Monday, December 08, 2008

Mourning Ring - A review

Our thanks to Mr. Emberson who kindkly sent us a copy of this chapbook.

Mourning Ring.
Brontë related poems

by Ian M Emberson,
Angria Press, 2008, 20 pp. £3.00
ISBN 978 0 9521693 6 9

Angria Press, 1 Highcroft Road, Todmorden. UK. OL14 5LZ; telephone (01706) 812716;
e-mail ianemberson@aol.com.
Website www.ianemberson.co.uk
Just some months ago we celebrated the appearance of a poetry chapbook inspired by Jane Eyre, Rita María Martínez's Jane-in-a-Box, and now we are delighted to present just another one, Mourning Ring by Ian M. Emberson(1). Even if both are poetry collections inspired by the Brontës they could not be more different, which, once again, shows the wide range of artistic responses that the Brontës works are able to generate.

The first thing that must be said about Mourning Ring is that, like other works by the author, this is not a book with poems but a work of art in itself. The illustrations by the author are not (only) complements to each poem but a coherent and complete (from cover to cover) setting in which, as a matter of fact, the poems are inserted. Except for the cover made in ink, the artwork is made with water soluble pencils which create an eerie atmosphere where we can discern familiar landscapes from Brontë country (the Brontë bridge, Ponden Kirk, Pendle Hill...), images from the poems - symbolic images like the snake and the ring that open accompany the poem that lends its name to the book - which link visually together Jane Eyre and Milton's Paradise Lost(2).

Mourning Ring and Ignis Fatuus? are explorations of the poetic landscape left in the interstices of a very poignant moment of Jane Eyre's story. When Jane Eyre flees from Thornfield Hall and Mr Rochester to an uncertain future. Both poems abound in references to moments of the novel (from Mr Briggs's 'twelve calm words' to the extensive bird imagery present in the novel and in the poems), but Mourning Ring goes further tracing parallels effortlessly with Milton (through the 'colossal head with hollow eyes' which was one of Jane's illustrations which Rochester found so interesting(3)) and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress(4).

Anne, Life's Lone Wilderness and Cross Stone Vicarage introduce biographical elements of the Brontës' lives to recreate some particularly important moments of the Brontë legend. Anne, devoted to the youngest of the Brontë sisters' last visit to Scarborough mixes echoes of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Gondal and well-known biographical details (like the donkey episode in the sands of the Scarborough beach) to create an emotive account of Anne's last days. Life's Lone Wilderness((5)) is more ambitious when describing the loneliness of Charlotte Brontë just concluding Villette with the very vivid and present images of her dead sisters. A poignant poem which uses Brontë's own words, through Gaskell's biography. Finally, Cross Stone Vicarage puts a beginning to Charlotte Brontë's literary creativity describing the writing of her first surviving letter in 1829.

Haworth Dusk and West Riding try to integrate explicitly the Brontë opus into the landscape. Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are invoked when trying to establish a narrative which superposes past and present, fiction and fact. West Riding is particularly successful in creating this kind of suspended time.

The book includes two descriptive poems: Pendle and Harbour Hill and some useful contextualizing notes.

Notes:
(1) Ian M. Emberson is a writer and artist, member and collaborator of the Brontë Society and author of other Brontë-related books like Three Brontë Poems in 1993. The present book contains those poems and several more with revamped illustrations. For more information check The Todmorden News (27 November 2008)
(2) Another of Mr. Emberson's publications is Pilgrims from Loneliness who is described like
an exploration of Jane Eyre and Villette in terms of a possible basic mythology - largely drawn from The Bible, Paradise Lost and The Pilgrim's Progress - all early influences on Charlotte Brontë's mind.
More snake imagery: Ian M. Emberson's prose poems 2003 collection, The Snake and the star.
(3) It has been suggested 'that the colossal head' can be a symbol of death or a premonitory image of St. John Rivers. More information can be found on Lisa Denney's Toward an Interpretation of Jane's Three Watercolors.
(4) The author's allusion to Jane Eyre's pilgrimage is the prelude to the poem's inspired ending:
And what's beyond
a pilgrimage - eternal - without shrine?
- perhaps a binding hell
- or fragile heaven?
(5) This poem has been set to music by Robin Terry. According to the Todmorden News article mentioned before, the composer is working on a song-cycle based on the poems.


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