Poem: ‘Honour’s Martyr’ by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte, famous for her classic Victorian gothic novel Wuthering Heights, also wrote poetry.

Her poems do share some qualities with Wuthering Heights: themes of misery, loneliness and grief, and dark, powerful imagery that makes Bronte’s thoughts come to life and leap off the page.

While fewer people are familiar with her poems than that magnificent book, her poetry really does deserve to be more widely read.

This poem captures that feeling of complete isolation and the despair of inner conflict experienced by one agonising over the situation they are in while someone else sleeps peacefully, unaware of the torment of the other.

Honour’s Martyr

The moon is full this winter night;
The stars are clear, though few;
And every window glistens bright,
With leaves of frozen dew. 

The sweet moon through your lattice gleams
And lights your room like day;
And there you pass, in happy dreams,
The peaceful hours away!

While I, with effort hardly quelling
The anguish in my breast,
Wander about the silent dwelling,
And cannot think of rest.

The old clock in the gloomy hall
Ticks on, from hour to hour;
And every time its measured call
Seems lingering slow and slower:

And oh, how slow that keen-eyed star
Has tracked the chilly grey!
What, watching yet! how very far
The morning lies away!

Without your chamber door I stand;
Love, are you slumbering still?
My cold heart, underneath my hand,
Has almost ceased to thrill.

Bleak, bleak the east wind sobs and sighs,
And drowns the turret bell,
Whose sad note, undistinguished, dies
Unheard, like my farewell!

To-morrow, Scorn will blight my name,
And Hate will trample me,
Will load me with a coward’s shame?
A traitor’s perjury.

False friends will launch their covert sneers;
True friends will wish me dead;
And I shall cause the bitterest tears
That you have ever shed.

The dark deeds of my outlawed race
Will then like virtues shine;
And men will pardon their disgrace,
Beside the guilt of mine.

For, who forgives the accursed crime
Of dastard treachery?
Rebellion, in its chosen time,
May Freedom’s champion be;

Revenge may stain a righteous sword,
It may be just to slay;
But, traitor, traitor, from that word
All true breasts shrink away!

Oh, I would give my heart to death,
To keep my honour fair;
Yet, I’ll not give my inward faith
My honour’s name to spare!

Not even to keep your priceless love,
Dare I, Beloved, deceive;
This treason should the future prove,
Then, only then, believe!

I know the path I ought to go;
I follow fearlessly,
Inquiring not what deeper woe
Stern duty stores for me.

So foes pursue, and cold allies
Mistrust me, every one:
Let me be false in others’ eyes,
If faithful in my own. 

More on Emily Bronte: 10 Authors Who Have Inspired Me | Women in Horror Month: Inspirations

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