Poetry is a powerful means of expression. So many popular poets are popular precisely because of their ability to take a concept nearly everyone has an opinion on, and give their own perspective in such a unique way as to make the reader rethink their own ideas. As a form of literature, poetry can convey symbolically what other writings can’t literally. But when a poet chooses their own self as the topic, or when the purpose of the poem has to do with human nature, it invites the reader to take a look at their own self, personality, and history, and contemplate. And when done well, these are among the most memorable poems in the world. Emily Brontë’s I Am The Only Being Whose Doom is one such poem, one that deeply examines some of the most private inner feelings a person can hold in a relatable and powerful way.
I Am The Only Being Whose Doom Analysis
I am the only being whose doom
No tongue would ask no eye would mourn
I never caused a thought of gloom
A smile of joy since I was born
In secret pleasure – secret tears
This changeful life has slipped away
As friendless after eighteen years
As lone as on my natal day
The title of this poem is interesting, because it is nothing more than a mimic of the first line of the work, a common attribution given to poems that are published or found untitled. It creates a focus on the speaker, who is clearly the subject of the poem, as they claim that their “doom” — that is, if they were to die — would not be neither notable nor saddening. When they say “no tongue would ask,” they are referring to the common questions people ask after death; “how could this happen,” “how did this happen,” “what will we do now?” When they say no “eye” would mourn, they are suggesting that there would be no tears in the wake of their death. They go on to explain that they have always been the image of happiness and joy, never giving the impression that they are anything other than happy.
Despite this, as the second verse tells us, they are alone. Despite the changes that they have experienced over the course of the past eighteen years, they remain friendless. The mention of eighteen could suggest that they are eighteen years old, or that it has been eighteen years since they last had a friend at their side, possibly as a result of them moving, or passing away. They describe this truth as being both their secret pleasure and their secret tears, suggesting they simultaneously love being alone, and feel sad and lonely. Based on the first verse, it seems likely that the speaker is content with being alone, contrary to how most people tend to feel.
There have been times I cannot hide
There have been times when this was drear
When my sad soul forgot its pride
And longed for one to love me here
But those were in the early glow
Of feelings since subdued by care
And they have died so long ago
I hardly now believe they were
Despite the contentedness expressed in the previous verse, the third and fourth verses mark a change in the atmosphere of the poem. The speaker explains that every once in a while, the mask slips, and they’re unable to contain the emotions of sadness that accompany their solitude. “Drear,” an old-fashioned synonym for “dreary,” and “my sad soul” are poignant passages explaining these emotions. The idea of the sad soul “forgetting its pride” suggests that the speaker takes some pride in being different from everyone else, as though they believe that they are an enigma in their society and enjoy that feeling. Sometimes, however, they wish for someone to love them and know them and need them.
The fourth stanza makes it clear, however, that the narrator suppresses that feeling whenever they arise, and their pride or personality tends to win over. Ironically, they consider their eradication of those emotions the result of “care,” something they tend to avoid in day-to-day interactions. When they return to their typical state of mind, they can hardly believe they were ever even capable of feeling lonely or in need of love.
First melted off the hope of youth
Then Fancy’s rainbow fast withdrew
And then experience told me truth
In mortal bosoms never grew
‘Twas grief enough to think mankind
All hollow servile insincere –
But worse to trust to my own mind
And find the same corruption there
The conclusion of the poem takes on a slightly more declarative tone, and explains to the reader why the speaker thinks and acts the way they do. They reflect on the time when they were growing up, and say that after their childhood ended — possibly at a younger age than we might expect — that harsh experiences forced them to acknowledge that “truth” is not something that grows in the hearts of humans. This is a cynical opinion, to say that humans are inherently deceitful, but without the context of the speaker’s past experiences, it is difficult to say whether or not this is justified.
Regardless, in an interesting development of character, it is revealed in the final stanza that they do not see themselves as being above anyone else. Contrary to what the reader may be thinking, the speaker does not shy away from other people because of thoughts of superiority, or even, as they claimed earlier, pride, but rather know full well that they too are human and therefore have the same flaws as anyone else. They see insincerity in other people, and corruption within themselves. They know that they are not above anyone else, and they dislike that about their own self just as much as in anyone else.
Brontë’s analysis of her character is strongly evocative of sadness, isolation, and possibly a slight misanthropy. But the idea of being afraid to trust oneself, of knowing and fearing one’s own infallibility is something very personal, very private, and very powerful, in addition to being something more universal than they realize. It’s a very honest poem that portrays a complicated inner desire in a very simple way, made even more powerful by the simple rhyme and flow of the poem. It stands out as one of Brontë’s more personal works, and is conveyed extremely well for all its simplicity and structure.