Apostasy by Charlotte Brontë

This last denial of my faith,
Thou, solemn Priest, hast heard;
And, though upon my bed of death,
I call not back a word.
Point not to thy Madonna, Priest,–
Thy sightless saint of stone;
She cannot, from this burning breast,
Wring one repentant moan.

Thou say’st, that when a sinless child,
I duly bent the knee,
And prayed to what in marble smiled
Cold, lifeless, mute, on me.
I did. But listen! Children spring
Full soon to riper youth;
And, for Love’s vow and Wedlock’s ring,
I sold my early truth.

‘Twas not a grey, bare head, like thine,
Bent o’er me, when I said,
“That land and God and Faith are mine,
For which thy fathers bled.”
I see thee not, my eyes are dim;
But well I hear thee say,
“O daughter cease to think of him
Who led thy soul astray.

“Between you lies both space and time;
Let leagues and years prevail
To turn thee from the path of crime,
Back to the Church’s pale.”
And, did I need that, thou shouldst tell
What mighty barriers rise
To part me from that dungeon-cell,
Where my loved Walter lies?

And, did I need that thou shouldst taunt
My dying hour at last,
By bidding this worn spirit pant
No more for what is past?
Priest–must I cease to think of him?
How hollow rings that word!
Can time, can tears, can distance dim
The memory of my lord?

I said before, I saw not thee,
Because, an hour agone,
Over my eyeballs, heavily,
The lids fell down like stone.
But still my spirit’s inward sight
Beholds his image beam
As fixed, as clear, as burning bright,
As some red planet’s gleam.

Talk not of thy Last Sacrament,
Tell not thy beads for me;
Both rite and prayer are vainly spent,
As dews upon the sea.
Speak not one word of Heaven above,
Rave not of Hell’s alarms;
Give me but back my Walter’s love,
Restore me to his arms!

Then will the bliss of Heaven be won;
Then will Hell shrink away,
As I have seen night’s terrors shun
The conquering steps of day.
‘Tis my religion thus to love,
My creed thus fixed to be;
Not Death shall shake, nor Priestcraft break
My rock-like constancy!

Now go; for at the door there waits
Another stranger guest;
He calls–I come–my pulse scarce beats,
My heart fails in my breast.
Again that voice–how far away,
How dreary sounds that tone!
And I, methinks, am gone astray
In trackless wastes and lone.

I fain would rest a little while:
Where can I find a stay,
Till dawn upon the hills shall smile,
And show some trodden way?
“I come! I come!” in haste she said,
“‘Twas Walter’s voice I heard!”
Then up she sprang–but fell back, dead,
His name her latest word.

Charlotte Brontë

Note: Apostasy is committed when an individual, the apostate, rejects or abandons his or her religious faith. In this poem, Charlotte Brontë tells the story of a dying woman who rejects the ministrations of her priest and concentrates instead on the memory of her lost husband.

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About Russell Boyle

Russell Boyle is a mathematics teacher, writer, and poet. His poetry anthologies are titled The Beginning, Footprints and Loneliness. Russell is the author of the Year 7 to 8 Mathematics Short-Answer Tasks, the Year 7 to 10 Mathematics Multiple-Choice Tasks, the Year 9 to 10 Extended-Response Tasks, the solutions to the Year 12 VCAA Mathematics Exams and the Web-Programming For Beginners series of courses. Sample poems and questions may be downloaded from http://russellboyle.com
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3 Responses to Apostasy by Charlotte Brontë

  1. indytony says:

    I meant powerful and provocative poem….

    • russellboyle says:

      I think she is rejecting God in favour of her lost husband, Walter. I agree wholeheartedly with your “masterfully written” comment. The rhyme and metre are extraordinary and they are sustained across all stanzas of the poem. Powerful? Yes! Provocative? Yes!

  2. indytony says:

    Such a powerful and provocative woman.
    On the one hand, I admire the woman’s desire to remain loyal to “eternal love” rather than receive “earthly ministrations”.
    On the other hand, could she be rejecting a relationship with God in favor of a relationship with a man?
    Masterfully written. This one certainly has me thinking.

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