A Fragment / Self Congratulation
Written: January 1st. 1840.  First Published: 1846.

In this creation, Anne appears to be following Emily in writing a personal poem; and the poem is generally believed to refer to William Weightman, despite being signed with the Gondal name of 'Olivia Vernon'. At the time it was written, Weightman had been at Haworth four months.

The poem underwent considerable alteration for inclusion in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell: both versions are presented below.

(See also: Chitham, 'The Poems of Anne Brontë', p.71 & p.169)


A Fragment

'Maiden, thou wert thoughtless once
    Of beauty or of grace,
Simple and homely in attire
    Careless of form and face.
Then whence this change, and why so oft
    Dost smooth thy hazel hair?
And wherefore deck thy youthful form
    With such unwearied care?

'Tell us ­- and cease to tire our ears
    With yonder hackneyed strain ­-
Why wilt thou play those simple tunes
    So often o'er again?'
'Nay, gentle friends, I can but say
    That childhood's thoughts are gone.
Each year its own new feelings brings
    And years move swiftly on,

And for these little simple airs,
    I love to play them o'er ­-
So much I dare not promise now
    To play them never more.'
I answered and it was enough;
    They turned them to depart;
They could not read my secret thoughts
    Nor see my throbbing heart.

I've noticed many a youthful form
    Upon whose changeful face
The inmost workings of the soul
    The gazer's eye might trace.
The speaking eye, the changing lip,
    The ready blushing cheek,
The smiling or beclouded brow
    Their different feelings speak.

But, thank God! you might gaze on mine
    For hours and never know
The secret changes of my soul
    From joy to bitter woe.
Last night, as we sat round the fire
    Conversing merrily,
We heard without approaching steps
    Of one well known to me.

There was no trembling in my voice,
    No blush upon my cheek,
No lustrous sparkle in my eyes,
    Of hope or joy to speak;
But O my spirit burned within,
    My heart beat thick and fast.
He came not nigh ­- he went away
    And then my joy was past.

And yet my comrades marked it not,
    My voice was still the same;
They saw me smile, and o'er my face ­-
    No signs of sadness came;
They little knew my hidden thoughts
    And they will never know
The anguish of my drooping heart,
    The bitter aching woe!

Olivia Vernon.


Self-Congratulation

Ellen, you were thoughtless once
    Of beauty or of grace,
Simple and homely in attire,
    Careless of form and face;
Then whence this change? and wherefore now
    So often smooth your hair?
And wherefore deck your youthful form
    With such unwearied care?

Tell us -­ and cease to tire our ears
    With that familiar strain -­
Why will you play those simple tunes
    So often, o'er again?
'Indeed, dear friends, I can but say
    That childhood's thoughts are gone;
Each year its own new feelings brings,
    And years move swiftly on:

'And for these little simple airs --
    I love to play them o'er
So much -­ I dare not promise, now,
    To play them never more.'
I answered -­ and it was enough;
    They turned them to depart;
They could not read my secret thoughts,
    Nor see my throbbing heart.

I've noticed many a youthful form,
    Upon whose changeful face
The inmost workings of the soul
    The gazer well might trace;
The speaking eye, the changing lip,
    The ready blushing cheek,
The smiling, or beclouded brow,
    Their different feelings speak.

But, thank God! you might gaze on mine
    For hours, and never know
The secret changes of my soul
    From joy to keenest woe.
Last night, as we sat round the fire
    Conversing merrily,
We heard, without, approaching steps
    Of one well known to me!

There was no trembling in my voice,
    No blush upon my cheek,
No lustrous sparkle in my eyes,
    Of hope, or joy, to speak;
But, oh! my spirit burned within,
    My heart beat full and fast!
He came not nigh -­ he went away -­
    And then my joy was past.

And yet my comrades marked it not:
    My voice was still the same;
They saw me smile, and o'er my face
    No signs of sadness came.
They little knew my hidden thoughts;
    And they will never know
The aching anguish of my heart,
    The bitter burning woe!

Acton


Copyright © 2000 Michael Armitage

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