“The house was still—the room was still” by Charlotte Brontë is a short nine-line fragment composed by the poet shortly before her death. It remained unfinished but is today considered worthy of consideration in its incomplete state. As is often the case with poems discovered after a poet’s death, there is no definitive title. This means that it goes by the first line.
Although short, there is a specific rhyme scheme at work in “The house was still—the room was still.” The lines follow a pattern of, ABCBDEDEF. It is clear that the pattern could’ve continued, perhaps reincorporating the “C” rhyme somewhere further along the way.
Explore The house was still—the room was still
Use of Dashes and Pauses
Another element of this piece that is important to take note of is the use of dashes. They appear throughout the text, forcing the reader to pause and consider what has just been saying. The dashes also represent quiet moments in the narrative itself. For example, the dash after “He listened long” in the seventh line represents the moments of silence when the “free bird” listened. The same can be said for the dash in the eighth line. This time though it represents the moment the bird replied.
Tone and Mood
Although concerned with birds and nature, and set in June, the poem is not a happy one. The speaker’s tone is light, but the overall mood is dark and contemplative. Brontë was comparing the lives of the free and the imprisoned. There are any number of parallels that could be drawn between the two different birds and human beings. Due to the fact that there is not any elaboration on a greater context a reader is allowed to draw their own conclusions about who these birds represent.
Summary of The house was still—the room was still
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker sets the scene. It is June, and the reader is thrust into a still house in which there is a still room. All alone in the room is a canary trapped in a cage. As the sun sets it sings out to the last of the light and warmth.
In contrast to the caged bid, there is a free bird on the lilac bush. It heard everything and after pausing, replies. There is some kind of correspondence between the two and the reader is left to wonder about their positions as “free” and “prisoner.”
Analysis of The house was still—the room was still
The house was still – the room was still
‘Twas eventide in June
A caged canary to the sun
Then setting – trilled a tune
A free bird on that lilac bush
As stated above, the first line of this piece is utilized in place of a title. It gives the reader two very important pieces of information that set the mood of the following lines. The house and the room that Brontë brings the reader to are “still.” This leads one to believe that there are no people present, nor is there anything outside to upset the balance inside.
The next line adds an additional detail, it is “June” at “eventide.” This means that the evening is coming to an end and the sun is setting. It would be easy to paint a romantic picture of this moment, one filled with silence, peace, and contemplation of nature. That is not what happens though. The setting of the sun is a symbol for the dying of light, and the sad state of a caged canary.
While the world goes on outside, there is a canary trapped inside the still room in a cage. It “trilled” a song out to the sun. With no additional information, the scene is already a depressing one. The bird seems to be longing for the sun, perhaps asking it not to go, or simply mourning the loss of the light.
There is another bird in this narrative, a “free bird” outside the window “on that lilac bush.” The bird hears the sad “trill” of the caged canary from where it sits. The use of “that” in this line makes the poem more personal as if the speaker knows the area.
Outside the lattice heard
He listened long – there came a hush
He dropped an answering word –
The prisoner to the free replied
In the next lines, the dashes are used to represent a pause and then an answer. In the seventh line the free bird “listen[s] long” to the sounds of the caged canary. It’s in a position of safety and superiority on the bush. It is not clear if the caged bird knows the other is listening. Either way, it listens intently. The dash is in place of the bird’s thoughts as it contemplates the song.
After listening there is a “hush.” The lack of sound, which was normal before, seems stark in line seven. This is partially to do with the use of enjambment at the end of the line. Brontë cut off the phrase, leaving the reader to trail off in silence after the word “hush.”
In the last two lines the free bird replies to the other’s song. There is another pause and the final line states that the “prisoner to the free replied.” This is an interesting turn in the poem as it seems clear that Brontë wanted the reader to consider the birds as more than animals. Now they are simply “prisoner” and “free.” It is unknown what would’ve come next in the narrative, but this abrupt ending is successful in and of itself. A reader is left to wonder what was said between the two and how their positions might change or remain the same.