Last Updated on August 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
The speaker of this poem covers a range of topics: her relationship with her mother; the slowly declining health of her father, who has Alzheimer's disease; the dissolution of her most recent intimate relationship with a man named Law, including the sex that she used to try to keep him; her relationship with the nineteenth-century writer Emily Brontë; her experiences with her therapist, Dr. Haw—overall, many of the things in her life that she feels confine and define her.
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The poem begins as the speaker is about to leave for a visit with her mother, who lives on a moor, and so she takes along The Collected Works of Emily Brontë. She calls Brontë by her first name, Emily, as though they are close friends, and she describes Emily as a watcher, using the author's own spelling, "whacher"—claiming that she really was someone on the fringe, one who did not tend to engage with others during her life. The "bareness" of her life is appalling to Emily's biographers, who describe her life as "sad [and] stunted." Her sister, Charlotte's, words make it seem as though Emily was "Unsociable even at home." Didn't she have her liberty? the critics wonder. They don't see her cage, the things that confined her. The speaker seems to feel similarly caged, and perhaps this is why she loves Emily so much.
Her mother cannot understand why the speaker "hold[s] onto all" of the things that pain her, and her therapist asks why the speaker continues to dwell on the images that bother her so much. However, she does not know how to go somewhere else. The speaker sees several images in her mind that she calls "Nudes": disturbing images like the wind stripping off a woman's skin or a deck of cards made of skin. The speaker says that she prefers to be alone but that she would like someone to talk to in the middle of the night, like Emily talked to Thou, at least "without the terrible sex price to pay." Relationships and sex have never felt familiar or intuitive to her; it all feels awkward and strange. More nudes include some pierced by thorns or needles, or with thorns emerging from them. Penetration seems violating. She describes Emily's "soul trapped in glass, / which is her true creation." The speaker, however, "find[s] no shelter" and feels that she is her own nude, stripped raw to anger and solitude.
By the poem's end, though, Nude #13 arrives when the speaker is "not watching for it." This nude is similar to the first, except that the flesh blown off the bones by the wind is not painful, and the wind feels "cleansing." The body is not hers, nor a woman's, but "the body of us all," and "It walked out of the light."