Bronte's 'Hope': Fleetingness and Loss of Hope
“Hope” was written in 1845, and was published in 1846 in ‘Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell’, which was a volume of poetry published jointly by the three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who had to publish their poems under male pseudonyms to evade female prejudice. In the first line of her poem, Bronte refers to Hope as “a timid friend” – someone who will always be present and dependable. This is in reference to the expectations of the ideal woman in Victorian England. This is continued on the next line, when Bronte reveals that Hope is in a space of imprisonment, shown by the phrase “grated den.” This den acts as a metaphor for women at the time – the homes which they lived in were beginning to be seen as literal prisons in which Hope did not reside, also being a factor which sparked the suffragette movement.
Following on, Bronte recognises Hope’s seemingly scarce interest – “watching how my fate would tend” – and compares it to “selfish-hearted men.” Bronte describes men as being egotistical beings, which for them was a retaliation to their brother Branwell who, like a living embodiment of the patriarchy, kept trying to hold the sisters back. ‘Hope’ acts as an outlet for a specifically feminine anger in response to their restrictive patriarchal society, blending a reaction to prejudice and confinement that is peculiar to women of great intelligence and few opportunities and resources.
The second stanza opens with the narrator looking “through the bars”, as if to reinforce her imprisonment, to see Hope, who then proceeded to turn away. This relates to the previous line in which Hope “was cruel in her fear”. Bronte’s message is that whenever anyone – especially women – seeks Hope, they will inevitably be met with disappointment. Bronte thus embodies Hope as “a false guard,” suggesting she provides no safety from the outside, and contains all in their personal “prison.” This acts as microcosm for the message of the poem, and the simile suggests that although Hope was expected to offer help, she takes pleasure in the narrator’s anguish by “whisper[ing] peace” and would “sing” to the narrator, “consoling” her in times of trouble. But similarly, if the narrator would approach too close to Hope singing, “she would cease.” The repetition of Hope’s fickle and distant nature only strengthens Bronte’s message – that Hope cannot be relied on, and seems to be the greatest tormentor of not just the narrator but of anyone.
Bronte then confidently states through the narrator’s voice that Hope is indeed “false…and unrelenting”. The fourth stanza only confirms that Hope’s torturous nature results in far more bad than good. An end-stop follows the word “unrelenting”, which is ironic as some poets would have used enjambment to accentuate Hope’s unrelenting persona. However, Bronte places the abrupt end-stop here to remind the reader that Hope as a final comfort will only end in betrayal, and resentment. In another personification, Bronte imagines Sorrow feeling regretful about the things that it caused and the “sad relics” of the narrator’s emotional state.
The heightened use of punctuation emphasise the breaks in the flow of the poem, accentuating the depths of despair to which the narrator has dropped to. The poem closes with one final, spiteful thought toward Hope. The narrator complains that Hope could have taken away all of “my frenzied pain,” with even the smallest of tokens. However, Hope chose not to help, only to taunt, and so she “Stretched her wings, and soared to heaven/Went, and ne’er returned again.” The central conflict of the poem is explored here, between the narrator’s trapped existence in her ‘prison’ and Hope’s freedom to do this all over to another, as she is able to “soar” away. This final message leaves the narrator with absence of Hope – instead, left with lonesomeness, disappointment and anguish.
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