Sometimes, one single emotion is all it takes to craft an exquisite poem. A poem doesn’t require a complex story, or strong emotional manipulation, or even a powerful moral at the end of it, so long as it has that one core idea that can be examined and reflected upon, it can be considered a powerful example of its craft. A poem doesn’t “need” any one particular element, but rather elements are selected by their authors based on what suits the needs of the poem’s idea. In the case of Anne Brontë’s Appeal, the author chooses carefully from a simple structure and a basic flow, a few cleverly rhyming words, and just the right word choice to invoke powerful emotions of sorrow, loss, and longing that so many can identify with, even over 150 years after its original publication.
Appeal – The Poem
Oh, I am very weary,
Though tears no longer flow;
My eyes are tires of weeping,
My heart is sick of woe;
My life is very lonely,
My days pass heavily,
I’m wearing of repining,
Wilt thou not come to me?
Oh, didst thou know my longings
For thee, from day to day,
My hopes, so often blighted,
Thou wouldst not thus delay!
Appeal features a clear narrator and a simple structure — three verses of four lines each, an alternating rhyming pattern, and an alternating syllable pattern as well — ABCB, wherein each “A” and “C” line is seven syllables long and each “B” and line is six. The actual text of the poem is fairly clear in its thematic meaning — it deals heavily with loss, by using words like “weary,” “woe,” and “weeping” (also an excellent use of alliteration). The entire first verse is filled with sad imagery, from flowing tears to “sick of woe.” In the second verse, the narrator reveals that they are missing someone; the references to loneliness, as well as to “repining” make this clear enough, but in the last line the speaker actually asks the missing person if they might return, and uses punctuation here to emphasize their need on top of the still-heavy sad words, including the reference to “heavy days,” a metaphor used to suggest that the very act of living is weighing down the speaker, because they are so alone.
In the last verse, we learn that the speaker never expressed their feelings for the absent person the last time they saw each other, and wonders whether that person knew about them regardless. All the speaker is left with now are hopes, and hoping is all they can do, living out their lonely life.
Brontë’s choice of words throughout the poem, particularly in the words she chooses to rhyme, are most of what constitutes the theme of the work. When she rhymes off “flow” and “woe,” for instance, she is combining the imageries of flowing tears and sadness. While this may seem like an unnecessary element, since tears express sadness on their own, it serves to amplify the feelings of loss that inform the reader. The entire first verse in particular is built in such a way, through the alliteration of the letter “w” and the strong connotations of sadness that end each line, as to build up a heavy atmosphere for the piece as a whole. By devoting what is, in essence, a third of the poem, to atmospheric introduction alone, Brontë is expressing that the feeling of the piece is more important than the story itself. Only the second half of the poem discusses the absent person who informs these feelings, because the feelings are what Appeal is about.
The title of the poem adds another layer of this emotion to the work, as the word “appeal” suggests trying to convince someone to change their mind about something. In the context of the poem, it would appear as though the speaker is trying to convince the missing person to return to them. And yet, the last verse indicates that the feelings discussed earlier were never expressed to that person. This, along with the fact that the lost person is not present to hear the appeal, suggests that it is possible for the individual of interest to have died, rather than having simply left, and the sorrow being felt is not for simple loneliness, but for a loneliness that the speaker knows is going to last for a truly long time.
For Anne Brontë, loss and tragedy were an unfortunately common aspect of life. Shortly after she turned one, her mother fell ill and died. She and her four sisters were left to be raised by their father, who tried unsuccessfully to remarry so his children would have a mother. When Anne was four, her father sent her four older sisters off to a school, where, one year later, Anne’s two oldest sisters passed away, causing her father to immediately recall his remaining daughters home, where they, alone with Anne, were educated by their father and aunt for the next five years. The resulting bond between Anne and her aunt resulted in a very strong Christian faith in Anne.
As well, her homeschooling years meant she bonded with her sisters and enjoyed a very book-heavy education. Her imagination ran wild during these years, and she created an entire fantasy world with her siblings which fuelled and inspired her literary career. Given the hardships that pursued these interactions, it makes sense to think of Brontë as someone who would want to appeal, who would be weary and heartsick and tired of loss. It is likely that Anne needed to grow up very quickly, and that she did, despite the fantasy world-building she participated in as a child. This poem is a strong reflection of hew growing up and her acknowledging the pain the world gave her, and it seems to reflect a moment of weakness, of longing, of desire.
Appeal was published in 1846, a few years after the death of William Weightman, a man for whom Anne clearly had strong affections. It is possible that she was remembering his life when she wrote the poem, and found herself wishing for some kind of sign, one that she knew she could not receive — this could potentially make sense of the reference to “repining,” that Brontë was exhausted from missing the deceased man so much. As well, if the person referenced within the poem is, as speculated earlier, deceased, it fits the description of Weightman’s impact on Anne. The heartsick theme throughout the poem seems to make this a likely possibility.
Another possibility is that the poem reflects a crisis of faith Anne experienced around a decade prior, when she became seriously ill with gastritis. It is also possible that the poem is written over no event in particular, and simply reflects the emotional state of the young woman while she wrote it, after what had already been a very long life filled with tragedy and loss.