A second analysis: The poem, Cold in the Earth, is thought to have been from a collection Emily Brontë wrote about the fictional world Gondal, which she and her sisters created and about which wrote poems, plays and stories. Here, the Speaker laments the passing of her loved one and declares her ever-lasting devotion, despite the passage of time, fifteen years, to be precise.
Structure and Form
The poem is set out in eight quatrains, with a regular AB AB rhyme scheme. The rhythm is mostly iambic pentameter although there are some variations. The consistency of the rhyme and rhythm could illustrate the constancy of the heroine’s love for the deceased. The tone, although mournful, is defiant and passionate in its heartfelt intensity.
Cold in the Earth Analysis
Cold in the earth—and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?
The rawness of the emotion is conveyed by the pathos of the first two lines. The poet employs vivid imagery of her departed lover in his grave, forcing the reader to imagine the scene, thus feeling the extent of her desolation. She creates an emphatic tone by making extensive use of punctuation and her inclusion of the dash in the first line serves to compound her feelings of loss and reinforce the finality of death. By capitalising the abstract nouns ‘Love’ and ‘Time’ she makes effective use of personification.
She introduces the theme of the poem to which she returns throughout: is she still faithful to his memory, or with time has her devotion waned?
Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover
Over the mountains, on that northern shore,
Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover
Thy noble heart forever, ever more?
This stanza is rich with the imagery of the mythical world of Gondal, and her thoughts are personified as they take flight, lingering over the grave, now covered by vegetation. This is our first hint that a lengthy period of time has elapsed.
The heavy assonance of the long ‘o’ sounds creates a ponderous, mournful tone in lines one, two and four, but in line three the softer ‘e’ and ‘a’ sounds lift it slightly. The use of commas after ‘Now’ and ‘when alone’, indicate the thoughtfulness of her response and add to the contemplative tone.
The reference to her love’s ‘noble heart’ piques the readers’ interest as we wonder if he was a hero who died in battle, and makes us feel all the more despondent that the life of such a great person has been snuffed out.
Cold in the earth—and fifteen wild Decembers,
From those brown hills, have melted into spring:
Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers
After such years of change and suffering!
Returning to the opening stanza, more dismal imagery is employed to show the brutality of the elements and this also reflects the cruelness of life. However, though the snow may have thawed and melted, she, in contrast, has remained unchanged despite the passage of time. The exclamation mark at the end of the verse emphasises her determination to remember him.
Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world’s tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!
Here she pledges her allegiance to him again, and her term of endearment as her ‘Sweet Love of youth’ pulls at the heart-strings of the reader, perhaps making them identify or recollect the fervour of young love. The imagery of this stanza is unmistakably Biblical, evoking verses from the Gospel according to St John where believers are reminded that although they are ‘in the world’ they are not ‘of the world’. Her love is thus described in epic terms, almost Christ-like in its devotion.
No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life’s bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life’s bliss is in the grave with thee.
Again the Speaker re-asserts her love and reveals that she has always remained faithful. She makes use of repetition to illustrate her constancy, and the monosyllabic words ‘No’ and ‘All’ consolidate her strength of feeling. Her undying affection is especially evoked in this stanza, and we imagine her life to be bereft of light and hope now he has died. A part of her was clearly also extinguished when he passed.
The religious undertones continue in this verse with the references to light, life and the use of the word ‘bliss’; all words found in abundance in The Book of Common Prayer, a text with which the Brontë’s would no doubt have been familiar, since their father was an Anglican clergyman and all the sisters taught Sunday School from the vicarage.
But, when the days of golden dreams had perished,
And even Despair was powerless to destroy,
Then did I learn how existence could be cherished,
Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy.
There is a sense of defiance in this verse as although her lover has died in the physical sense, her passion for him remains living and vital, thus he lives on in her heart. The juxtaposition of ‘days of golden dreams’ and the word ‘perished’ in the same line highlights her grief that such a love story should have ended prematurely. However, we are also in awe at her strength of character that she has lived on despite the pain she has suffered.
Then did I check the tears of useless passion—
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten
Down to that tomb already more than mine.
In this verse she speaks of how she counselled her younger self to persevere with life and learn to live in his absence. By using the words ‘weaned’ and ‘yearning’ she implies that this took time and discipline. The long vowel sounds are stretched out to suggest a long, slow process. ‘Sternly’ is onomatopoeic,the sharp ‘st’ sound at the start of the word implies that she had to be strict with herself.
And, even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again?
In this verse there are echoes of Shakespeare, when we think of the line ‘Parting is such sorrow’ from Romeo and Juliet, or the oft quoted ‘Tis better to have loved and lost: Than never to have loved at all’ from Alfred Lord Tennyson. The bold question which concludes the poem suggests that if she were to immerse herself in memories of her lost love, she would be unable to continue with life as she now knows it. Oxymoron is employed in ‘rapturous pain’ and ‘divinest anguish’ to make the reader try to understand the paradox. Even if recalling her treasured memories brings her pain and distress she considers it is worth it to recollect them. By using the verb ‘dare’ twice she adds a sense of urgency to her dilemma and conveys the intensity of her struggles, to wrench herself away from drawing inwards to her former life. Again, alliteration and assonance stretch the penultimate line, drawing us into her tormented reverie. The verse concludes with a question to make the reader consider her plight once more.
About Emily Brontë
The Victorian poet Emily Brontë (1818-1848), was one of the famous Brontë sisters and is best known for having penned Wuthering Heights. Like her great gothic novel, this poem contains references to the cosmos and deals with an epic love affair. The Brontë family lived in Yorkshire and they often evoked the wildness of the moors in their writing: the unforgiving landscape often featuring prominently, as though another character.