Poet's Pick April 27
Emily Brontë: "I'll Come When Thou Art Saddest"
Selected by Lynn Melnick
National Poetry Month 2017

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Don Selby & Diane Boller

Lynn Melnick's Poetry Month Pick, April 27, 2017

"I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest"
by Emily Brontë (1818-1848)

I'll come when thou art saddest
Laid alone in the darkened room
When the mad day's mirth has vanished
And the smile of joy is banished
From evening's chilly gloom

I'll come when the heart's [real] feeling
Has entire unbiased sway
And my influence o'er thee stealing
Grief deepening joy congealing
Shall bear thy soul away

Listen 'tis just the hour
The awful time for thee
Dost thou not feel upon thy soul
A flood of strange sensations roll
Forerunners of a sterner power
Heralds of me


* Lynn Melnick Comments:
“I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest” has long been one of my favorite of Emily Brontë’s poems.  The intensity and tangles of the language so fully embody the goings-on, and yet there is also something rather mysterious at work. 

As I write this, my children are asleep, my husband is out of town, and much of the day’s work is done.  “'Tis just the hour.”   Which means that my psyche should at any moment start to turn on me.  The shock of this kind of evening’s transition, with its sudden absence of distraction and its aggressive quiet, has always felt mournful and dangerous.   And what comes next often feels in the hands of some unknown force, and it is this force (brilliant, the POV!) that is the speaker of the poem here.  The speaker is a mystical being of some kind: muse, lover, holy spirit, ghost or grim reaper.  The intentions of the speaker aren’t entirely clear, but they are most definitely up to some serious business.  We are being addressed by a menace, perhaps a welcome one, but one that is not about to change course.  It’s a far “sterner power” than an earlier “mad day” allowed. 

I love a poem that attends to one feeling while sneaking in another through its use of language; in “I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest” Brontë presents a dread, but she promotes an ecstasy.  What are these “strange sensations” with plans to “bear your soul away”?  You could read this poem over and over (and I have) and never tire of the exhilarating snarls of its syntax, its enigmatic high jinks and its promise of imminent arrival.  I love that we can read all of this in a poem.  I love that we can write all of this into a poem. 

I fell hard for Emily Brontë when I was about fifteen, for all of her ghosts and ache and weather.   Even as a kid her poems never seemed old-fashioned to me.  Brontë’s limited and sad biography tells us she was inventing her own worlds out of a harsh, lonely reality.  Critics at the time of her death suggested her novel Wuthering Heights had been written by a man because she herself would have been too sheltered to have laid bare such passion.  But it is because her worlds are created from the imagination that they aren’t entirely dependent on the mores and expectations of a woman of hers or any time; Brontë’s poems are smart and often the opposite of prim.  They are not unsexy.

To this day, Emily Brontë’s “I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest” feels as current, risky and far-out as ever.

Lynn Melnick:
Lynn Melnick is author of Landscape with Sex and Violence (forthcoming, 2017) and If I Should Say I Have Hope (2012), both with YesYes Books, and co-editor, with Brett Fletcher Lauer, of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation (Viking, 2015). She teaches poetry at 92Y in NYC and serves on the Executive Board of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

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