An Explication of "The Night Wind"
(by Emily Bronte)
Throughout my explication, I will refer to the speaker of this poem in a feminine gender for reasons Iíll explain as I move through the poem with my interpretations.
The time is summer and the moon, although cloudless, has a soft, hazy glow Ė the kind of softness that summer heat and humidity can give to the sky and its heavenly bodies Ė "In summerís mellow midnight,/A cloudless moon shone through..." (Norton 1420). The authorís description of the moon is very soft and is gently pulling the reader into a dream environment. The moon is shining on rose bushes made dewy from the presence of nightfall ("rosetrees wet with dew") Ė again a very soft, gentle picture is being painted for us to imagine. As its moonbeams slip through the darkness, they shine into a window occupied by the speaker in this poem who is silently meditating or is in a trance-like state -- "I sat in silent musing,/The soft wind waved my hair...". And, then, in stanza 7 the speaker refers to another presence (the Night Wind), "It told me Heaven was glorious./And sleeping Earth was fair." So, although there is only one person present in this poem, there are two voices speaking to the reader.
Stanzas 1 through 10 of the poem are very gentle, with soft adjectives, and give the speaker a feminine tone. The speaker is conveying her memory of a daydream to the reader of the poem -- telling the reader about the conflict between her imagination (represented by the Night Wind) and her practical mind and thoughts. The reader is given a sensation of stepping into the speakerís dream and witnessing the struggle going on between the night wind (her mindís power to imagine and create) and her practical, realistic mind.
As the speaker sits by her window, her gaze is fixed on the night (a reference to her inner desires and fantasies) and she is falling into a trance ó she is daydreaming Ė and she becomes part of the natural struggle between fantasy and reality. The Night Wind is blowing her hair, and it soothes and caresses her and suspends her more deeply into her trance, almost as a hypnotist lures a person, through the power of suggestion, into an inner world of dreams and fantasies and then manipulates that personís mind and thoughts. The poemís speaker tells the reader that the Night Wind (her imagination) whispers to her and warns her that the woods will be very dark. Here the writer is using elements of nature to equate to the mysteries of the imagination. The thick leaves, through their rustling (an indication of a "stirring up" of her imagination, which has always been suppressed and controlled) will now speak to her and help her to reach her vision.
The poem is very effective in convincing the reader that the Night Wind is the speakerís imagination. The Night Wind is attempting to bring the speaker to a level where she will allow her imagination to exist in her real world. And, if the Night Wind wins the argument, the speakerís desires and fantasies can co-exist with reality. The Night Windís powerful presence is attempting to lure the speaker into submission so that she can experience the magic and mystery of the night (her dreams and fantasies). She tells the reader that she wants the Night Wind (her imagination) to leave her -- she is trying to resist the temptations of her imagination. The poemís adjectives --"gentle singer" and "wooing voice" and "kind" and "music" -- indicate a friendly, seductive nature (in contrast to something evil or present in a nightmare). She is not afraid of her imagination, but she has been trained throughout her life to suppress anything that is not practical or useful. The speaker knows she is an earth creature and cannot live in a dream world and so believes imagination has no purpose in her life. Because of this fact, she does not believe the Night Wind has the power to outweigh her realistic, practical thoughts Ė that is, she believes she is too practical for that to happen. She tells her imagination to go away and play with the scented flowers and the trees ("And leave my human feelings"), for they are imaginationís playmates. She tells imagination that she must be allowed to commence with her daily routine and maintain normal, practical views.
But the Night Wind (her imagination) in Verses 25 through 32 will not leave her thoughts and begins to strengthen in its seduction and presence ("Its kiss grew warmer stilló O come, it sighed so sweetly, Iíll win thee Ďgainstí thy will.") Here again, through the use of very soft adjectives, is a description of the Night Wind being a friendly, but persistent, presence that wants to enter the speakerís thoughts and surface to reality. The speaker is now reminded by imagination that her dreams have always been her friend and have never caused her any harm. They are always waiting for her in the night, the element in which they can occur. For, when she sleeps, her visions and fantasies through her dreams and imagination come alive without any control or realization of her physical awareness. The Night Wind reminds her that when she dies her imagination and dreams will no longer be able to visit her and will mourn for her passing, and she (the speaker) will have all of eternity to be alone and free from their visits.
The poem is telling us that imagination tugs at us constantly Ė in our waking and sleeping hours. It is always present in some form or another Ė whether it is a night dream or a daydream or a conscious thought or idea or a memory. Imagination is a "built-in" factor for all of us as portrayed by Shelley in his A Defence of Poetry. This poem is very strong in the suggestion that we need to allow imagination to surface and to lure us into creative thought so that we can create for ourselves an element of hope and contentment that can co-exist with reality.
It is evident that Emily Bronte was influenced by Shelley and the theories he presented in A Defence of Poetry concerning the importance of poetry to bring imagination alive in our lives. And, through imagination, we can realize hope for a more harmonious existence within ourselves and with each other.