‘Encouragement’ by Emile Brontë is one of the most touching poems written by the gifted poet, about the loss of a mother figure and a family that must carry on despite the tragedy. This is a poem that resonates with the Brontë’s own lives, as the matriarch of that family passed away very young — Emily Brontë herself was only three, which makes the subject matter of the poem a subject for some controversy. In the poem, Emily Brontë addresses a grieving sister, but the Brontë sisters lived nearly their entire lives without their mother — Anne, the youngest, was an infant at the time of her passing, and Charlotte, the eldest, was five. Despite the apparent disconnect from age, ‘Encouragement’ manages to be a powerful piece that addresses the indescribable and lasting grief and pain that follows such a tragedy.
First and Second Stanza
I do not weep; I would not weep;
Our mother needs no tears:
Dry thine eyes, too; ’tis vain to keep
This causeless grief for years.
What though her brow be changed and cold,
Her sweet eyes closed for ever?
What though the stone-the darksome mould
Our mortal bodies sever?
The two verses that introduce ‘Encouragement’ do so in an interesting fashion, by offering a perspective that is very unusual in its relative indifference to a clearly tragic event. The first few lines of the poem state not only that the speaker “does not” weep, but that they “would not,” suggesting that they see no reason to shed tears, despite the heavy implication from the next line that the speaker’s mother has passed away. Addressing another character, the speaker then advises that they stop crying because it is vain to hold onto grief without cause. The second verse is even worse in this regard, using repetition of the phrase “what though” (essentially being a kinder way of saying “so what if?”) in response to ideas such as a mother never being gone forever. As well, the concept of the death of one’s mother being the source of “causeless grief” is extremely cold in its delivery. If the death of one’s mother is not a valid cause for grief, then what possibly could be?
Emily Brontë is writing these verses to set up for a later idea, more suited to the titular ‘Encouragement’, but for the reader reading these initial verses, the plainly written ideas sound cold and detached from emotional reason. To remedy this, she uses such phrases as “what though,” “thine eyes,” and “sweet eyes” to create a connotation of beauty and a sort of atmospheric tenderness that offsets the harsh message. The detail of the mother’s “sweet eyes” in particular indicates that the speaker does have fond memories of their mother, and may be unhappy at her passing. It does not yet explain the reason for the cold logic, but it suggests to the reader that there is some kind of emotional resonance that informs the poem.
Third and Fourth Stanza
What though her hand smooth ne’er again
Those silken locks of thine?
Nor, through long hours of future pain,
Her kind face o’er thee shine?
Remember still, she is not dead;
She sees us, sister, now;
Laid, where her angel spirit fled,
‘Mid heath and frozen snow.
The third verse continues in a very similar vein to the one preceding it, although with notably more detail, and, in particular, emotionally resonant detail. The images Brontë invokes are those of a mother smoothing her daughter’s hair, and comforting her during the inevitable pains of life. Each of these ideas feels like something that would objectively improve a person’s life, whether in the form of a minor comfort or a need to be fulfilled. The importance of the two images are contrasted and paralleled with each other to demonstrate how important a mother’s role is in each of its aspects, from the seemingly minor ones to the life-changing moments. Again, this is juxtaposed against “what though,” even as the language improves in connotation — in particular, the “shining” face of a kind mother is a metaphor almost suited to deification, as though her role in her daughter’s life is angelic in nature.
The fourth verse then actually uses the phrase “angel spirit,” and provides a reason for the idea of not weeping: faith. For the speaker of the poem, the only thing that has died is the “mortal body” of the woman, and not her angelic spirit or caring presence. The speaker suggests that the mother’s spirit continues to thrive in the open wintry fields that presumably constitute a setting around their home. It is possible that the siblings are visiting their mother’s grave as the speaker expresses the content of the poem to their sister.
Fifth and Sixth Stanza
And from that world of heavenly light
Will she not always bend
To guide us in our lifetime’s night,
And guard us to the end?
Thou knowest she will; and thou mayst mourn
That we are left below:
But not that she can ne’er return
To share our earthly woe.
The conclusion of ‘Encouragement’ forms a theme of hope, a reminder to the reader that there is more to the world than meets the eye, and an opportunity for Emily Brontë to share the comforts of her faith during the most difficult times in her life. Rather than a mother, the narration now suggests that the siblings have a guardian angel instead — and surely, given a new, spiritual form, a mother would do everything in her newfound power to defend her children from the world? “You know I’m right,” to paraphrase the final verse’s first line. The speaker admits that it is difficult to be physically separated from their mother, but that weeping because their mother is severed from them forever is silly and untrue. In that sense, they still have their mother, and will for the rest of their lives.
The shift in ‘Encouragement’ towards the titular concept takes a small amount of time, and it is possible that Emily Brontë intended for the tone of the piece to be one of “tough love,” so to speak. In the vein of a gentle rebuke towards her sister, this piece makes sense, though it does end on a significantly more optimistic note than it begins on. From the title, it is meant to be inspirational, a reminder of the enduring love of a parent, regardless of whether or not they still live, for their children. If in her lifetime, Emily Brontë did feel protected and blessed by the spirit of a mother she scarcely knew, then it was likely a great source of inspiration and strength for her, and it is admirable to think of her using her talents to spread that strength to others.