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Background of the Poet
- Emily Jane Brontë was an English novelist and poet.
- Best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, now considered a classic of English literature.
- A member of the very famous and renowned Brontë family.
Structure and Rhyme Scheme
- 7 quatrains/stanzas.
- There is an alternate rhyme scheme throughout the entire poem.
- This may denote that Bronte has come to terms with her ultimate demise and death — instead of trying to shun the idea or pray that she gets better, instead, she embraces the idea and shows that she is ready to die and not scared of the idea. By using an orderly structure and rhyme scheme, she is firstly denoting her conformity to how we all have one final destination—death. Her orderly rhyme scheme also denotes that she is not only on terms with it, but alternatively, denotes the rhythmic progression of life itself until eventually death results.
- If she would have used an unrhythmic or unordered structure in her poem then she would have been arguably discontent or not yet on par with her ultimate death — however this is not what she has done, instead she has used an orderly rhyme scheme ands structure which further explains the point explored above.
- Alliteration in the title ‘Last Lines’, probably for an acoustic affect and to make the title aesthetically attractive. In addition, the title refers to quite legitimately her literal last lines, which has also been further supported by Charlotte Brontë’s (her sister) approval of this poem being the last lines Emily has written before her death.
- Death is the main theme in this poem. Death runs throughout the entire poem and Emily explains through different poetic devices what she feels towards death and ultimately how she embraces the idea.
- Immortality—she explores the possibility but negates it from happening because at the end of the day we are mortals, and we will definitely die one day. There is no question there. She begins to remind people that as she is soon to be dead—so is the rest of us. This idea is especially entertained in the fourth paragraph.
- Vain and conceitedness: she outlaws both of these ideas because they are of no use because all of us have the same destination ultimately.
- Spirituality and religion.
- Worldly features and characteristics.
Language Analysis and Critical Appreciation
- ‘No coward’: Comment on the word coward. She has respect for herself and see herself in a certain light. She does not consider herself weak, and by fearing death one is condemning themselves to a cowards/weaklings life because ultimately death is something we all WILL be experiencing no matter what. We are mortals, and Brontë is reminding us about this.
- ‘…soul’: She’s talking in an abstract way here when she refers to her soul. Brontë is a spiritual person, and she believes in God and therefore we could assume that she believes in an afterlife. Therefore, she refers to her soul rather than body because she understands that a body is restricted to the realms of the current worlds — however a person’s soul is something that contains their temperament qualities and idiosyncrasies. Therefore, she does not want her soul to be considered a coward because this is a title she would have to live with indefinitely.
- ‘No trembler’: Further exploring the idea of being a coward.
- ‘storm-troubled’: This is an interesting term used by Brontë. She’s referring to the world being a troubled area, by a storm, which is usually a term used to talk about something severe or dangerous. Therefore, essentially she’s saying that the world has many different problems and therefore being a coward in such a world is a difficult job to survive. There’s also repetition in the word ‘No’ from the preceding line and therefore this could denote that she is trying to explore all of the things that she isn’t explicitly as a final message or poem regarding who she considers or identifies herself to be because this is the last chance she has to clarify anything in this world in her own words.
- ‘…Heaven’s’: Okay so firstly you should notice that she capitalises the world heaven. This is important because we see Brontë respecting the idea of an afterlife. In addition, we see her again further denoted as a spiritual/religious person.
- ‘And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.’: Okay so firstly we see her using two devices: Asyndeton and anaphora. She uses asyndeton as a follow up from her faith. She wants to emphasise both ideas equally because she’s trying to tell us that it is because of faith that protects her from any sort of fear. The way she says this also further explores why she is a spiritual person. She uses anaphora or a break in the line so that she can make this connection simple for the reader. In addition, this is exactly where we discover her underlying spirituality or her believe in religion and therefore this is the reason she provides for her being very calm even though she knows her death is nearing. She shows this very cooly and subtly. We commend her for her brilliant work and the reader could also relate, as we may explore the idea of our own existentialism or mortality.
- ‘O God’: almost reassuring herself of God’s apparent power and significance in her life. She is almost making a plea for herself to her God.
- ‘Almighty,’: Anaphora. Okay so she does this to keep the word ‘Almighty’ standing in a singular form and not directly in a sentence with any other word — because she wants to emphasise God’s power such that the word must even stand alone. This also shows her level of affection and love for her Lord. Also, you must notice that every word used to describe her Lord is capitalised, e.g. ‘Deity’, ‘God’, ‘Almighty’. This is also important and can further express her love or respect for her Lord.
- ‘Life—that…’: Anaphora. Life is her now ceases to be because she must die. The dash may be included to allow her time to process the idea of life now ceasing to exist inside of her. Alternatively, it could be to break the two words apart and allow her to explore the word adequately by breaking the word and the explanation apart. There’s further repetition of ‘Life’ in the next line where she says ‘…—-undying Life—-…’, and this is further the use of anaphora. Brontë does this again to separate or break the two words from the rest of the line. Also we see how she further characterises ‘Life’ —- from ‘Life’ to ‘undying Life’. Why does she do this? Because she is further exploring what the word ‘Life’ means to her and she is basically saying that although she may die, God lives inside of her (who is immortal to her), and therefore Life becomes undying to her essentially.
- ‘Vain’: First lets define this word. This essentially means conceitedness/elevation in one’s own self-worth. Readers should definitely comment on this word. She further explores what she thinks about this elevation of self-worth in the following lines.
- ‘…thousand creeds’: Okay so she uses enjambment here, probably to emphasise the idea or overflowing nature of the extent to which people’s arrogance is entertained in their personas or character or temperament.
- ‘…unutterably vain.’: Again she characterises a term like she did in the preceding stanza, she first picked the word ‘Vain’ and now characterised or further explored it as ‘unutterably’ vain. Men are so vain that picking it out or talking about it would be futile because of the extent to which they have such elevated selfs and personas. There’s an almost lining of mockery of such people because Brontë has been talking about our mortality — therefore being arrogant essentially is pointless. So she further develops this point. Also notice how she uses anaphora, ‘…hearts: unutterably vain;’, therefore this tells/emphasises how unutterable it is since she must leave the two words standing alone together rather than in congregation with the rest of the sentence.
- ‘Worthless as withered weeds’: Okay! So there’s alliteration here, also as a result an acoustic effect produced which is aesthetically pleasing for readers. She’s further discussing how pointless it is to have an elevated personality, because ultimately no one can escape death and since we all have the same ultimate destiny—essentially she is saying that everyone is at an equal footing and doesn’t make sense to her why people must live in their own self-elevated worth or in conceitedness. This causes readers to also ponder over their own ego and identities in their respective communities. She is also explicit when identifying this issue of arrogance, especially when she calls it unutterable — she still speaks about it and therefore we commend her for actually acknowledging it.
- ‘…boundless main’: They are vain yet they stand before an endless ocean of water. I.e. they continue to be vain with their own self-worth, yet they’re so aloof that they don’t acknowledge or understand that they stand before a limitless ocean, yet they themselves are limited and therefore there is a touch of irony in this sentence that Brontë masterfully includes in her poem.
- ‘…thine infinity’: She’s discussing how people are very invested in the idea that they are infinite or essentially will live forever, and therefore she is mentioning how this is essentially pointless since, again, we are all mortals!
- ‘So surely anchored on…’: Alliteration in ‘So surely’ to further emphasise the level or the extent to which they think their immortality is and how it is definitive. Instead, she does this in an -almost- ironic way because we see deaths occurring every day yet we never consider or ponder over our own ultimate deaths. ‘Anchored’: So she uses an almost catalogue of words which would be relevant to a captain of a ship. A ship denoting our lives, it’s as if we’re anchored or we’re so held onto the idea that we’re infinite she is reminding us that we must waken ourselves and understand that we aren’t.
- ‘…steadfast rock’: The idea of immortality is almost indefinite in the minds of the people who think that they are immortal, and she is essentially telling or reminding us that we must awoken such people.
- ‘…spirit animates’: She is talking about our soul, or essentially in this stanza she is talking in almost abstract terms. She is talking about how everyone’s soul will ultimately ‘pervade[s] and brood[s] above’, so she’s referring to Heaven here where usually in traditional times people would refer to the sky when talking about heaven. In addition, we see that she is saying that although our bodies are temporary, our solves are undying in a sense that they will be carried onto to the afterlife. She reminds us of this. And how we must be ‘wide-embracing’ of this.
- ‘Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.’: She uses asyndeton and anaphora here. She uses asyndeton to equally emphasise all of these stages in our soul. In addition, she uses anaphora to speed up the sentence for the readers. She also identifies the different stages that our soul may go through.
- ‘…earth and man’: So she’s referring to worldly phenomena here. This is further explored where she says ‘…suns and universes’. Brontë further says ‘Every existence would exist in thee’. There’s also an underlying tone of alliteration/repetition which adds to the acoustic effect and further emphasise what she’s trying to talk about. Okay so, what’s she’s basically saying is that if nothing else existed in the world, seeing that there is no world or anything, i.e. all substance is gone or had disappeared, then she would be the only living thing and everything would exist inside of her. She says this to give herself pleasure that perhaps she could be the only thing in existence so perhaps this is a sort of reassurance she is giving to herself of her existence or she’s characterising her soul as being something that is forever existing rather than her body.
- ‘…Death’: She respects death to the point where she capitalises the phenomena and almost personifies death by speaking about it as if it were a person.
- ‘…atom’: She moves onto anatomy as if exploring every inch of the human being and chemistry.
- ‘Thou— thou…’: Repetition here. She is emphasising what she herself is and what you are — what we all are. This is because she’s thinking through what message she is trying to convey. Or to refer to us as if humans have worth as well and therefore by repeating ‘Thou’ this tells us that to emphasise us is to honour us.
- ‘…Being and Breath’: She respects humans or mortals to the extent that she doesn’t refer to us, rather she refers to our humanely characteristics and not only that, but she capitalises both of these phenomena as we see. Also there is a form of alliteration here to further discuss or explore such humanely phenomena.
- ‘…art…destroyed’: What we are can never be taken away from us. So she goes from talking about how she isn’t a coward and therefore does not fear dying, to discussing the irony in people who are very pretentious and how this is related to our mortality, to discussing how our souls are essentially undying and will continue to live on and therefore talking about our own self-worth and that all mortals have worth despite our bodies being mortal. She is almost restoring a piece of our egos, that although we are mortals and will die, we are still worth something and that matters to Brontë.