Last Lines
Written: January 7th. - January 28th. 1849.  First Published: 1850.

By the time of Emily's funeral, on December 22 1848, Anne had already been ill for several weeks. By early January Patrick became so concerned at her condition that he called in a physician who was known to be an expert 'in consumptive cases'. Dr. Teale visited the Parsonage on 5 January to examine Anne: he diagnosed her condition as consumption, and intimated that it was quite advanced leaving little hope of recovery. Two days later (7 January) she began to write this poem. The poem presents us with a very stark picture of what Anne was feeling as she entered the greatest crisis of her life. Although she could not have realised it at the time, it was to be her last composition - and her final 'pillar of witness'. She had been given a death sentence, but her greatest fear was not of dying, but of losing her faith - and possibly giving in to cowardice; she was also concerned about how little she had achieved in her life. The first nine verses (printed here in black) were scribbled in pencil on that same day, and in these can be detected the great sense of helplessness and resignation to her fate:

The use of pencil for writing was unusual for Anne: Edward Chitham suggests it may indicate she was feeling too ill to sit at her writing-desk where ink would be available. The remainder of the poem was written in ink (printed here in blue) in several stages over the following three weeks: it was completed on January 28. Here, her will to live begins to shine through, and she gathers some hope of a reprieve:

The poem is headed 'Jan 7th', and at the end she has written 'finished Jan. 28 1849'. It was published posthumously - in 1850, and Charlotte added the following notes:

The poem was originally untitled, but Charlotte later gave it the appropriate heading: 'Last Lines'.

(See also: Chitham, 'The Poems of Anne Brontë', p.163 & p.195 134)


Jan 7th

A dreadful darkness closes in
                On my bewildered mind;
O let me suffer and not sin,
                Be tortured yet resigned.

Through all this world of whelming mist
                Still let me look to Thee,
And give me courage to resist
                The Tempter till he flee.

Weary I am -- O give me strength
                And leave me not to faint;
Say Thou wilt comfort me at length
                And pity my complaint.

I've begged to serve Thee heart and soul,
                To sacrifice to Thee
No niggard portion, but the whole
                Of my identity.

I hoped amid the brave and strong
                My portioned task might lie,
To toil amid the labouring throng
                With purpose pure and high.

But Thou hast fixed another part,
                And Thou hast fixed it well;
I said so with my breaking heart
                When first the anguish fell.

For Thou hast taken my delight
                And hope of life away,
And bid me watch the painful night
                And wait the weary day.

The hope and the delight were Thine;
                I bless Thee for their loan;
I gave Thee while I deemed them mine
                Too little thanks, I own.

Shall I with joy Thy blessings share
                And not endure their loss?
Or hope the martyr's crown to wear
                And cast away the cross?

These weary hours will not be lost,
                These days of passive misery,
These nights of darkness anguish tost
                If I can fix my heart on Thee.

Weak and weary though I lie,
                Crushed with sorrow, worn with pain,
Still I may lift to Heaven mine eyes
                And strive and labour not in vain,

That inward strife against the sins
                That ever wait on suffering;
To watch and strike where first begins
                Each ill that would corruption bring,

That secret labour to sustain
                With humble patience every blow,
To gather fortitude from pain
                And hope and holiness from woe.

Thus let me serve Thee from my heart
                Whatever be my written fate,
Whether thus early to depart
                Or yet awhile to wait.

If Thou shouldst bring me back to life
                More humbled I should be;
More wise, more strengthened for the strife,
                More apt to lean on Thee.

Should Death be standing at the gate
                Thus should I keep my vow;
But, Lord, whate'er my future fate
                So let me serve Thee now.

Finished. Jan. 28, 1849.


Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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