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    Gilbert

    by Charlotte Bronte
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    Published under Charlotte's nom de plume 'Currer Bell' in 1846.

    ***




    I. THE GARDEN.

    Above the city hung the moon,
    Right o'er a plot of ground
    Where flowers and orchard-trees were fenced
    With lofty walls around:
    'Twas Gilbert's garden--there to-night
    Awhile he walked alone;
    And, tired with sedentary toil,
    Mused where the moonlight shone.

    This garden, in a city-heart,
    Lay still as houseless wild,
    Though many-windowed mansion fronts
    Were round it; closely piled;
    But thick their walls, and those within
    Lived lives by noise unstirred ;
    Like wafting of an angel's wing,
    Time's flight by them was heard.

    Some soft piano-notes alone
    Were sweet as faintly given,
    Where ladies, doubtless, cheered the hearth
    With song that winter-even.
    The city's many-mingled sounds
    Rose like the hum of ocean;
    They rather lulled the heart than roused
    Its pulse to faster motion.

    Gilbert has paced the single walk
    An hour, yet is not weary;
    And, though it be a winter night
    He feels nor cold nor dreary.
    The prime of life is in his veins,
    And sends his blood fast flowing,
    And Fancy's fervour warms the thoughts
    Now in his bosom glowing.

    Those thoughts recur to early love,
    Or what he love would name,
    Though haply Gilbert's secret deeds
    Might other title claim.
    Such theme not oft his mind absorbs,
    He to the world clings fast,
    And too much for the present lives,
    To linger o'er the past.

    But now the evening's deep repose
    Has glided to his soul;
    That moonlight falls on Memory,
    And shows her fading scroll.
    One name appears in every line
    The gentle rays shine o'er,
    And still he smiles and still repeats
    That one name--Elinor.

    There is no sorrow in his smile,
    No kindness in his tone;
    The triumph of a selfish heart
    Speaks coldly there alone;
    He says: "She loved me more than life;
    And truly it was sweet
    To see so fair a woman kneel,
    In bondage, at my feet.

    "There was a sort of quiet bliss
    To be so deeply loved,
    To gaze on trembling eagerness
    And sit myself unmoved.
    And when it pleased my pride to grant
    At last some rare caress,
    To feel the fever of that hand
    My fingers deigned to press.

    "'Twas sweet to see her strive to hide
    What every glance revealed;
    Endowed, the while, with despot-might
    Her destiny to wield.
    I knew myself no perfect man,
    Nor, as she deemed, divine;
    I knew that I was glorious--but
    By her reflected shine;

    "Her youth, her native energy,
    Her powers new-born and fresh,
    'Twas these with Godhead sanctified
    My sensual frame of flesh.
    Yet, like a god did I descend
    At last, to meet her love;
    And, like a god, I then withdrew
    To my own heaven above.

    "And never more could she invoke
    My presence to her sphere;
    No prayer, no plaint, no cry of hers
    Could win my awful ear.
    I knew her blinded constancy
    Would ne'er my deeds betray,
    And, calm in conscience, whole in heart.
    I went my tranquil way.

    "Yet, sometimes, I still feel a wish,
    The fond and flattering pain
    Of passion's anguish to create
    In her young breast again.
    Bright was the lustre of her eyes,
    When they caught fire from mine;
    If I had power--this very hour,
    Again I'd light their shine.

    "But where she is, or how she lives,
    I have no clue to know;
    I've heard she long my absence pined,
    And left her home in woe.
    But busied, then, in gathering gold,
    As I am busied now,
    I could not turn from such pursuit,
    To weep a broken vow.

    "Nor could I give to fatal risk
    The fame I ever prized;
    Even now, I fear, that precious fame
    Is too much compromised."
    An inward trouble dims his eye,
    Some riddle he would solve;
    Some method to unloose a knot,
    His anxious thoughts revolve.

    He, pensive, leans against a tree,
    A leafy evergreen,
    The boughs, the moonlight, intercept,
    And hide him like a screen
    He starts--the tree shakes with his tremor,
    Yet nothing near him pass'd;
    He hurries up the garden alley,
    In strangely sudden haste.

    With shaking hand, he lifts the latchet,
    Steps o'er the threshold stone;
    The heavy door slips from his fingers--
    It shuts, and he is gone.
    What touched, transfixed, appalled, his soul?--
    A nervous thought, no more;
    'Twill sink like stone in placid pool,
    And calm close smoothly o'er.



    II. THE PARLOUR.

    Warm is the parlour atmosphere,
    Serene the lamp's soft light;
    The vivid embers, red and clear,
    Proclaim a frosty night.
    Books, varied, on the table lie,
    Three children o'er them bend,
    And all, with curious, eager eye,
    The turning leaf attend.

    Picture and tale alternately
    Their simple hearts delight,
    And interest deep, and tempered glee,
    Illume their aspects bright.
    The parents, from their fireside place,
    Behold that pleasant scene,
    And joy is on the mother's face,
    Pride in the father's mien.

    As Gilbert sees his blooming wife,
    Beholds his children fair,
    No thought has he of transient strife,
    Or past, though piercing fear.
    The voice of happy infancy
    Lisps sweetly in his ear,
    His wife, with pleased and peaceful eye,
    Sits, kindly smiling, near.

    The fire glows on her silken dress,
    And shows its ample grace,
    And warmly tints each hazel tress,
    Curled soft around her face.
    The beauty that in youth he wooed,
    Is beauty still, unfaded;
    The brow of ever placid mood
    No churlish grief has shaded.

    Prosperity, in Gilbert's home,
    Abides the guest of years;
    There Want or Discord never come,
    And seldom Toil or Tears.
    The carpets bear the peaceful print
    Of comfort's velvet tread,
    And golden gleams, from plenty sent,
    In every nook are shed.

    The very silken spaniel seems
    Of quiet ease to tell,
    As near its mistress' feet it dreams,
    Sunk in a cushion's swell
    And smiles seem native to the eyes
    Of those sweet children, three;
    They have but looked on tranquil skies,
    And know not misery.

    Alas! that Misery should come
    In such an hour as this;
    Why could she not so calm a home
    A little longer miss?
    But she is now within the door,
    Her steps advancing glide;
    Her sullen shade has crossed the floor,
    She stands at Gilbert's side.

    She lays her hand upon his heart,
    It bounds with agony;
    His fireside chair shakes with the start
    That shook the garden tree.
    His wife towards the children looks,
    She does not mark his mien;
    The children, bending o'er their books,
    His terror have not seen.

    In his own home, by his own hearth,
    He sits in solitude,
    And circled round with light and mirth,
    Cold horror chills his blood.
    His mind would hold with desperate clutch
    The scene that round him lies;
    No--changed, as by some wizard's touch,
    The present prospect flies.

    A tumult vague--a viewless strife
    His futile struggles crush;
    'Twixt him and his an unknown life
    And unknown feelings rush.
    He sees--but scarce can language paint
    The tissue fancy weaves;
    For words oft give but echo faint
    Of thoughts the mind conceives.

    Noise, tumult strange, and darkness dim,
    Efface both light and quiet;
    No shape is in those shadows grim,
    No voice in that wild riot.
    Sustain'd and strong, a wondrous blast
    Above and round him blows;
    A greenish gloom, dense overcast,
    Each moment denser grows.

    He nothing knows--nor clearly sees,
    Resistance checks his breath,
    The high, impetuous, ceaseless breeze
    Blows on him cold as death.
    And still the undulating gloom
    Mocks sight with formless motion:
    Was such sensation Jonah's doom,
    Gulphed in the depths of ocean?

    Streaking the air, the nameless vision,
    Fast-driven, deep-sounding, flows;
    Oh! whence its source, and what its mission?
    How will its terrors close?
    Long-sweeping, rushing, vast and void,
    The universe it swallows;
    And still the dark, devouring tide
    A typhoon tempest follows.

    More slow it rolls; its furious race
    Sinks to its solemn gliding;
    The stunning roar, the wind's wild chase,
    To stillness are subsiding.
    And, slowly borne along, a form
    The shapeless chaos varies;
    Poised in the eddy to the storm,
    Before the eye it tarries.

    A woman drowned--sunk in the deep,
    On a long wave reclining;
    The circling waters' crystal sweep,
    Like glass, her shape enshrining.
    Her pale dead face, to Gilbert turned,
    Seems as in sleep reposing;
    A feeble light, now first discerned,
    The features well disclosing.

    No effort from the haunted air
    The ghastly scene could banish,
    That hovering wave, arrested there,
    Rolled--throbbed--but did not vanish.
    If Gilbert upward turned his gaze,
    He saw the ocean-shadow;
    If he looked down, the endless seas
    Lay green as summer meadow.

    And straight before, the pale corpse lay,
    Upborne by air or billow,
    So near, he could have touched the spray
    That churned around its pillow.
    The hollow anguish of the face
    Had moved a fiend to sorrow;
    Not death's fixed calm could rase the trace
    Of suffering's deep-worn furrow.

    All moved; a strong returning blast,
    The mass of waters raising,
    Bore wave and passive carcase past,
    While Gilbert yet was gazing.
    Deep in her isle-conceiving womb,
    It seemed the ocean thundered,
    And soon, by realms of rushing gloom,
    Were seer and phantom sundered.

    Then swept some timbers from a wreck.
    On following surges riding;
    Then sea-weed, in the turbid rack
    Uptorn, went slowly gliding.
    The horrid shade, by slow degrees,
    A beam of light defeated,
    And then the roar of raving seas,
    Fast, far, and faint, retreated.

    And all was gone--gone like a mist,
    Corse, billows, tempest, wreck;
    Three children close to Gilbert prest
    And clung around his neck.
    Good night! good night! the prattlers said,
    And kissed their father's cheek;
    'Twas now the hour their quiet bed
    And placid rest to seek.

    The mother with her offspring goes
    To hear their evening prayer;
    She nought of Gilbert's vision knows,
    And nought of his despair.
    Yet, pitying God, abridge the time
    Of anguish, now his fate!
    Though, haply, great has been his crime:
    Thy mercy, too, is great.

    Gilbert, at length, uplifts his head,
    Bent for some moments low,
    And there is neither grief nor dread
    Upon his subtle brow.
    For well can he his feelings task,
    And well his looks command;
    His features well his heart can mask,
    With smiles and smoothness bland.

    Gilbert has reasoned with his mind--
    He says 'twas all a dream;
    He strives his inward sight to blind
    Against truth's inward beam.
    He pitied not that shadowy thing,
    When it was flesh and blood;
    Nor now can pity's balmy spring
    Refresh his arid mood.

    "And if that dream has spoken truth,"
    Thus musingly he says;
    "If Elinor be dead, in sooth,
    Such chance the shock repays:
    A net was woven round my feet,
    I scarce could further go;
    Ere shame had forced a fast retreat,
    Dishonour brought me low.

    "Conceal her, then, deep, silent sea,
    Give her a secret grave!
    She sleeps in peace, and I am free,
    No longer terror's slave:
    And homage still, from all the world,
    Shall greet my spotless name,
    Since surges break and waves are curled
    Above its threatened shame."



    III. THE WELCOME HOME.

    Above the city hangs the moon,
    Some clouds are boding rain;
    Gilbert, erewhile on journey gone,
    To-night comes home again.
    Ten years have passed above his head,
    Each year has brought him gain ;
    His prosperous life has smoothly sped,
    Without or tear or stain.

    'Tis somewhat late--the city clocks
    Twelve deep vibrations toll,
    As Gilbert at the portal knocks,
    Which is his journey's goal.
    The street is still and desolate,
    The moon hid by a cloud;
    Gilbert, impatient, will not wait,--
    His second knock peals loud.

    The clocks are hushed--there's not a light
    In any window nigh,
    And not a single planet bright
    Looks from the clouded sky;
    The air is raw, the rain descends,
    A bitter north-wind blows;
    His cloak the traveller scarce defends--
    Will not the door unclose?

    He knocks the third time, and the last
    His summons now they hear,
    Within, a footstep, hurrying fast,
    Is heard approaching near.
    The bolt is drawn, the clanking chain
    Falls to the floor of stone;
    And Gilbert to his heart will strain
    His wife and children soon.

    The hand that lifts the latchet, holds
    A candle to his sight,
    And Gilbert, on the step, beholds
    A woman, clad in white.
    Lo! water from her dripping dress
    Runs on the streaming floor;
    From every dark and clinging tress
    The drops incessant pour.

    There's none but her to welcome him;
    She holds the candle high,
    And, motionless in form and limb,
    Stands cold and silent nigh;
    There's sand and sea-weed on her robe,
    Her hollow eyes are blind;
    No pulse in such a frame can throb,
    No life is there defined.

    Gilbert turned ashy-white, but still
    His lips vouchsafed no cry;
    He spurred his strength and master-will
    To pass the figure by,--
    But, moving slow, it faced him straight,
    It would not flinch nor quail:
    Then first did Gilbert's strength abate,
    His stony firmness quail.

    He sank upon his knees and prayed
    The shape stood rigid there;
    He called aloud for human aid,
    No human aid was near.
    An accent strange did thus repeat
    Heaven's stern but just decree:
    "The measure thou to her didst mete,
    To thee shall measured be!"

    Gilbert sprang from his bended knees,
    By the pale spectre pushed,
    And, wild as one whom demons seize,
    Up the hall-staircase rushed;
    Entered his chamber--near the bed
    Sheathed steel and fire-arms hung--
    Impelled by maniac purpose dread
    He chose those stores among.

    Across his throat a keen-edged knife
    With vigorous hand he drew;
    The wound was wide--his outraged life
    Rushed rash and redly through.
    And thus died, by a shameful death,
    A wise and worldly man,
    Who never drew but selfish breath
    Since first his life began.
    If you're writing a Gilbert essay and need some advice, post your Charlotte Bronte essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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