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Featured Poem: A Little While by Emily Bronte

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 30th August 2010

The summer season is nearing its end; schools, colleges and universities will soon be back in session and before long, leaves will be turning gorgeous shades of orange and yellow and tumbling from the trees. It’s a shame that the temperatures haven’t soared as much as we might have expected – although asking for a ‘barbecue summer’ that stretched beyond a few afternoons may have been just a tad optimistic – but perhaps we can hope for a sun drenched end-of-summer bank holiday (well, there is a first time for everything; even sun on a bank holiday). It would be something of a bonus, especially as this is the last long weekend we can enjoy until the jingle bells of Christmas have played (apologies for mentioning that particular season so prematurely, although I have witnessed cards appearing in the shops and Christmas catalogues dropping on the doorstep already, so perhaps I’m not too far off the mark).

This week’s featured poem is particularly suitable for the last opportunity we have in a little while – funnily enough, the very title of the poem – to take time out and escape from work, endless tasks, looming deadlines and the general everyday routine. It is clear by reading this, and indeed many of her poems, that Emily Bronte had a free spirited and highly creative nature – on writing a preface to a selection of her sister’s poetry, Charlotte Bronte stated “Liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it, she perished.” Even if she could not always venture far from her most immediate surroundings, Emily seemed to have an innate drive to explore and experience nature, to escape from her ‘weary’ and ‘heavy’ tasks to a world altogether brimming with bright, unclouded days, distant, dreamy, dim-blue chains and dream-like charm (just that language is enough to transport you to such distant lands).

A Little While was penned in December 1838 – almost exactly 10 years before Emily’s very early death – and the version detailed below appears to be most commonly known version of the poem. However I seem to have saved on my computer a slightly different and somewhat darker version – given that, amongst other slight variations in language (and an additional stanza) it replaces the line ‘Restraint and heavy task recoil’ with ‘I hear my dungeon bars recoil’. Given Emily’s most famous literary work, a capability for darkness was obviously apparent in her writing. Yet a more positive, if not completely light, tone is called for to correspond to that ‘holiday’ feeling.

A Little While

A little while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile,
Alike, while I have holiday.

Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart--
What thought, what scene invites thee now
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?

There is a spot, 'mid barren hills,
Where winter howls, and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.

The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight's dome;
But what on earth is half so dear--
So longed for--as the hearth of home?

The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o'ergrown,
I love them--how I love them all!

Still, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away;
And from the midst of cheerless gloom,
I passed to bright, unclouded day.

A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.

A heaven so clear, an earth so calm,
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air;
And, deepening still the dream-like charm,
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.

That was the scene, I knew it well;
I knew the turfy pathway's sweep,
That, winding o'er each billowy swell,
Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep.

Could I have lingered but an hour,
It well had paid a week of toil;
But Truth has banished Fancy's power:
Restraint and heavy task recoil.

Even as I stood with raptured eye,
Absorbed in bliss so deep and dear,
My hour of rest had fleeted by,
And back came labour, bondage, care.

Emily Bronte (1818-1848)

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