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Last Updated on August 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 911

The Speaker

The speaker, narrating in first person, is the central character of this long poem. She is the only round and dynamic character in the poem. As readers, we follow her dreams and her visions, her thoughts and her fears. We can only rely on her perception to learn about the course of her conversations or conflicts. She introduces herself to us the night before going to visit her mother. She has recently been left by a lover and is having difficulty sleeping. This gives her character an arc—we are essentially told there will be denouement for this speaker by the end of the poem. We find her currently obsessed with the life, writing, and character of Emily Brontë. The speaker communicates her own struggles (loneliness, compulsiveness, lack of romantic partnership) by telling of Emily's. She adds her own stories of desperation, confinement, and identity issues. Though she is currently visiting her mother, we learn that since the breakup, she has most significantly been in this internal dialogue with Emily, and in an external dialogue with her therapist. She also begins meditation in response to the breakup. In that process, she repeatedly sees a set of "nudes"—images of women in pain. Throughout the poem, the speaker experiences and conveys a large range of emotions, from delicate sadness to intense rage. She struggles with the weight of her memories, especially of the lover, and it is difficult for her to avoid thoughts of him.

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In the middle of winter, she is consumed with thoughts of the nudes, Emily, and her own pain. Then, abruptly, "it stopped." For months, she meditates, waiting to see the nudes, until she gives up. She even forgets about the nudes, which is notable given her memory. Then, one night, she sees the last nude—a return to the first nude, which was a woman whose flesh was being torn by wind. She goes closer to the images and this time sees there is no wind, and that the body is clean, and represents all humans. By finishing the set of nudes, and becoming undisturbed by them and the memories she had been carrying, the speaker comes to peace with the breakup and herself. She paints grief as something to push through, or that goes through the griever "and out."


Law is the speaker's ex-lover. We do not hear much about Law directly—only that the speaker misses him and is upset with his decision to leave after five years together. He lived, when they were in love, in a "high blue room," liked to stay in bed in the morning, and used to say that love is freedom. We can infer their relationship was not healthy at the end, as she describes how their love turned "into two animals gnawing and craving through one another." We also know the speaker's mother did not like him. The night Law left, he told the speaker without making eye contact. When the speaker reached out to him, he rejected her sexual advance, but then she undressed and they tried to have sex.


The speaker goes to visit her mother at the beginning of this poem, and as readers we witness tense interactions between them. The mother is opinionated, vocal, and unsentimental. She lives alone, "on a moor in the north," and "eats little but her fridge is always crammed." To the speaker, the mother's perspective is often "dark and small" (as in the given description of her kitchen). She is often frustrated by her...

(The entire section contains 911 words.)

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