There’s no doubt that we’re currently living in a very strange time due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. In just a matter of weeks, many of the freedoms we took for granted have disappeared. This may be the freedom to use public transport, to go to work, to visit cinemas, theatres, restaurants etc., the freedom to an education, and tragically for some, the freedom to spend time with our own families. As the virus continues to spread, friends and families are being kept apart, and tough decisions are being made to stay apart in order that one day in the future, we can all come together again. It’s a sentiment referenced recently by Queen Elizabeth II in what has already become an iconic speech when she assured the nation (and the world) that these dark times will eventually end and we will meet again. This sentiment is not new to British culture, and the Queen’s speech was surely a reference to the song, “We’ll Meet Again” which was made famous by Dame Vera Lynn in 1939.
It’s a sentiment that can, of course, be found in many different cultures throughout the world. It’s present in both religious and non-religious sources, from songs, speeches, fictional literature, and sermons. Sometimes the idea is simply that we will physically meet one another again and enjoy each other’s company whilst on this earth. It can also be of some comfort to those losing loved ones to the virus through death, and the idea that we will meet again after death is still remarkably prominent in many societies. It’s a sentiment that echoes across the ages too. In 1693, English-American Quaker William Penn wrote that –
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
Centuries later, this passage was re-used in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), introducing Penn’s words to a new audience, but one clearly already receptive to the idea of meeting our lost loved ones again one day. Charlotte Brontë’s work also reflects the idea of being reunited with our loved ones. Charlotte was no stranger to losing loved ones to death; by the age of just 9 she had lost her mother and 2 oldest sisters. In time she would tragically also outlive her 3 younger siblings too. Her 1846 poem titled “Parting” first appeared in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell and despite Charlotte probably not being the greatest Brontë poet, I think this is one of her strongest and most touching.
There is a sense of strength and resilience in this poem as she muses that death does not mean the end of a relationship due to, “A remembrance in one’s heart” and the idea that we will find one another in the afterlife when she writes, “Never doubt that Fate is keeping / Future good for present ill!” Basically, this translates to me as we will meet again after our present sufferings. As the daughter of a clergyman, Charlotte was raised to believe in life after death, and although this poem reflects that, to me it is a brighter, more optimistic, and less solemn piece than her references to death and parting in her other works.
Although Charlotte was probably writing about death when she wrote this, I can’t help musing about how her words have taken on a new significance in these present times. Her words can be comforting to those separated from loved ones for various reasons due to coronavirus. As Charlotte writes, “There’s no use in weeping, / Though we are condemned to part: / There’s such a thing as keeping /A remembrance in one’s heart.” Despite our separation, we have memories of those we love, as do they. At times like these, remembrances and memories can help people through a dark time and “When we’ve left each friend and brother / When we’re parted wide and far, / We will think of one another” and of the good times both had and yet to come. In my image of the Brontë Parsonage above, the door is wide open in welcome on a sunny day. As Charlotte writes, “We can meet again” so keep the faith, be kind, and stay safe until then.
Finally, read the poem in full and marvel that it wasn’t written yesterday.
“Parting” by Charlotte Brontë
There’s no use in weeping,
Though we are condemned to part:
There’s such a thing as keeping
A remembrance in one’s heart:
There’s such a thing as dwelling
On the thought ourselves have nurs’d,
And with scorn and courage telling
The world to do its worst.
We’ll not let its follies grieve us,
We’ll just take them as they come;
And then every day will leave us
A merry laugh for home.
When we’ve left each friend and brother,
When we’re parted wide and far,
We will think of one another,
As even better than we are.
Every glorious sight above us,
Every pleasant sight beneath,
We’ll connect with those that love us,
Whom we truly love till death !
In the evening, when we’re sitting
By the fire perchance alone,
Then shall heart with warm heart meeting,
Give responsive tone for tone.
We can burst the bonds which chain us,
Which cold human hands have wrought,
And where none shall dare restrain us
We can meet again, in thought.
So there’s no use in weeping,
Bear a cheerful spirit still;
Never doubt that Fate is keeping
Future good for present ill!
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019)
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.
William Penn quote is taken from Quaker Faith and Practice. Fifth Edition. Online edition.
“Parting” is taken from Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Online edition.