The Bluebell
Written: August 22nd. 1840.  First published: 1902.

In April 1840, Anne travelled to Thorp Green, near York, to commence her employment as a governess with the Robinson family. It is suspected that in July, she accompanied the family on their annual summer holiday to Scarborough, as she certainly did in subsequent years. Frustratingly, there is no definite proof that the Robinsons went to Scarborough in 1840; however, on 22 August (while at Thorp Green), Anne wrote a poem which she entitled 'The Bluebell'. In the poem she is reminiscing of an occasion, 'not long ago', when she walked 'all carelessly' along a 'sunny road' - the road is obviously in a rural setting, before her is a 'lofty hill' and behind her is the sea. This poem is now generally accepted as a reference to an occasion at Scarborough: thus proving that her first visit to the resort, and, indeed, her first experience of the sea, did, in fact, occur this year.

In his biography of Anne, Edward Chitham gives this account of the poem:

'The sea lies behind the poet and a range of hills ahead. She is walking 'all carelessly' along a sunny lane. She laughs and talks with 'those around' - presumably her pupils - and does not feel as harassed as usual. The sudden sight of a blue harebell on the bank by the road recalls her own childhood. She had then been dwelling 'with kindred hearts' and did not have to spend her life looking after others, as she now had to. In writing the poem Anne at one point describes her employers as 'icy hearts' [in an earlier version of verse 11] despite the cheerful tone at the start.' 107

Contrary to Mr. Chitham's remark that there is a 'range of hills ahead' of the poet, the actual poem reads:

'That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea, . . .'

It is certainly not difficult to locate the setting of this poem at Scarborough. It is almost certainly a reference to a walk towards Oliver's Mount, a giant hill at the southern end of Scarborough, situated a little under a mile south of Wood's Lodgings (where Anne and the Robinsons stayed at Scarborough), and about half a mile from the sea-front (certainly within walking distance). Even today, many holiday-makers visit the summit of this hill, from where a spectacular aerial view over Scarborough is obtained. Contemporary maps indicate that the two roads leading to, and up, the 'mount' (from the north and east sides) would certainly be in a rural setting; and anyone walking along these would have the 'lofty hill' rising in front of them, and the sea behind. (For more details - see 'Before Me Rose a Lofty Hill, Behind Me Lay the Sea' section which can be accessed from the 'Main Page'.)

Her happy, carefree mood as she strolls along the 'sunny road', close to the sea, is contrasted with the sad emotion aroused by the sight of the bluebell which reminds her of her childhood days:

(See also: Chitham, 'The Poems of Anne Brontë', p.73 & p.169 108n )

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
'Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;

That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.

Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.

Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.

But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.

Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil --
Those bitter feelings rise?

O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood's hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,

Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.

I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others' weal
With anxious toil and strife.  

'Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!'
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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