“I have to remind myself to breathe – almost to remind my heart to beat! . . . I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.”
Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
My lungs refuse to breathe.
I struggle; visualise the bronchi
as the diagram of an estuary, or a tree
branching out towards the open sky,
veined by the dark shadows of vessels
carrying the bright oxygen of the blood.
The intake and output of necessity.
This is my heart, thudding like the wing-beats
of the red grouse that startled
from the bracken. The pulse of it against
the bone – a metronome beating time.
My eyes are on the horizon, confused
by sky, the complications of path and rock,
pillows of gaudy sphagnum, the microscopic
yellow suns of Tormentil, bracken unravelling
like knitting, the burnt skeletons of heather and
the ruined steadings burying themselves
under turf and nettle. This is truth.
This hand, knocking on the window;
the angular knuckles, fingers that can tear
meat and sinew from the bone, no gentleness,
but a strong grip on the pen, dipping its sharp nib
into the well, inking hard words in a small space,
needling the pages into a book, giving an identity
to this passion coffined in five feet six
by sixteen inches wide.
© Kathleen Jones 2017
From Mapping Emily, published by Templar Poetry, 2017
|Emily Bronte painted by Branwell Bronte|
I wrote several of the poems for 'Mapping Emily' at Ponden Hall - the original house that Emily Bronte used for Wuthering Heights and Anne Bronte for Wildfell Hall. The two younger Bronte sisters spent a lot of time at Ponden, partly because it had a good library, but also because Branwell was friends with the son of the owners. Ponden Hall is where the Bronte sisters took refuge after the Crow Hill Bog Burst, an explosive landslide on the moor that terrified everyone in the vicinity.
|The waterfall they often walked to.|
|Ponden Hall as it was, and is now.|
Many of the original features remain. Upstairs there's a box bed you can shut yourself into, with the small window that Cathy tapped on when she returned to haunt Heathcliff.
Staying there is a wonderful experience. I was lucky that Sally Wainwright's 'Walking Invisible' was being filmed while I was there and I was able to walk round the set they had built up on the moors, representing the Parsonage, the graveyard and the centre of Hawarth as it used to be in the Bronte's time.
Rambling the paths that Emily walked daily was magical. I suffer from asthma and walking uphill is sometimes a struggle for my damaged lungs; but it also gave me an insight into the challenge that Emily faced, walking the moors with advanced turberculosis.
Emily was fearless, writing poems of passion and fury such as 'No Coward Soul is Mine', and a novel that transgressed the Victorian moral code with incest, illegitimacy and extra marital love at its core. She was the most physical of the Bronte girls, kneading bread, chopping meat and bones, beating her dog with her bare fists until they bled. Yet those hands wrote some of the 'tiny books' you can see at Haworth parsonage museum, with minute print and delicate stitches to sew the small pages together. She was the tallest of the Brontes, but almost unbearably thin - her coffin was only sixteen inches wide.
I'm launching 'Mapping Emily' at Keats' House in north London at a reading with Irish poet Olive Broderick, on Tuesday 25th April, at 7 pm. The event is free and there is wine!
You can buy the book from the publisher, Templar Poetry, on this link and eventually on Amazon.