Using natural imagery as a focus point for poetry, such as with The Bluebell, is hardly a new or unique idea, but what’s exciting about it is that the image used can always be new and unique. In the case of Anne Brontë’s piece, The Bluebell… well, it’s easy enough to guess that a small blue flower is the focus for this poem, and it is used in a clever, and telling way.
The Bluebell Analysis
A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
The opening stanza for the poem uses a kind of personification to discuss the bluebell that makes up the name of this piece. It describes each one as housing its own spirit, though this is not the kind of spirit typically associated with the word. The “silent eloquence” and “more or less of power” are telling descriptions for the strong emotional reaction the speaker in the piece feels towards seeing bluebells. The “subtle spirit” (an intelligent alliteration) is something personal to the speaker, who describes their own “softened heart,” suggesting that this kind of emotional state was not always a part of who they are.
Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;
That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.
During the second and third verses, the poem takes on a more consistent approach to rhyme and structure, being told in quatrains that rhyme off the second and fourth lines only. The speaker describes their own experience shortly before the present day, where they are walking along a path amidst a troubling day to discover that they are surrounded by flowers. While this is a simple description of events, Brontë’s use of words like “’Twas” and “strayed;” her repetition of the beauty of the day; and the personified description of flowers as “smiling” all indicate a light mood through the romantic imagery. Despite the description of a “toilsome life,” the speaker is yearning for something better on this particular day, and it leads to their straying into a bed of flowers.
Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.
Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.
As the speaker stands amidst the scene, further described through such words as “lofty hill,” they reveal that the troubles of their life fade away in that moment. The “toilsome life” described in the second verse was described in the past tense, and it seems that this is the moment that life became better, standing in a place surrounded by peaceful nature. The simple realization of that peaceful nature is enough that they begin to speak of their joy and express it, not caring if they are seen or heard by others who do not understand the fit of joy.
But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.
Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?
In a sudden contrast, the speaker describes their noticing of bluebells along the bank of the sea, described in additional detail as being little, trembling, alone, and sweet. Seemingly from nowhere, their eyes tear up and a lump forms in their throat, as though they are about to begin weeping. The speaker is just as confused as the reader at this point — why should a bluebell have such a strong effect as to shatter the peace and the joy described only a couple of stanzas ago? There is nothing inherent about this scene that could cause pain, and yet it is described as being the onset of bitter feelings towards this plant.
O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,
Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.
Over the next two stanzas, the narrator realizes the source of their pain. As a child, they thought of bluebells as rare treasures, like finding fairies in the grass. That innocence, that wonder, at the simple beauty of the world is something long lost. Furthermore, the speaker remembers long, carefree days and warm nights, presumably with family who would love unconditionally. This suggests that they no longer live at home, or that their family is deceased. The beautiful language and imagery described here summons the affecting power of the bluebell as a portal to nostalgic sadness; to the speaker, they represent the happiest days of life that can never be reclaimed.
I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.
‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.
In the penultimate verse, the speaker recalls their realization that they did not leave their childhood happiness behind to live in anxiety and strife over other people, who are described as being “heartless” and “thankless.” Recalling the second verse, the speaker describes their “toilsome life” in the past tense, suggesting that this moment in the field is a turning point for their future. In one last personification of the flower, it speaks to the narrator, encouraging them to weep over time lost and memories faded, and this is the cited cause of their mourning, that they now realize and are able to use to change their life for the better, though the specifics of this are unmentioned.
The core of The Bluebell seems to be that it is better to learn from the past than to be caught up in it. The speaker’s mourning rising from the bluebell is an important turning point in their life, but it would be easy to spend the rest of their life mourning over and missing their childhood — it is hard to be happier than when one sees fairies in the bluebells and love everywhere they look. But their ability to grow and change from the memory gives the poem a light, almost hopeful atmosphere amidst its melancholy and nostalgia. It is a powerful poem that accurately examines the nature of nostalgia and yearning from the past, but also of hope for the future.