Come Hither, Child By Emily Brontë

One of the most notable elements of the poetry written by the Brontë sisters was that their works could vary wildly between being deeply personal and emotional and being based in their own fantasy world — and some poems were both of these things regardless. Come Hither, Child — so-named for its first line, as the poem was not given title — is one of Emily Brontë’s poems written about a character invented by her and her sister Anne, but this makes its emotional power no less affecting or significant.


Come Hither, Child Analysis

Come hither, child — who gifted thee

With power to touch that string so well?

How darest thou rouse up thoughts in me,

Thoughts that I would — but cannot quell?

Nay, chide not, lady; long ago

I heard those notes in Ula’s hall,

And had I known they’d waken woe

I’d weep their music to recall.

The first two verses of the poem establish a clear structure that is adhered to throughout the poem — eight quatrains following an ABAB rhyming pattern — and this gives the poem a rhythm and beat that makes it easy to read. In these first two verses, the speaker addresses a child who, based on the second line of the poem, is playing a moving song on a stringed instrument. The speaker is unhappy about their emotional response to the song being played, and the musician’s talent while playing. They go on to describe their recognition of the song in the next verse. The last time they heard the song, it was at a time associated with sadness in their life. The alliteration used here in “waken,” “woe,” and “weep” helps to establish a kind of “introductory” sorrowful atmosphere.

But thus it was: one festal night

When I was hardly six years old

I stole away from crowds and light

And sought a chamber dark and cold.

I had no one to love me there,

I knew no comrade and no friend;

And so I went to sorrow where

Heaven, only heaven saw me bend.

The next pair of quatrains takes the reader back in time as the speaker recalls their history with this particular song. They recall attending a festival at the age of six. The festival was evidently a popular and joyous occasion, but despite this, the child leaves the premises to seek solitude. The description of “a chamber dark and cold” is enough to keep the grim tone established in the previous verse in place, in conjunction with the descriptions of the first verse invoking a sad song to herald this story.

In the next verse, the speaker recalls being a child and finding that solitary room, where, in the dark and cold, they bring themselves to sadness, feeling utterly alone. There is an interesting contrast created between the festal crowds and the lonely room; it seems that without being surrounded by the crowd, the child has almost forgotten that it existed at all. They acknowledge the divine force of Heaven as being the sole entity that could perceive them, and to them, it was the same as being entirely alone, unloved, and unloved.

Loud blew the wind; ’twas sad to stay

From all that splendour barred away.

I imaged in the lonely room

A thousand forms of fearful gloom.

The next description provided is that of the wind being loud, louder than the distant sounds of the festival, and this is a significant description for understanding the mental state of the child in the speaker’s memory. The splendour is “barred away;” by contrast to a festival, the wind is typically a lonely sound, because it is hard to focus on unless the listener is all alone. The child focuses on their loneliness more so than anything else, and begin to imagine their fears manifesting in the room. It is a description of a waking nightmare, and brings the atmosphere of the poem lower than its been so far.

And with my wet eyes raised on high

I prayed to God that I might die.

Suddenly in that silence drear

A sound of music reached my ear,

And then a note, I hear it yet,

So full of soul, so deeply sweet,

I thought that Gabriel’s self had come

To take me to thy father’s home.

The poem goes on to describe a moment of absolute terror by this young child, where the loneliness that has been a constant theme throughout the memory begins to truly affect and attack. The pain reaches its climax until they overhear music, presumably coming from another room in the dwelling. The silence that has brought about their lonely feeling is now replaced by a beautiful song, evidently played with great passion and emotion. They believe for a moment that their wish for death is being answered in divine fashion, that Gabriel, the archangel in Christian tradition (who is well-remembered for being the messenger that told the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, of her pregnancy) has come to take her into Heaven himself.

Three times it rose, that seraph strain,

Then died, nor breathed again;

But still the words and still the tone

Dwell round my heart when all alone.

As the poem concludes, the speaker reflects on the way that song has stayed with them throughout their life, describing it as their seraph (angelic) strain (a more uplifting alliteration), and one that they can recall clearly and easily whenever they are alone and wish to feel less so. It speaks to the incredible power of music as another art form that can touch a person deeply and remain with them for years, even decades after their initial listening of the piece. For the speaker in this poem, such a beautiful, emotional, and sad song came to them in the moment they needed it most, and it has evidently kept them safe and sane into their adulthood.


Historical Context

Emily Brontë was one of four siblings who greatly impacted English literature during the first half of the nineteenth century. She was born in 1818, and very little is known about her personality and life — interestingly, there is only one picture that can be said without question to be of her, because it was painted by her brother. Emily spent only a brief amount of time studying abroad before a number of deaths in the family led to her being brought home for homeschooling, along with her sister, Anne. When the sisters, including Charlotte Brontë, became interested in literature, they began to create fantasy worlds together, and wrote stories, poems, and fantasies that reflected this world.

Come Hither, Child is one such poem. In the second verse, the speaker recalls hearing that song for the first time in Ula’s hall. Ula is imaginary — it was a province in the realm of Gaaldine, one of the worlds imagined by the sisters. The speaker of the poem, therefore, is likely a character thought up by Charlotte, Anne, and Emily whose loneliness and depression are likely elements of greater plots envisioned by the siblings, and reflected only partially in their other works.

In her life, Emily Brontë was described as a shy individual, very unsocial and withdrawn from the world. It may well be that the character she created was inspired in some way by her own life — the emotional aspect of the poem is certainly powerful enough — but there is no evidence of this one way or the other. What is certain is that Brontë was able to create a powerful piece of art out of a fantasy story that does a powerful and affecting job of examining the importance of art and the depths of human loneliness.

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