As a poet and author, Anne Brontë (or Acton, as the gender-neutral name through which she published several works, this one included) is well-known for many of her emotionally relatable concepts. Her characters often embodied the many complicated emotions that she and many other people felt on a very common basis, and it was one of her great strengths as an author and to capture them so well on paper. Fluctuations is one such poem, in which she explores the ever-changing aspect of emotion and feeling in her own uniquely meaningful way.
What though the sun had left my sky;
To save me from despair
The blessed moon arose on high,
And shone serenely there.
I watched her, with a tearful gaze,
Rise slowly o’er the hill,
While through the dim horizon’s haze
Her light gleamed faint and chill.
I thought such wan and lifeless beams
Could ne’er my heart repay,
For the bright sun’s most transient gleams
That cheered me through the day:
Despite having a title like Fluctuations, Anne Brontë’s work is created with logic and repetition of structure, quite the opposite of the titular concept. Each verse rhymes in a predictable ABAB pattern, and each verse, excepting the first one, is a quatrain. Brontë seems to prefer a stable poetic structure that she can use to set up the content which carries her message alone.
The first two verses of Fluctuations sees Brontë’s narrator describe their inner thoughts on a particular night. There is particular focus on celestial bodies, namely the sun and the moon, which “save” the speaker from “despair.” The idea that a person’s mood can be altered by their surroundings is not a new one, and many will be able to relate to the phenomenon. The feeling by the end of the first verse is that the feeling of happiness that accompanied the sunlight cannot be replaced by the rising moon, which seems faint and cold by comparison. The second verse confirms this in very much the same language, using words like “wan and lifeless” to convey how cold the moonlight feels by comparison to the day.
But as above that mist’s control
She rose, and brighter shone,
I felt her light upon my soul;
But now — that light is gone!
Thick vapours snatched her from my sight,
And I was darkling left,
All in the cold and gloomy night,
Of light and hope bereft:
Already a pattern is emerging within the work, something that followers of Anne Brontë’s works may be familiar with already: her use of atmosphere and imagery to convey complicated emotion. These third and fourth verses simply describe the moon rising higher into the sky and becoming brighter as it does so. Brontë uses personification to give the moon female gender, and implies that the moon is angelic by suggesting that she can feel the moonlight in her soul. Eventually, however, a rising mist blocks out the light and leaves the speaker, once again, in darkness, and they feel alone and hopeless, seemingly as a direct result. The feeling of betrayal is notable, and Brontë continues to use personification to express it, by suggesting that the misting vapours “snatched” the moonlight away.
The use of atmosphere in this poem is its greatest strength. The fourth verse of Fluctuations can be essentially summarized as “the mists began to block the moonlight, and I felt myself grow sadder in its absence.” Brontë, however, describes the cold and gloominess, the absence of light and hope, and even uses the word “bereft,” which has a very grim connotation to its use. The excess description and unhappy language is designed to make the reader “see” the emotion of the character, by likening those emotions to powerful and relatable (if abstract) concepts the reader is already familiar with.
Until, methought, a little star
Shone forth with trembling ray,
To cheer me with its light afar —
But that, too, passed away.
Anon, an earthly meteor blazed
The gloomy darkness through;
I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed —
But that soon vanished too!
The fifth and sixth verse expands on the concept of fluctuations by noticeably increasing their pace in the work. The transition from sunlight to moonlight to darkness took place over the first four verses, the first of which was twice as long as the rest — essentially three fluctuations in setting over five quatrains. In both of these next two verses, the emotion of the character becomes cheerful and rapidly glum again, for four shifts in mood in only twice as many lines. In the fifth verse, a star in the night sky brightens and fades, and in the sixth one, a meteor shoots across the sky before vanishing. In both of these examples, the speaker shows reluctance to embrace the sense of cheer that accompanies these omens; in the first one, the star is intentionally described as “little,” and in the sixth, the speaker trembles as they watch the light shoot across the sky. Although the concept of the poem is fluctuations, the cautious speaker appears to be holding onto their sorrows with far more fervour than their cheer, which seems to be very easy to extinguish.
And darker, drearier fell the night
Upon my spirit then; —
But what is that faint struggling light?
Is it the Moon again?
Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam,
And bid these clouds depart,
And let her soft celestial beam
Restore my fainting heart!
Fluctuations concludes with one final shift in mood, and this time, it is towards hope rather than despair. Despite the rapid pace of the verses themselves, the first two lines of the seventh verse indicate that some time has passed during which there are no forms of light at all to symbolize happiness for the speaker. But importantly, they do not cease their observations, and this makes up an important theme for the poem: by comparing the mood of her character to the lights of the night and day, Brontë is suggesting that emotional states are constantly in motion, and do not last forever. Sometimes the day is cloudy and rainy, and sometimes the moon is the brightest object in the sky all night long. The night is filled with stars and planets and other brightly shining objects, just as the day can be filled with clouds and rain. If the speaker only waits, the moon will appear and shine again, bringing them back their happiness and even their faith (as they say a brief prayer for the return of the moonlight). Brontë’s use of metaphoric imagery is a very useful one for this theme, and her character is a very effective “everyone” who demonstrates the thematic and titular concept extremely well.