“I will seek not the shadowy region”

In her review of a new movie about Emily Bronte, titled Emily, Sheila O’Malley cites two lines from one of Bronte’s poems:

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide.

Somehow I’d never seen that poem before, so I tracked it down. Didn’t take long: I have it in several anthologies. Here it is, in full:

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 grey 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.

I find myself returning, time and again, to the English Romantics and their ability to create deeply evocative and specific visions and feelings with a relative economy of words. “Grey flocks in ferny glens” conjures such a perfectly precise image in my mind in just five words, and the last stanza seems a perfect encapsulation of the smallness of the single human in the face of universal nature.


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