Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 July 2011
This chapter focuses on the works of three post-Romantic poets who present, in their poetry, markedly individual responses to and versions of crises troubling Victorian culture. Emily Brontë appears in Arnold’s ‘Haworth Churchyard’ as one of a band of ‘Unquiet souls’ (line 134), an elegiac salute to the famous close of Wuthering Heights. Writing in free ‘pindarics’, that is, lines that are unrhymed, varying in their number of stresses and arranged in verse paragraphs of differing lengths, Arnold conveys a knotty admiration for the deceased Emily Brontë. ‘(How shall I sing her?)’, his tribute begins in puzzled parentheses, ‘whose soul / Knew no fellow for might, / Passion, vehemence, grief, / Daring, since Byron died’ (lines 93–6). The swaying enjambments and piled-up nouns suggest that Arnold is pulled towards a force from which he seeks to protect himself. Brontë, for Arnold, might be an example of the fate of genius in a ‘Baffled’ culture which had lost its bearings, as she ‘sank / Baffled, unknown, self-consumed; / Whose too bold dying song / Stirred, like a clarion-blast, my soul’ (lines 97–100). The male poet’s soul answers Brontë’s soul at the ends of respective lines across this passage, which alludes to the dead poet’s ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’, a poem which shares with Arnold’s and Clough’s work a sense of disillusion with the ‘thousand creeds / That move men’s hearts’ (lines 9–10), dismissed as ‘unutterably vain’ (line 10).
No doubt, Arnold found ‘too bold’ Brontë’s remarkable invoking of the ‘God within my breast‘ (line 5), an address that flowers out of the pantheism of Wordsworth and the atheism of Shelley, even though, as published in 1850, the boldness of her poem was toned down by the editing of her sister Charlotte. For Brontë’s exultant visionary inwardness, Arnold – also slipping the moorings of traditional belief – substitutes a sense of living through a cultural malaise, reproaching himself and his generation, in ‘The Scholar- Gipsy’, as ‘Light half-believers of our casual creeds’ (line 172).