All interspersed with weed,
The little cage of "Currer Bell"
In quiet "Haworth" laid.
This Bird – observing others
When frosts too sharp became
Retire to other latitudes –
Quietly did the same –
But differed in returning –
Since Yorkshire hills are green –
Yet not in all the nests I meet –
Can Nightingale be seen –
- F146 (1860) 148
This poem, written in honor of Charlotte Bronte on the fourth anniversary of her death, uses the central metaphor of Bronte (Currer Bell was her pen name) as a bird. First she is buried in a “little cage” in the Haworth churchyard. It seems sadly neglected, weedy and overgrown; but Bronte became more revered and famous as the years passed – much like Dickinson herself.
In the second and third stanzas Bronte is free like a bird. She migrated when the weather got cold. Alas, though, this bird did not return. In the last line, the poet identifies the Bronte bird as a nightingale – whose song is considered by many to be the most lovely of any bird.
When the poet writes that she has never found this nightingale “in all the nests I meet” I suspect she means she has been hoping to find another writer’s “voice” as compelling and beautiful as she found Bronte.
Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre in 1847 when Dickinson was 17. It became one of her most favored books. While Jane Eyre was immediately successful, reviews turned harsher when it became known that Currer Bell was really a woman. Like Dickinson, Bronte and her sisters led quiet village lives. I’d love to think the Brontes and Dickinson might have met, but an ocean separated them.
Johnson provides an alternate second and third stanza to that published by Franklin (above). In this version Bronte has survived a difficult life to reach Heaven (alluded to as “the Asphodel”). Accustomed as she was to the harsh Christianity of her father, its sounds would fall “soft … Upon her puzzled ear”. These are the alternate two stanzas:
Gathered from many wanderings—
Gethsemane can tell
Thro' what transporting anguish
She reached the Asphodel!
Soft falls the sounds of Eden
Upon her puzzled ear—
Oh what an afternoon for Heaven,
When "Bronte" entered there!