In criticism today a poem is read first as an entity in itself; difficulties in reading may be clarified by reference to the author’s other poems, his life, his other writings, his times, and the like. Exceptions to this rule are the units of a poetic sequence which are lesser entities within a greater whole. But scholarship often imposes two kinds of superior entity on a single work: its place in the author’s canon and its significance as an artifact of its time. Emily Brontë’s poems may be read simply as single works of art; when understood, however, as a body of work—apart from the reflection of biography or their significance as mid-nineteenth century English verse—they form not one but two larger entities. Her two hundred poems, some still in manuscript, belong to the “Gondal Chronicles” which she and her younger sister Anne composed from the summer of 1832, when Emily was fourteen and Anne twelve, until Emily’s death in 1848; thirty-nine of these poems appeared in 1846 and 1850 as the work of “Ellis Bell” without any reference to Gondal. In the case of Emily Brontë, the smaller number of poems—her “selected poems”—have the greater universality of appearing as complete entities and are here treated as to all intents and purposes the collected poems of Emily Brontë as “Ellis Bell.”
The moot point in such a course is whether “Ellis Bell’s” poems make complete sense without the remaining poems of Emily Brontë,...
(The entire section is 1608 words.)
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