Emily Bronte’s “Night Wind” uses classically romantic imagery to tell of nature’s immense seductive capacities, with the wind’s voice and emotions charming a woman into cosmic union.
True to its title, the wind is central in “Night Wind” (Bronte 1846), and all aspects of the poem’s metaphor flow from it. Opening with the classic love scene of a twilight visit, the poem sets the mood with sky and rose motifs that introduce the speaker’s unannounced caller at the window. Bronte does a great job personifying the wind, the Earth’s very breath, as a courter of flesh and blood, attempting to caress her body as much as her mind: “I sat in silent musing; \ The soft wind waved my hair; \ It told me heaven was glorious,\ And sleeping earth was fair” (lines 5-8).
The idea of the body and mind are important here, not just as it grounds the wind as a person, but that its skills to charm extend to the physical and psychological. Just as it intimately touches her with invisible hands, it plays music into her ear, stimulating her mind and probing her emotions. If music is organized sounds and sound vibrating air, the wind is a varied musician playing a melody through tree branches to a drum of reeds on a pond. “The thick leaves in my murmur \ Are rustling like a dream, \ And all their myriad voices \ Instinct with spirit seem” (13-16). The wind is simultaneously using several types of sensory stimulation to open her heart to it. But as the speaker is unmoved by these sweets, perhaps no longer appreciating nature’s beauty through maturity and experience, the wind must change notes to complete its symphony of love.
As the wind has been made a person, so too has it been given a voice, transforming our primary concept. A person’s voice is generated when breath plucks the vocal chords like a harp and the sound resonates out the body. Speech is, in essence, vibrating air. At first the speaker rejects the wind’s cooing advances with “I said, ‘Go, gentle singer, \ Thy wooing voice is kind: \ But do not think its music \ Has power to reach my mind’” (7-20) but the wind breezily changes its approach and begins to reason with her, showing sentience. It becomes more brash with “’O come!’ it sighed so sweetly; \ ‘I’ll win thee ’gainst thy will’” (27-28) but, interestingly, pivots to appealing to nostalgia, showing how they played when innocent with “’Were we not friends from childhood?’” (29).
The quickness with which the conversation opens the speaker’s defenses is fascinating here. Childhood is a time of optimistic innocence, of playing honestly in the world before its cynicisms have hardened you. Where the wind first touches the woman sensually to wake her up, whisking her back to her childhood immediately conjures a playful image of them outdoors. More importantly than that though, this line is meant call back to a younger version of humanity that was more in touch, literally and metaphorically, with nature, before society thought it outgrew it. But the wind metaphor hasn’t finished transforming, and its ability to reason and converse is overtaken by a whirlwind of emotions.
So far, Bronte’s wind has argued for humanity embracing nature from several directions, but it truly triggers a storm when appealing to issues of the spirit. “’And when thy heart is resting \ Beneath the church-aisle stone, \ I shall have time for mourning, \ And THOU for being alone’” (33-36). The image this presents of being eternally separated from nature after death, being forever held down by organized, formal spirituality rather than running free outside, is meant to be so abhorrent after reminders of an innocent childhood that it sends tremors through the air.
From the poem’s romantic angle, the storm is the rekindled passion between two old lovers, but its implications are cosmic. The wind is a phenomena of pressure dictated by the tilt of the planet and its distance from the Sun, elements working on a scale often associated with spirituality and transcendence. “Night Wind” had even set up the idea when the wind first spoke, waxing philosophically about the heaven and earth, the spiritual and physical. What could have once been seen as indulgent is revisited and shown as wisdom.
Now having cause to marry, nature reveals itself in full in the storm, this time giving the woman the chance to transform: “And thou art now a spirit pouring \ Thy presence into all \ The thunder of the tempest’s roaring, \ The whisper of its fall” (52-56). Her spirit blends with the cosmos, and with her last breath, her final words, synthesizes with the Earth’s, to forever to circle the world under its skies, proving that “Who once lives, never dies!” (69).
Bronte, Emily. “Night Wind.” 1946. Accessed from https://scf.instructure.com/courses/46820/pages/week-eight-readings-coleridge-bronte-shelley-and-keats?module_item_id=2628872 15 October 2022.