Emily Brontë

Spellbound by Emily Bronte

With this poem, Spellbound, Emily Bronte brings her readers into a single moment in time. From this moment, the readers are trapped with the speaker. The various interpretations as to what spell the speaker is under. But whatever the spell and for whatever reason, the speaker makes it clear that she is held captive by a spell that immobilizes her even though there seems to be an impending doom. The speaker knows that something dreadful is coming her way, and yet she is unable to move.

Spellbound by Emily Bronte

Spellbound Analysis

Stanza 1

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The first line paints a picture for the reader so that there is immediately an understanding of the dark and gloomy setting in which these words are spoken. The speaker can physically see the night as it darkens around her. This gives the readers the idea that something terrifying is about to happen. She then says, “the wild wilds coldly blow”. Now, the reader can understand that it is dark and getting darker by the moment, and it is cold and windy. The reader feels a sense of urgency for the speaker to remove herself from this place. It is a dreary place. The cold and the darkness are often words that remind one of death. This causes the reader to become all the more uncomfortable with the situation described in the first stanza. Then, the speaker reveals that she has been bound by a “tyrant spell”. She does not explain what this spell is, or why she has been bound by it, but she does tell us that because of the spell, she “cannot, cannot go”. The repetition of the word “cannot” assures the reader that there is nothing the speaker can do about her own mobility. She is trapped and there is no escape for her from the darkness and the cold that is quickly enveloping her.

Stanza 2

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Here, something worse than the cold darkness approaches. Now, there is a storm so strong that “the giant trees are bending”. The description of the branches as “weighed with snow” reveals the perilous nature of the environment in which she is trapped. She says that “the storm is fast descending” which suggests that the storm is getting worse and is approaching her. Since the readers know that people cannot survive for long when trapped in a winter storm, this stanza creates a sense of panic. Even with the storm fast approaching, the speaker still claims that she “cannot go”. Still, she does not reveal what kind of spell she is under, why she is under it, or whether anyone could break it. She simply describes the peril coming toward her and her own inability to move.

Stanza 3

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.

The final stanza gives a little more insight into the meaning of the rest of Spellbound. The speaker describes that there are clouds above her and wastes below her. This gives the idea that the speaker is somewhere between heaven and hell. It suggests that she can see heaven and hell, or at least picture both places. Some critics have claimed that the speaker is in purgatory. However, she may very well be speaking from earth. She says that there is still nothing that can move her. Then, in the very last line, she says something very curious. All along, she has been claiming that she cannot go anywhere, and has implied that some kind of spell keeps her from moving. Now, she claims that she “will not” go. This change in her choice of words indicates that perhaps her own will is involved in her immobility. Somehow, she chooses not to go, but also feels that she “cannot go” even if she wanted to. There is a possibility that she is referring to faith or belief in God. If the clouds above truly do represent heaven, and the wastes below represent hell, then the speaker is claiming that she cannot go to one place or another. She cannot move from exactly where she is. The author was likely to have heard the message that faith in God saves from hell. Perhaps this message was the inspiration for Spellbound. The speaker may feel that she is nearing the end of her days, and yet somehow she cannot bring herself to have the kind of faith that she has heard about. She cannot move from disbelief to belief, and thereby remove the threat of death and hell. Thus, the impending doom continues to approach her as she nears the end of her days, and she cannot bring herself to the belief that she has been told will save her from hell.

Alternate Interpretations

This poem could also be interpreted as the description of a dream. Some people experience nightmares that are eerily like this poem. While some kind of deadly evil approaches, the dreamer finds himself completely immobile, and sometimes mute. While this poem could be referring to any number of incidences in Bronte’s life, it could also be a reflection upon such a dream.

Emily Bronte Background

In regards to this particular poem, there is an aspect of Emily Bronte’s life that most stands out. In Emily’s early years, she lost both her mother and her two sisters. Her mother died in 1821, leaving behind a nine-month-old baby, Anne. In 1825, two of Emily’s sisters caught tuberculosis while away at boarding school. Both died. It is not difficult to understand why Emily may have often thought about the clouds above and the wastelands below. As a young child, she is sure to have questioned the whereabouts of her deceased family members. As “Emily Bronte was raised in a religious household, by a father who was a pastor and by an extremely religious aunt” it is also evident that she grew up with ideas about God, life after death, and salvation. It is this background information that makes it seem that Spellbound is most likely referring to her inability to move from disbelief to belief and thereby save herself from the perilous doom engulfing her.    

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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