I have been immersed in a world of immoderate emotion because for quite some time I have read, thought about, and written about poetry, Emily Brontë’s poetry. I am writing a book about her poetry called The Poetic World of Emily Brontë. Her poems lavish anguish, pain, suffering, sorrow, nostalgia, passion, and despair on the pages. The Stoic mind in confronting such feelings might struggle to remember that they do not have to hold sway over our lives. I wrote in an earlier post how Byron was the Anti-Stoic: suffering nostalgia; lamenting; and sighing—yet what beautiful lines. I would say the same for Emily Brontë, except it does not always seem that the emotions filling the pages are actually her own, but rather frequently those of some poetic character.
I have, it turns out, surfaced from her poetic world with Stoic principles intact, maybe because I have made great use of them during this project. When undertaking something that has been long in the works, such as this book, one might tend to become ecstatic and have certain hopes. First, ebullience is distracting, at best. Also, it will end one way or another and then one will feel like something was lost, when nothing was ever possessed. As for various hopeful scenarios, focusing on how others might react to my work represents the epitome of pointless thinking. Some may like it, others could not care less, some might wonder how the thing got published—who knows and really what difference could it make. One might say—oh there might be money. There will be no remuneration, but even if there were, my imagining it and hoping for it has no effect on whether it comes and can only set me up for a defeated sensation, even when there never was a battle. I wrote it for myself and, as for readers — few are enough, one is enough, none is enough.
My observation about poetry opposing Stoicism does not pertain, however, if a poem has as its theme an overt or tacit endorsement of the precepts of the philosophy, which does occur. I wrote an article, “The Stoic Philosophy of John Keats,” which appears on this blog under the “Start Here” heading. Part of it identifies the Stoic statements in Keats’s poems; the rest reveals how Keats was coincidently a compatriot of Seneca in his approach to life and death. I found it fascinating how two minds could arrive at the same point without the path of influence. Emily Brontë is not a candidate for that kind of scrutiny, but she does make some pointedly Stoic statements in a few poems, which not surprisingly, echo at times lines from Keats’s poems. In particular she observes that the trivial and treacherous in life defeat tranquility and that mirth beguiles because, “Every phase of earthly joy will always fade and always cloy.” As for joy, it is simply “the shortest path to pain.” Those are her ingredients for unhappiness; however, on the other hand, she endorses things that are worth pursuing for a tranquil life: learning, friendship, self-sufficiency, and a love of nature. Emily Brontë was rather a Stoic after all, in her own way, despite imagining all those emotion-roiled characters in her poetry and in her novel.