of the mind that you only know in your siblings, remembering the experience of realizing that someone you love has a spark of the divine in them. When the title of this book says 'complete', it means it - this is not the collection of all the poems that have been published. This is more like reading through your sister's old notebooks - everyhting is here, the half finished scraps, the hammered out perfected poems, the things she never meant for you to read. Everything.
My favorite aspect (short of the sheer enormity of gorgeousness in Emily's writing) was the presence of the Gondal poems, along with an excellent introduction explaining them. The Bronte sisters spent the greater part of their lives writing prose, maps, plays, and poetry that related to a shared paracosm - at first one that all the siblings shared, called the Great Glass City, and after Charlotte went to school, a seperate world that better suited the inclinations of Emily and Anne, called Gondal. In Gondal, the two sisters constructed a vast, sprawling, and utterly incomplete epic, surrounding the life of a beautiful, tragic, strong-willed woman and her love affairs through a period of war, strife and decay in Gondal. The poems have little in the way of plot - most are meant to be more more lyric than narrative - but there was a soul in these characters (each recurring frequently) that spoke of deep, long work and love, and of a soul that sought an escape into the imaginative landscape of her own creation, much like I'm seeking an escape into the imaginative landscape of her relics. This feeling of double immersion - into the imagination of my imagined imagination, as it were - was dizzing, thrilling. Liberating I guess, in a weird way. To imagine as someone else, for just a few minutes, is both revealing and ecstatically anonymous. Suddenly all the strange thoughts and terrible secret selves are on someone else's stage, all the churn and bustle of internal life can manifest without the interference of the mind, because it's not your mind anyway - it's someone else's.
Emily Bronte truly had 'no coward soul' - her poems are the poems of a secret self forever diving deeper and deeper into itself, forever plucking from the deep lightless pools of selfness the pearls that are such a risk to draw up. Reading her pearls, I can almost feel a sort of mirror passion, almost. Many books make you cry at the end. This book made me cry that it had an end, the sort of crying you'd do over a lost sister, forever wishing you'd only taken more photographs, forever knowing no volume of keepsake could be sufficient for the lack.