‘Often rebuked yet always back returning’ by Emily Brontë is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains follows a specific rhyme scheme, conforming to the pattern of ABAB CDCD. A reader should also take note of the way the indentions in each stanza match up with the rhyme scheme. This forces a reader’s eye back and forth across the page and helps to emphasize the rhythmic pattern even further.
In regards to meter, Brontë does not stick to one specific pattern. Instead, the first and third lines alternate between 11 and 12 syllables. While the second and fourth almost always have ten syllables. This gives the lines a sense of unity, but not so much so that a reader becomes accustomed to a particular pattern.
While Brontë chose to write from a first-person perspective, the details about this speaker’s life are high relatable. She did not go into so much detail that a certain segment of the readership would feel separate from this speaker’s experiences. What she lives, as a member of a highly structured society, is a life most would relate to. This is part of the long-lasting appeal of the text.
Summary of Often rebuked, yet always back returning
The poem begins with the speaker describing a side to her personality which is often forgotten, but often returns to her. This is her purest self, how she was when she was born. She continues on throughout the following stanzas to explain that she’s going to set aside the moral conscious she was given by society and find her own way through life. This is going to force her on a journey into the wilds of the world. It is her intention to find a purity of spirit and mind that will place her somewhere between Heaven and Hell, in a truth unseen in her everyday life.
Although the poem is quoted in full below, you can read the poem at Poetry Foundation here or below, in the analysis.
Analysis of Often rebuked, yet always back returning
Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by stating that she often returns to her “first feelings.” These are her initial instincts about life, before society, her peers, and her relations taught her what they had learned. One’s initial feelings are not removed from one’s body, they leave and then come back at random times when life becomes unbearable. Some events happened before the start of the poem to force the speaker into one of these moments.
The speaker’s feelings are leading her away from her everyday life. She does not want to be part of the pursuit of “wealth and learning.” Those who engage in these past times are after “idle dreams of things which cannot be.” The quest for a wealthy or fulfilling life within the constructs of society is worthless to this speaker. One is not free if they act within certain boundaries.
To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.
In the second stanza, the speaker sets out her plans. She decided that “To-day” she’s going to “seek not the shadowy region.” She wants to move beyond the haunted days of her life, out of the darkness and “unsustaining vastness which is societal structure, and into something else. That “something else” is described in stanzas four and five. At this point, she continues to list out what she is not looking for and what she’s not going to do.
The world she is used to is filled with “visions.” They follow her in “legions” as if they are demons, and bring “the unreal world too strangely near.” Her own learned impulses control her, usually. She intends to fight back against how she has learned to live.
I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.
The speaker describes in the third stanza what it is she is not going to do. At this point, and perhaps into the future, she is not going to follow “old heroic traces.” She’s not going to try to follow someone else’s path, specifically if the world has deemed it a “heroic” one. It is the speaker’s decision to put aside “paths of high morality” constructed by the world. She’s also going to ignore the histories of the past which guide the rest of the world. There is a better path for her, the one she was born with.
I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.
In the fourth stanza, Often rebuked, yet always back returning takes a turn. The previous lines outlined what the speaker did not want to do. Now, she explains to her intended listener that what she really wants is to “walk where [her] own nature would be leading.” Her own instincts and desires are going to guide her from now on. The speaker tells the listener that it “vexes” or bothers her, to worry about “another guide” or rules set out by other groups or ideologies.
The speaker depicts two attributes of the kind of place she hopes to walk. It will have “gray flocks” of birds that feed in “ferny glens.” There will also be a “wild wind” that blows “on the mountainside.” It is clear from these lines that she is seeking something wild and unstructured. There are “no heroic traces” to deal with here, nor “long-past” histories to contend with. The world simply exists, just as her internal path does.
What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
In the final stanza, the speaker begins with a rhetorical question. She asks herself, and the reader, “What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?” The question leads her to describe what she plans to learn from the mountains. It is what they “reveal” that she is so keen on encountering on her path.
The speaker describes their revelations as being too much for her to “tell.” There is “glory” and there is “grief.” When she ventures into the wild she is going to find herself somewhere between Heaven and Hell. All of the pretense put on my society and the rules made to keep women such as the speaker, the writer, and her sisters, in line, are nowhere to be found. There will be nothing but pure, true emotion. Life will be at its most vibrant and real.