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Featured Poem: Often Rebuked Yet Always Back Returning by Emily Brontë

Written by Francesca Dolan, 20th September 2021

National Poetry Day is an annual mass celebration that encourages all to enjoy, discover and share poetry. This year, National Poetry Day takes place on 7th October and throughout September, we’ll be reading poems with this years theme of 'Choice' in mind. Find out more about our National Poetry Day event and new anthology, The Road Not Taken. 

Today, our 'Featured Poem' is brought to you by our Head of Teaching and Learning, Clare Ellis. This poem is all about choosing to honour your individuality and walk your own path.

The first two lines of this poem always make my head swivel and I wonder again why that might be?  

Often rebuked, yet always back returning 

To those first feelings that were born with me  

Did you feel a swivel of some kind then, reading that? I’m sure there’s a better word for the internal shift of gear that I seem to feel inside my mind when I read these lines. The first time it gets me is with the phrase ‘yet always back returning’. We often think that our lives flow in a linear direction, from A to B, from one year to the next, onwards and forwards, and yet here we are reminded that we also go backwards. Another question: Why go back?  

I think something of the key to this must rest in the idea of ‘returning’, and moreover, ‘returning/To those first feelings that were born with me.’ Now, I bet you have an idea of what I am going to ask now? Perhaps you are asking the same thing? What might ‘those first feelings’ be?  

Even before I begin to explore that idea, I notice that I like the idea of having ‘first feelings that were born with me.’ There is something comforting in that fact that I came into the world with feelings already intact as it were, original instincts of humanity perhaps, or perhaps distinctive traits of my own personality, that came with me as I was born. I think I find that comforting; first of all because it makes me first feel kind of looked after in some way; secondly, because it reassures me to know that whatever might be before me in life, however I might stray from my own sense of self, there’ll always be something that will remain, that I can connect with again. 

But that connection to our ‘true’ selves, as it were, our authentic natures, also clearly takes conscious effort. We might easily be pulled off course in life. Is that part of why the person is being ‘rebuked’ for example? Because they are wanting to turn aside from the rat race to consider their own direction in life rather than be forced on a path deemed as right for them by others? And who might be doing the rebuking? It reminds me a bit of the critical voice of those who think they know best for you – who tell you that you need to act in life, to get on with things, to move forward.  

I am thankful for the rebellious spirit of this person in the poem who acknowledges the importance of movement in life – we can’t, after all, hide in our shells from the world. But that we should be our own guides feels key here – that we can choose which paths to take – and that there is something bigger than the human to help along the way: the Earth. Mother Earth perhaps? The wider being that ensured those ‘first feelings’, which appear to remain inviolable in spite of life’s obstacles and challenges. 

I know we’ve only really looked at two lines, but hopefully you will be keen to read on further...for the poem still has much to give.  

Often Rebuked Yet Always Back Returning
Often rebuked, yet always back returning
    To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
    For idle dreams of things which cannot be:
To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
    Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
    Bring the unreal world too strangely near.
I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
    And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
    The clouded forms of long-past history.
I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
    It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
    Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.
What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
    More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
    Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
By Emily Brontë

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