Emily Brontë was a very gifted poet in life. Her inspirations began when she was very young, and she consistently wrote verses about anything from her innermost feelings to abstract fantasy stories devised between herself and her sister, another very gifted poet. ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’, so-named for its opening line for lack of an “official” title, is one of her poems that lands in the former category, visiting the softly sentimental side of Brontë’s poetic talent, a relatively common theme in her bibliography. Those who have studied her life have noted that the Brontë family saw a great deal of personal loss early on — Emily Brontë had lost her mother and two of her older sisters by the time she had turned eight, and so it is unsurprising that she was capable of touchingly powerful works such as ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ to mark feelings of loss and sadness that undoubtedly were an unfortunately significant aspect of her life.
‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ Poem Analysis
Yes, holy be thy resting place
Wherever thou may’st lie;
The sweetest winds breathe on thy face,
The softest of the sky.
The first verse reads as a eulogy does, introducing a grieving narrator who appears to be mourning someone who had been very close to them. This verse relies strongly on the alliteration of the letter “s” (“sweetest,” “softest of the sky,” as well as the words “yes,” “resting,” and “may’st”) to sound gentle and soft. Words like “thy” and “may’st” also give the verse a somewhat romantic quality to it, and makes each word sound as though it has been specifically chosen by a tender heart. Imageries such as the soft sky are efficient at creating a natural calm, as though the speaker is using their words as a reminder that death is a natural event. That they consider the grave of the deceased to be holy suggests that the person was very important to them, or else lived a very good life that will make them worth visiting after they have been buried — though the second line implies that there may be some distance between the speaker and the deceased that prevents them from doing this.
And will not guardian Angels send
Kind dreams and thoughts of love,
Though I no more may watchful bend
Thy longed repose above?
The next verse seems to confirm a romantic attachment between the speaker and the deceased, as they hope that their guardian angel will be capable of relaying their feelings into the afterlife. They suggest they will be dreaming and thinking of the person, and is only saddened that they will never receive a reply. The final line, and the use of the word “above” suggests an image of Heaven, one that demonstrates the spirituality of the speaker, and their last connection to their love in life: the idea that they can still communicate, albeit one-sidedly, and will see each other again after each are finished with life.
And will not heaven itself bestow
A beam of glory there
That summer’s grass more green may grow,
And summer’s flowers more fair?
The third verse of ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ works off of the idea introduced in the “title” of the work, that the grave of the person itself can be a holy place. This verse imagines a “beam of glory” enveloping the resting place and making the grass a stronger shade of green, and the flowers more beautiful in its light. It is clear that the speaker had a great deal of respect and admiration for the deceased, particularly in a religious way. They suggest here that Heaven itself would take an interest in marking the place where an important person died, and make it a place of life, rather than of death. All of the imagery in this verse is of a bright summer’s day, a notable contrast from the fact that the poem is written as a eulogy for the dead.
Farewell, farewell, ’tis hard to part
Yet, loved one, it must be:
I would not rend another heart
Not even by blessing thee.
The mourning narrator must say “farewell” twice — this repetition shows a weakness, an understandable difficulty accepting what they are saying, and they justify that difficult choice by saying that “blessing” the deceased, a possible synonym for visiting them, assuming that they are in fact distant from the grave, would only serve to break their heart a second time. Now that they are more alone in the world, they must be able to keep their own heart intact and survive their grief.
Go! We must break affection’s chain,
Forget the hopes of years:
Nay, grieve not – willest thou remain
To waken wilder tears
This following verse is very much like the one that precedes it, going so far as to name their love a chain of affection, to be broken, suggesting that it holds the speaker back. Brontë uses an alliterative device here, with “willest” and “waken wilder,” and it seems in this verse the speaker is trying to encourage their own act of moving on. They imagine their memories as being able to bring on tears, and imagines their loved one “remaining,” in a sense, in their memories, if not in their hopes any longer.
This herald breeze with thee and me,
Roved in the dawning day:
And thou shouldest be where it shall be
Ere evening, far away.
The final verse of ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ is its most abstract, and represents a change in the speaker’s thoughts from rational and sentimental in the first verse, to abstract philosophizing in the last one. The “herald breeze” is a metaphor for coming change; wind moves forwards and heralds changes in weather. Likewise, the speaker thinks of their life and their lover’s death as being something of a wind that heralds change. The metaphor is further complicated by envisioning the speaker as the dawn of day and their lover as the evening. Despite their implied age — ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ is written with a mature, intelligent narrator who is likely to be reasonably old to feel such deep affection for another — they see themselves as a dawn, a beginning day, with many hours of sunlight to pass before its end, while death has already taken their love, who is now a day ended, with no light left in the world.
The idea of self-preservation is evident here, as the speaker rationalizes breaking their “chain of affection” in an attempt to live out their life and not simply fall over and die — figuratively — because their love is gone. And yet, the loving tone of the piece does convey genuine sadness over a passing. This complicated emotion that includes a desire to move on and a need to hold dear the departed is best expressed through metaphor and imagery, as Brontë has done here. Whether ‘Yes, Holy Be Thy Resting Place’ is written for a lover or a family member, as may be likely given the author’s personal history, it is clear that she understood her feelings on the matter extremely well, and was able to convey them in a truly touching poem for those who followed her works.