The Lady to Her Guitar by Emily Brontë

Emily Brontë was famous, both during her lifetime and afterwards, for her literary talents, which included deeply emotional poetry and intelligent contributions to literature. As an artist, poetry was arguably her most potent talent, but in The Lady to Her Guitar, she discusses the idea of music through her poetry. The blending influences of these two art forms makes The Lady to Her Guitar a unique means of examining such ideas as music, sentimentality, and the fickle nature of human emotion.


The Lady to Her Guitar Analysis

For him who struck thy foreign string,
I ween this heart has ceased to care;
Then why dost thou such feelings bring
To my sad spirit—old Guitar?

The Lady to Her Guitar is written as four quatrains, each with a slightly different rhyming pattern, but each with at least one pair of rhyming lines. The language used throughout the poem might be best described as “romantic;” it fits with expectations of lofty poetry, with its use of words such as “thy,” “dost,” and “ween” throughout — and especially in this first verse. The first verse serves as an introduction to the concept, as it brings in a narrator and prove ides them with a brief backstory. In this short story, the speaker speaks of a man who struck the “foreign” string of an old guitar. The use of the word “struck” is of fairly violent imagery, and is used here as cacophony, as it is the first implication that this man is not a pleasant memory for the speaker.

The second line of the verse seems to confirm this, as the speaker vows that her heart no longer cares for him, suggesting a romantic or deeply personal relationship with the man that has failed. It seems that she is being reminded of her old love when she sees or hears an old guitar being played, and that the old guitar brings her “sad spirit” to life. That this is detailed only in the final line implies that the speaker only thinks of her spirit as being sad when she hears the playing on this guitar that reminds her so much of a former love that probably made her rather happy.

It is as if the warm sunlight
In some deep glen should lingering stay,
When clouds of storm, or shades of night,
Have wrapt the parent orb away.

The second verse is an extended simile to describe the effect this guitar’s sound has on the speaker; she describes warm sunlight in contrast to storm clouds. Brontë crafts an interesting oxymoron, describing a “deep glen” that can store sunlight, and storm clouds that, similarly, fold onto each other and create a kind of cage. In both metaphors, one of light and shadow are being stored away in a kind of bubble, where the sunlit glen is able to exist inside the nighttime storm. In more literal terms (still metaphoric though), the sound of the guitar is like that safe place in the middle of a long and terrible storm. Despite the existence of a “sad spirit” so-described in the first verse, these descriptions suggest that the sound of the old guitar actually makes the narrator feel happy, warm, and safe. This is because Brontë’s very deliberate word choice has created a haven out of the “deep glen” — not only a pleasant place to be, but specifically one that is “deep,” which suggests it is far away from the storm described thereafter. The definite theme of this verse is haven, and the small utopia that is created when the speaker hears the old guitar played.

It is as if the glassy brook
Should image still its willows fair,
Though years ago the woodman’s stroke
Laid low in dust their Dryad-hair.

The third verse is also written as an extended simile in the same style as the one preceding it. It too juxtaposes two images — one as a fair willow and a glassy brook, a decidedly tranquil image, and one as a lumberjack’s axe felling that same tree, comparing it to the Dryad’s, the beautiful tree-nymphs from Ancient Greek mythology. The idea that seems to be prevalent in the simile is that a meadow or brook could still be a pleasant place in spite of its history, and that the mark of the woodman could not taint it forever, just as one poor relationship could not destroy all future relationships for the speaker in the poem. Once again, Brontë’s word choice does much to further her point — “glassy,” and “fair,” juxtaposed against “low,” and “dust” make it clear straight away that there is a sense of peace and a sense of dread being placed against one another in this verse.

Even so, Guitar, thy magic tone
Hath moved the tear and waked the sigh;
Hath bid the ancient torrent moan,
Although its very source is dry.

The last verse brings the poem back a little closer to reality, as the narrator concludes her lament to the lost relationship and ode to her guitar. When she hears notes played from the instrument, she describes it as “magic,” which suggests that the emotional response felt is not one that is typical of her personality. The closing metaphor for the poem — an ancient torrent with a dried-up source — is a very potent one. It invokes the idea of the source of a river, or other moving body of water, and creates an image of a dried-up source — in short, a river without water. The guitar, however, causes the “ancient torrent to moan.” A torrent of water, of course, cannot literally moan, but moaning is an emotional reaction to something, and so the water is likely a metaphor for the speaker’s emotions, and they come in a torrent as a result of hearing this “magic tone.” That the source of the flood is dry before contact with the guitar speaks to the narrator’s tendency to ignore her feelings, either in general, or about the man in the relationship. Her sentimental attachment to the instrument, however, allows them to feel the emotions she has long neglected.

Ideas such as sentimental value, the potency of music for emotion, and difficulty in accessing emotion are all explored in Emily Brontë’s piece, and The Lady to Her Guitar is certainly a strong example of those themes, and allows the reader to reflect on the things that awaken their own sentimentalities and own relationship with poetry, music, or any other artistic form they enjoy.

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