The Three Guides
Written: August 11th. 1847.  First Published: August 1848.

Following the failure of Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, Anne made attempts to get some of her own poems published privately. Her first success was with this creation, which appeared in the August (1848) edition of Fraser's Magazine.127n  Today it 'is used as a hymn by several denominations and is in the current Moravian hymn book.' 128

There are a number of different interpretations of the significance of 'the three guides', - based on 'three would-be spiritual guides, given the names 'Spirit of Pride', 'Spirit of Earth' and 'Spirit of Faith'. After examining two of the spirits, the poet (not surprising, being Anne) chooses the Spirit of Faith. Some have suggested that 'Pride' equates with Emily, and 'Earth' with Charlotte. Others suggest that they are related to Emily's work. To Emily, Earth was always associated with a mystical life, and she tended to see it as 'a generating and embracing mother', but to Anne, it is nothing more than 'a dull, un-enterprising spirit.' It may be that Anne was throwing out a challenge to Emily, and trying to bring her concepts away from her fantasy world, and more into line with the real world. One indication that this may have been the case, is a small poem by Emily entitled 'Often Rebuked', in which she declares 'It vexes me to choose another guide' - possibly a response to Anne, challenging her to choose the 'Spirit of Faith'.129

(See also: Chitham, 'The Poems of Anne Brontë', p.37, p.144 & p.193)

Spirit of earth! thy hand is chill.
          I've felt its icy clasp;
And shuddering I remember still
          That stony-hearted grasp.
Thine eye bids love and joy depart,
          O turn its gaze from me!
It presses down my sinking heart; --
          I will not walk with thee!

'Wisdom is mine,' I've heard thee say,
          'Beneath my searching eye,
All mist and darkness melt away,
          Phantoms and fables fly.
Before me, truth can stand alone,
          The naked, solid truth:
And man matured my worth will own,
          If I am shunned by youth.

'Firm is my tread, and sure, though slow:
          My footsteps never slide:
And he that follows me shall know
          I am the surest guide.'
Thy boast is vain: but were it true
          That thou couldst safely steer
Life's rough and devious pathway through
          Such guidance I should fear.

How could I bear to walk for aye,
          With eyes to earthward prone,
O'er trampled weeds, and miry clay,
          And sand, and flinty stone.
Never the glorious view to greet
          Of hill and dale and sky,
To see that Nature's charms are sweet
          Or feel that Heaven is nigh?

If, in my heart arose a spring --
          A gush of thought divine,
At once stagnation thou wouldst bring
          With that cold touch of thine!
If glancing up, I sought to snatch
          But one glimpse of the sky,
My baffled gaze would only catch
          Thy heartless, cold grey eye.

If, to the breezes wandering near,
          I listened eagerly,
And deemed an angel's tongue to hear
          That whispered hope to me,
That heavenly music would be drowned
          In thy harsh, droning voice,
Nor inward thought, nor sight, nor sound
          Might my sad soul rejoice.

Dull is thine ear; unheard by thee
          The still small voice of Heaven.
Thine eyes are dim, and cannot see
          The helps that God has given.
There is a bridge, o'er every flood,
          Which thou canst not perceive,
A path, through every tangled wood;
          But thou will not believe.

Striving to make thy way by force,
          Toil-spent and bramble torn,
Thou'lt fell the tree that stops thy course,
          And burst through briar and thorn;
And pausing by the river's side,
          Poor reasoner, thou wilt deem,
By casting pebbles in its tide
          To cross the swelling stream.

Right through the flinty rock thou'lt try
          Thy toilsome way to bore,
Regardless of the pathway nigh
          That would conduct thee o'er.
Not only are thou, then, unkind,
          And freezing cold to me,
But unbelieving, deaf, and blind --
          I will not walk with thee!

Spirit of Pride! thy wings are strong;
          Thine eyes like lightning shine;
Ecstatic joys to thee belong
          And powers almost divine.
But 'tis a false destructive blaze,
          Within those eyes I see,
Turn hence their fascinating gaze --
          I will not follow thee!

'Coward and fool!' thou mayst reply;
          'Walk on the common sod;
Go trace, with timid foot and eye,
          The steps by others trod.
'Tis best the beaten path to keep,
          The ancient faith to hold,
To pasture with thy fellow sheep,
          And lie within the fold.

'Cling to the earth, poor grovelling worm,
          'Tis not for thee to soar
Against the fury of the storm,
          Amid the thunder's roar.
There's glory in that daring strife
          Unknown, undreamt by thee;
There's speechless rapture in the life
          Of those who follow me!'

Yes; I have seen thy votaries oft,
          Upheld by thee their guide,
In strength and courage mount aloft
          The steepy mountain-side;
I've seen them stand against the sky,
          And gazing from below
Beheld thy lightning in their eye,
          Thy triumph on their brow.

Oh! I have felt what glory then --
          What transport must be theirs'
So far above their fellow men,
          Above their toils and cares,
Inhaling nature's purest breath,
          Her riches round them spread,
The wide expanse of earth beneath,
          Heaven's glories overhead!

But -- I have seen them downwards dashed,
          Down to a bloody grave;
And still thy ruthless eye has flashed,
          Thy strong hand did not save!
I've seen some o'er the mountain's brow
          Sustained a while by thee,
O'er rocks of ice and hills of snow
          Bound fearless, wild, and free.

Bold and exultant was their mien
          While thou didst cheer them on;
But evening fell -- and then, I ween,
          Their faithless guide was gone.
Alas! how fared thy favourites then --
          Lone, helpless, weary, cold --
Did ever wanderer find again
          The path he left of old?

Where is their glory, where the pride
          That swelled their hearts before;
Where now the courage that defied
          The mightiest tempest's roar?
What shall they do when night grows black,
          When angry storms arise?
Who now will lead them to the track
          Thou taught'st them to despise?

Spirit of Pride! it needs not this
          To make me shun thy wiles,
Renounce thy triumph and thy bliss,
          Thy honours and thy smiles.
Bright as thou art, and bold, and strong,
          That fierce glance wins not me,
And I abhor thy scoffing tongue --
          I will not walk with thee!

Spirit of Faith! be thou my guide,
          O, clasp my hand in thine,
And let me never quit thy side:
          Thy comforts are divine!
Earth calls thee 'blind misguided one',
          But who can show like thee
Past things that have been seen and done,
          And things that are to be?

Secrets concealed from Nature's ken,
          Who like thee can declare;
Or who like thee to erring men
          God's holy will can bear?
Pride scorns thee for thy lowly mien;
          But who like thee can rise
Above this restless, clouded scene, --
          Beyond the holy skies?

Meek is thine eye and soft thy voice
          But wondrous is thy might
To make the wretched soul rejoice,
          To give the simple light.
And still to all that seek thy way,
          Such magic power is given --
E'en while their footsteps press the clay
          Their souls ascend to heaven.

Danger surrounds them, pain and woe
          Their portion here must be;
But only they that trust thee know
          What comfort dwells with thee,
Strength to sustain their drooping powers
          And vigour to defend.
Thou pole-star of my darkest hours,
          Affliction's firmest friend!

Day does not always mark our way;
          Night's terrors oft appal,
But lead me, and I cannot stray;
          Hold me: I shall not fall;
Sustain me, I shall never faint,
          How rough soe'er may be
My upward road, -- nor moan nor plaint
          Shall mar my trust in thee.

Narrow the path by which we go;
          And oft it turns aside,
From pleasant meads where roses blow
          And murmuring waters glide;
Where flowery turf lies green and soft,
          And gentle gales are sweet,
To where dark mountains frown aloft,
          Hard rocks distress the feet.

Deserts beyond lie bleak and bare,
          And keen winds round us blow;
But if thy hand conducts me there,
          The way is right, I know.
I have no wish to turn away:
          My spirit does not quail.
How can it while I hear thee say,
          'Press forward -- and prevail.'?

Even above the tempest's swell,
          I hear thy voice of love.
Of hope and peace I hear thee tell,
          And that blest home above.
Through pain and death, I can rejoice,
          If but thy strength be mine.
Earth hath no music like thy voice;
          Life owns no joy like thine!

Spirit of Faith! I'll go with thee:
          Thou, if I hold thee fast,
Wilt guide, defend, and strengthen me,
          And bring me home at last.
By thy help, all things I can do;
          In thy strength all things bear.
Teach me, for thou art just and true,
          Smile on me, -- thou art fair!

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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