‘No coward soul is mine’ by Emily Bronte

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest,
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality,

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

I have to do an Emily Bronte poem, because Wuthering Heights has been an obsession of mine from the time I first read it at the age of 14. Since then I have read the novel at least once every year. I love it. I love Heathcliff and his diabolical nature; I love the fact that he loves Cathy so fiercely that he would inflict misery on anyone who did her harm or tried to take her from him… and their families, even for generations into the future. I am aware that it is kind of twisted and strange. I am, really. I don’t know why I love it, but I do. It is the uncompromising ferocity of Heathcliff’s love. The love between Cathy and Heathcliff in that novel is a simple necessity, a bond between two souls that cannot be broken. Reading Cathy’s words, “Nelly, I am Heathcliff”, well, it gives me goosebumps every time.

So, on with the poem. ‘No coward soul is mine’ is probably my favourite poem by Emily Bronte. I have read most of her other poems because, as a Bronte obsessive, I have a copy of her complete works that I kept by my bed for a few years and during those years I got through most of them. There is certainly something naïve about her poems, but they are also heroic.  To me they feel distinctly adolescent, but there are also glimpses of the majestic in them.

I love the authority in Emily Bronte’s tone in this poem. That opening is one that definitely takes hold in your mind — you don’t forget it. I love the phrase, “storm-troubled sphere”. I don’t know if Emily knew that she had tuberculosis when she wrote this poem, but I like to imagine that she wrote this in defiance of the illness that would eventually kill her. It would be typical of her courageous nature. Charlotte Bronte, her sister, described her as “stronger than a man, simpler than a child”. She apparently hated to show weakness – always bore her sufferings alone — and she even refused to see a doctor for her consumption until it was too late. Here, in this poem, you get a sense of her incredible inner strength. She is “armed” with faith, God lives “within [her] breast”; she has “power”.  Yes, this is a powerful poem about faith in God, but Emily Bronte has faith in herself, and that is impossible to ignore here. She evokes her certainty of the immortality of her soul. She calls herself “Undying Life”.
There is something in the spirit of this poem that seems akin to that of Wuthering Heights. Perhaps it is the idea of the immortality of a courageous soul. The stanza that goes,

“Though earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And Thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

reminds me of Cathy and Heathcliff’s love. It is the inseparable nature of two spirits — God and man, or of two lovers. It reminds me of Cathy when she says of Heathcliff, “If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.” It is the idea that human love can be as immortal as God’s love. I find it incredibly moving and beautiful.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh