‘On the Death of Anne Brontë’ by Charlotte Brontë is a short four stanza poem that is made up of sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains stick to a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD…etc. throughout the piece. This gives the poem a well considered, and even feeling tone, balancing out the sporadic grief of the speaker. She has channeled her misery into coherent, metered lines.
Anne Brontë, sister to fellow writers Emily and Charlotte Brontë, died in May of 1849 of tuberculosis. Emily had died the year previously, also of tuberculosis, and Charlotte would only live for six more years, dying in March of 1855 of pneumonia.
Summary of On the Death of Anne Brontë
“On the Death of Anne Brontë” by Charlotte Brontë describes the poet’s grief over her beloved sister’s death and her relief that Anne’s suffering has ended.
The speaker begins by describing her own intensely miserable state. She has lost all the strong emotions of her life, she does not feel joy nor fear at death. Charlotte has lived to see a day she did not want to see, when her most cherished companion has died. This person, her sister Anne, was so important to her that she would’ve died to save her if she could have.
She continues on to describe the last moments of Anne’s life and her fervent desire that Anne’s suffering come to an end. Even though this will mean her sister is gone for good, she can’t help wishing that each struggling breath would be the last.
In the final two quatrains she turns her thoughts to God. She describes the conflict within her. Her desire to curse God for what he took, and thank him for reliving her pain. She concedes to her thanks, and accepts the fact that she will have to live in a world without her remaining sister.
Analysis of On the Death of Anne Brontë
There’s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave;
I’ve lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.
The speaker of this piece, who is certainly Charlotte Brontë herself, begins by stating, without prelude, that there is “little joy” left in her life after the death of her sister. To accompany the lack of joy that Charlotte Brontë feels for living, she also feels “little terror” in the thought of the “grave,” or death. It seems that with the death of her last sister, her life has become devoid of all things meaningful.
The speaker has lived to see “the parting hour…of one” that she would have “died to save.” Her sister’s life was worth so much to her, that she would have given her own to keep Anne alive. This was not an option in Anne’s death and so Charlotte is left to mourn, filled with regret.
Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last;
Longing to see the shade of death
O’er those belovèd features cast.
Anne Brontë died from a prolonged fight with tuberculosis. The end stages of this disease are often drawn out and painful for both the sufferer and their close family and friends. This was the case in Anne’s death.
While she was nearing the end of her life Charlotte was there with her, watching her “failing breath” and hoping, for Anne’s sake, an to end her suffering; that the last breath might come soon. She actively wished for this to be true, so great was Anne’s misery.
Charlotte is not immune to the absurdity of this situation and even states, to make sure the speaker is aware of her awful position, the fact that she found herself wishing her sister was dead. Anne was beyond help and the only respite she was going to receive was in death.
The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank Him well and fervently;
In the third and fourth quatrain of the poem the speaker turns her thoughts to God. She simultaneously sees God’s choice to take Anne as a “cloud” and as a mercy. She knows that Anne, the “darling of [her] life” has moved on to a better place, and it is due to God that she is there.
She is spilt, at least somewhat, between cursing God, and thanking him. She knows that he deserves both. The speaker settles on the stronger of the two emotions and thanks “Him well and fervently.”
Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.
Even though the world has lost something precious, something that the speaker refers to as the “hope and glory of our life,” she still must thank Him.
Their future is not bright without Anne. Charlotte’s life will be “tempest-tossed” and she must “bear alone the weary strife” of the world. She no longer has her closest companion to share the troubles of the world with.
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, 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 it’s 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 become firmly identified as a fiction writer.