Life by Charlotte Brontë is a three-stanza poem with an alternating line rhyme scheme. This alternate rhyme scheme holds steady throughout the entirety of the poem except for the first and third lines in which “dream” and “rain” do not rhyme. This poem was published in 1846 under Brontë’s pen name, Currer Bell. It was under this name that she published, along with her two sisters, Anne and Emily, (writing under the names, Acton and Ellis Bell) Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. “Life” was included in this volume.
Brontë crafted this poem with a fairly simple message in mind. She is seeking to dispel the myth or any dark thoughts one might believe in, that life is necessarily bad, dark, and unpleasant. Throughout the first stanza, her speaker takes on a number of elements of life that one might consider to be disagreeable and breaks them down to their simpler, happier, parts. She begins by saying that life is not some kind of dark dream. In fact, unpleasant things such as clouds are transient, and rain “will make the roses bloom.” Why should one be upset over the rain when such loveliness comes after it.
The second stanza is simpler and shorter in which the speaker is “merrily” and “cheerily” celebrating the “sunny hours” of Life.
The last stanza is the longest and is minimizing the power of Death; though it may take loved ones away hope will always rebound and win out against the darkness. She concludes the poem by stating that there is nothing in life that can quell courage, not even death.
Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall ?
Brontë begins this piece with a repetition of the title. It is made clear to the reader from the beginning that this poem is going to be speaking on some element of life.
The speaker of this poem is seeking to pull back the shadow from life. She wants to make clear to the reader that life is not something to be feared or some dark dream that one has to dread. The third and fourth lines speak of how something that seems gloomy can foretell something “pleasant” such as a “little morning rain” bringing forth a calm and lovely day.
She gives two additional examples in this stanza. The speaker brings up gloomy clouds that cover the sky, and though these may seem ominous and foreboding, will clear. They are “transient” and do not last forever. Her third example is in the final two lines of this stanza. She asks the question if the rain means that all the roses will bloom, why should one “lament its fall?” There is no reason to be sad over these elements of life as they will all pass or bring with them something positive.
While the speaker is just discussing simple elements of nature, a deeper meaning can be drawn from their relationship to real life. Clouds, just like bad days of one’s life, will clear and eventually end. Even though for a few minutes things may seem retched, with rain pouring down, the rain will stop, and one’s outlook will be better.
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Enjoy them as they fly !
The second stanza of this piece is written much more lyrically. The words are almost asking to be sung. One can imagine someone dancing, spinning in a circle as they celebrate these phrases.
Life, the speaker says, will “rapidly,” and “merrily” fly by. The hours will pass without notice until suddenly they are gone. The speaker is promoting a way of living in which one appreciates and enjoys each hour that passes.
What though Death at times steps in
And calls our Best away ?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway ?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair !
The final stanza is the longest of this poem and conquers the more daunting part of life, death. The first two complete sentences of this stanza are questions in which the speaker is basically asking, ”so what?” So what if “Death at times steps in…?” So what if “sorrow seems to win?” These things are temporary. The speaker is acknowledging that these things exist but she is not allowing them to sway her.
The fifth line of this stanza is more hopeful. She describes hope as having “elastic springs.” Even though “she fell” in sorrow, she will bounce back up again in hope. Her “golden wings” are still “strong” and “buoyant” and will be able to “bear us well.” This character in the poem can be representing the poet herself, or perhaps someone she knows quite personally and has depended on for support in the past, a mother or sister figure. The last four lines of the poem speak of strength in which the speaker is promoting living “fearlessly” and “manfully” (as a strong man would live).
She concludes with when one’s day of “trial” comes (this could be simply one’s most challenging day or the end times itself in which one will be judged by God) be victorious in courage. No despair can quell the victory one feels when holding on to hope; nothing can touch it, not even death.
About Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England in April of 1816. She is one of three literary sisters, Emily, best known for writing Wuthering Heights, and Anne, best known for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey. The Brontë siblings were raised and educated in a strictly Anglican home. All of the Brontë children were dedicated, well-read students, and Charlotte became a writer at a young age and published her first, and best known, novel Jane Eyre in 1847 under the male pseudonym of Currer Bell. All three Brontë sisters chose to write with male pseudonyms hoping to avoid the stigma and prejudice against female writers. Many of Charlotte’s siblings, including a brother Branwell, all passed away in 1848 and 1849. She was married in 1854 but died only one year later during her pregnancy in March of 1855.
Brontë’s poetry is notable for its experimentation in the forms that would become characteristic of Victorian poetry. But her experimentations did not last long; after the publication of Jane Eyre, she becomes firmly identified as a fiction writer.