A woman in a fiery, flowing red dress dances gracefully on top of the stone-cold, grey, wind-blown moors. She is wild; she is alluring; she is free. Her words are piercing as she sings:
“Heathcliff, it’s me, Cathy
Come home, I’m so cold!
Let me in-a-your window”
Her body and the words move as one, encompassing desire, love, and loss. That red dress — I will never forget that red dress — worn with red tights and red shoes, garnished with that ebony black satin belt.
That woman is Kate Bush performing her music video for the song, “Wuthering Heights.” These two words alone — Wuthering Heights — conjure up so many emotions. Two words alone transport me to a place I can see and understand.
Although I have never read the book by Emily Bronte, the epic 30-page poem, “The Glass Essay” by Anne Carson, draws me in. It starts off with “I” (the author), and then refers to “She” (her mother), who lives on the Moors. “I” (the author) returns to her mother’s home, after failing to recover from the devastating end of a five-year relationship with Law. On the train, with help from The Collected Works Of Emily Brontë in hand, she faces the challenges of coming home and being alone.
This work is a “frame” piece of literature, a story within a story. Just as I am doing a close reading of Anne Carson’s words, she is doing the same with Emily Brontë’s words, or even her sister’s, Charlotte Brontë’s, diary notes, written about Emily. That makes three layers of secondary sources, all dissecting Emily’s words. All except me, lived on the moors, so they transcend time, with ‘place’ being the constant.
Here is the excerpt I have chosen from the poem as my close reading.
…..as Charlotte concludes, “On herself she had no pity.”
Pitiless too are the Heights, which Emily called Wuthering
because of their “bracing ventilation”
and “a north wind over the edge.”
Whaching a north wind grind the moor
that surrounded her father’s house on every side,
formed of a kind of rock called millstone grit,
taught Emily all she knew about love and its necessities—
an angry education that shapes the way her characters
use one another. “My love for Heathcliff,” says Catherine,
“resembles the eternal rocks beneath
a source of little visible delight, but necessary.”
Necessary? I notice the sun has dimmed
and the afternoon air sharpening.
I turn and start to recross the moor towards home.
What are the imperatives
that hold people like Catherine and Heathcliff
together and apart, like pores blown into hot rock
and then stranded out of reach
of one another when it hardens? What kind of necessity is that?
The last time I saw Law was a black night in September.
Autumn had begun,
my knees were cold inside my clothes.
A chill fragment of moon rose.
He stood in my living room and spoke
without looking at me. Not enough spin on it,
he said of our five years of love.
Inside my chest I felt my heart snap into two pieces
which floated apart. By now I was so cold
it was like burning….
In response to the close reading of this piece, I will interpret the themes whilst looking at the structure, character, point of view, language, and idea of time and place.
First, the structure of this epic poem is broken down into categories: I, She, Three, Whaching, Kitchen, Liberty, Hot, Thou. The section of this poem I have chosen is Whaching. The poem is then divided into 3-line stanzas, yet most of them are connected by unfinished sentences. There is a constant rhythm or beat, which is fluid. Although it does not rhyme, it creates a connectivity of thoughts, actions, and words spoken.
Second, the main characters in this poem are “I” as the protagonist and the narrator, Emily Bronte as the mentor, and Law (or love) as the enemy. The other characters which are not in this excerpt are “She” as the mother and antagonist and her dad as the hero. In this section of the poem the reader also encounters Catherine and Heathcliff, two fictional characters from another book, Wuthering Heights, whom the reader may already know. Because the main character is written in the first person, the reader feels part of her journey: one feels empathetic when reading “I” over and over again.
Third, the point of view in this poem is the most interesting aspect. Because it is a frame story, we see the point of view of three authors: “I”, Emily Bronte, and Charlotte Bronte. The notes at the end of The Collected Works Of Emily Brontë were written by Charlotte Bronte, a famous author in her own right, known for such works as Jane Eyre. Carson writes:
My favourite pages
of The Collected Works Of Emily Brontë
are the notes at the back
“I” knew that the north wind that surrounded her (Emily’s) father’s house on the moors taught Emily all she knew about love and it necessities, as her sister Charlotte stated in her diary. Charlotte explains how Emily had no friends, nor lovers, nor pity. Emily lived isolated, imprisoned by herself. Carson writes:
Her anger is a puzzle.
It raises many questions in me,
to see love treated with such cold and knowing contempt
by someone who rarely left home
“except to go to church or take a walk on the hills”
(Charlotte tells us)
The phrase, “The necessity of love resembles an eternal rock of little visible delight,“ demonstrates Emily’s contempt for love, which was brought on by the “whaching” others.
The language used speaks clearly of time past. The word “whaching” was invented by Emily to describe the way she saw others, a different way of seeing, perhaps a literary device used in the 1800’s or perhaps earlier. It could almost be Shakespearean. How did Emily know so much about love, with so little experience? In this word “whaching” we understand how. Carson writes:
Emily’s habitual spelling of this word,
has caused confusion….
Whacher is what she was.
She whached God and humans and moor wind and open night.
She whached eyes, stars, inside, outside, actual weather.
She whached the bars of time, which broke.
She whached the poor core of the world,
Fourth, the literary devices used by Carson include imagery, repetition, and parallelism. The idea of cold and wind are widely used: “bracing ventilation”, “air sharpening”, “a north wind grind”, and “A chill fragment of moon” all demonstrate cold forces which are unsettling and uncomfortable. The repetition of “necessity and necessary” represents an unhealthy desire or need. The metaphor, “like pores blown into hot rock and then stranded out of reach of one another when it hardens”, speaks of the division of lovers, unable to rectify their difference, cold, hard, and alone. “I” speaks of her own heart, “Inside my chest I felt my heart snap into two pieces which floated apart. By now I was so cold it was like burning.” Carson draws parallels between Catherine and Heathcliff on the one hand and “I” and Law on the other, as well as with the cold wind and the moors.
Fifth, by using these literary devices, she bridges time and place. The references to time and place include the moors, not only the ones that “I’ is walking over towards home but also the ones where Emily’s father lived in the early 1800’s and where the story of Wuthering Heights took place, spanning over 200 years of time. Carson’s depiction of the moors is rocky, cold, dark, and windy. The moors have not changed since Emily’s time; they are still the same, the weather, the cliffs, the hills, the wind and trees. “I” can imagine Emily or Catherine walking through the same scene: all three worlds are tangible through words and in life. In the words of Thomas Hardy, when referencing the book Place by Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, to belong to a place is to“know all about those invisible ones of the days gone by, whose feet traversed the fields.”
Carson has the gift, the talent, of bringing up many feelings that the reader may already hold by referencing another story within her poem. By doing so, she speaks in volumes about the cold wind that takes love away, set upon a foundation of rocks, unstable, and lonely. Like the song by Kate Bush, we can all relate to the classic devastation of lost love, which is relevant in any age. Escaping through books and poetry — finding common ground by relating to an author’s words — is a coping mechanism widely used, throughout the years, to better understand our own lives. T.S Elliot said this about “Tradition and the Individual Talent”: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”
Carson composes this epic poem with ease and grace, embracing the feelings of old in Emily Bronte’s literature and relating them to the present day, not only accrediting her words but also imparting new meaning in today’s light. She collects feelings and images as components within her phrases to create a modern day Wuthering Heights.
The Glass Essay -Anne Carson, Poetry Foundation Available at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/48636 [Accessed Feb 22’17]
Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, 2005, Place, Thames & Hudson
T. S. Elliot – Tradition and the Individual Talent, bartleby.com, Available at http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw4.html [Accessed March 12’17]