Love and Friendship by Emily Brontë is a three-stanza poem that functions as a compare/contrast piece between “love and friendship.” In order to explore both topics, Brontë portrays each of them as a different type of plant, and she explores how both plants react in different situations. Like those plants, she seems to argue, romance and friendship have different reactions as the seasons change, so much that only one will prevail when things become as harsh and unforgiving as the cold of “winter.” The one that survives, friendship, is stressed as the greater of the two concepts.
Love and Friendship Analysis
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
Brontë begins this exploration of romance and comradery by giving the reader concrete images to establish the represented sensations behind each concept. It is important to note that for this poem, the author seems to be referring to only romantic love for that half of the compare/contrast aspect since a more general idea of love would be connected to friendship. Without that differentiation of types then, the comparison would be invalid because one idea being contrasted would include the other, since friends can share a bond of love.
For romantic love, she provides “the wild rose-briar” for its expression. Without question, a “rose” is a flower often linked to romantic notions, so using that specific flower in this manner is sensible. Adding in the detail that the flower is “wild,” though, delivers a unique twist to the scenario. A “wild” flower will spring up without deliberate gardening, and its limitless quality grants it a restlessness that tamer plants cannot match. In essence, Brontë is giving romance a restless feature that is spontaneous and boundless.
For friendship, a “holly-tree” is the selected plant for representation. This choice moves it beyond the realm of a fragile plant and into the territory of a more stable “tree,” something that is not as easily tainted as a flower on the ground. While a “rose” could be showcased on a bush that is also stronger than a series of stemmed flowers along a pathway, the grounded nature of the “tree” already hints at the settled quality of friendship above what love can offer.
One thing that Brontë does say in favour of love is that while it “blooms,” “the holly is dark.” Essentially, when both are at their peaks, the “rose-briar” would likely have a more stand-out quality given its brighter appearance, but as soon as Brontë makes this claim, she turns again to a sentiment that shifts the preferred nature back to friendship by asking “which will bloom most constantly?” Because she’s recently expressed sentiment in favour or love, she provides the reader with a hint to her answer by beginning that question with the contrasting but. Based on the very meaning of that contrasting conjunction, friendship would have to be the logical answer.
The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?
This second stanza focuses solely on “the wild rose-briar” that represents romance, and the first two lines paint a beautiful and vivid picture of the emotion. According to Brontë, the sensation is “sweet in spring” and gives a delightful aroma so that “its summer blossoms scent the air.” Two different senses are being used to show how lovely the emotion is—taste and smell—and added the sense of sight that is sparked by the already presented visual of the “rose-briar,” over half of the standard senses are being used to create a strong argument to support how lovely romance can be.
But once this aspect of beauty and appreciation is established, Brontë changes gears to criticize romantic “love” in the last lines of the stanza. There are no concrete details given about how the “rose-briar” falls short in the winter, but the reader likely has an ingrained sense of what happens to flowers in “winter” through decay and frosts. Not delaying the pace of the poem to describe these concepts can be labelled as good choice on Brontë’s part because the visuals are so common that they simply do not need elaboration.
With those visuals in mind of flowers dying in “winter,” it is easy to compare the concept to a love that finds itself in a troubling situation. When things get cold and harsh, like “winter,” romance can prove fleeting and easy to abandon. Regardless of how beautiful the “love” is in spring then, it becomes despondent and lacking in those harsher times, like a flower leaving behind the livelier months.
Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.
What has already been discovered through the examination of the previous stanzas in this poem is solidified within this final section—that Brontë is arguing that “friendship” is better than romantic “love.” She begins this final statement by first condemning the “rose” that represents “love” to “scorn,” a word that has a heated connotation. She is not just telling readers to choose “friendship,” but is encouraging them to ridicule “love” for its fragility. Not only is she showing a favoured appreciation of “friendship,” then, but she is taking it a step further by openly criticizing the flaw behind romantic “love.”
Once that derogatory stance has been cemented, Brontë moves on to boost the appearance of friendship by telling the reader to “deck” themselves with the “holly” that represents “friendship,” and the reason given for this embracing is that as the months grow colder, the relationship will remain strong, like a “holly-tree” stays “green.”
Whereas romantic “love” crumbles under the weight of harsh circumstances, like the “holly,” “friendship” will remain strong and lively as the circumstances turn tumultuous. For this reason, to Brontë, “friendship” is better than romantic “love.”
About Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë is an English writer from the 19th century who is most acclaimed for her novel, Wuthering Heights. Like many noteworthy individuals in history, Brontë’s fame reached its peak only after her death. She also came from a family of literary creatives, including her sisters Charlotte and Anne.