by Emily Brontë (1818 - 1848)

Why ask to know the date the clime?
Language: English 
Why ask to know the date the clime?
More then mere words they cannot be
Men knelt to God and worshipped crime
And crushed the helpless even as we

But they had learnt from length of strife
Of civil war and anarchy
To laugh at death and look on life
With somewhat lighter sympathy

It was the autumn of the year
The time to labouring peasants dear
Week after week from noon to noon
September shone as bright as June

Still, never hand a sickle held
The crops were garnered in the field
Trod out and ground by horse's feet
While every ear was milky sweet
And kneaded on the threshing floor
With mire of tears and human gore

Some said they thought that heaven's pure rain
Would hardly bless those fields again
Not so - the all benignant skies
Rebuked that fear of famished eyes

July passed on with showers and dew
And August glowed in showerless blue
No harvest time could be more fair
Had harvest fruits but ripened there

And I confess that hate of rest
And thirst for things abandoned now
Had weaned me from my country's breast
And brought me to that land of woe

Enthusiast in a name delighting
My alien sword I drew to free
One race, beneath two standards fighting
For Loyalty and Liberty

When kindred strive God help the weak
A brothers ruth 'tis vain to seek
At first it hurt my chivalry
To join them in their cruelty

But I grew hard I learnt to wear
An iron front to terror's prayer
I learnt to turn my ears away
From tortures groans as well as they

By force I learnt what power had I
To say the conquered should not die?
What heart one trembling foe to save
When hundreds daily filled the grave?

Yet there were faces that could move
A moment's flash of human love
And there were fates that made me feel
I was not to the centre steel

I've often witnessed wise men fear
To meet distress which they foresaw
And seeming cowards nobly bear
A doom that thrilled the brave with awe

Strange proofs I've seen how hearts could hide
Their secret with a lifelong pride
And then reveal it as they died
Strange courage and strange weakness too

In that last hour, when most are true
And timid natures strangely nerved
To deeds from which the desperate swerved
These I may tell but leave them now
Go with me where my thoughts would go
Now all today, and all last night
I've had one scene before my sight

Wood shadowed dales a harvest moon
Unclouded in its glorious noon
A solemn landscape wide and still
A red fire on a distant hill
A line of fires and deep below
Another duskier, drearier glow

Charred beams and lime and blackened stones
Self piled in cairns o'er burning bones
And lurid flames that licked the wood
Then quenched their glare in pools of blood

But yestereve No never care
Let street and suburb smoulder there-
Smoke-hidden, in the winding glen
They lay too far to vex my ken

Four score shot down all veterans strong
One prisoner spared their leader young
And he within his house was laid
Wounded, and weak and nearly dead

We gave him life against his will
For he entreated us to kill
And statue-like we saw his tears
And harshly fell our captain's sneers

'Now, heaven forbid' with scorn he said
that noble gore our hands should shed
Like common blood - retain thy breath
Or scheme, If thou canst purchase death

When men are poor we sometimes hear
And pitying grant that dastard prayer
When men are rich we make them buy
The pleasant privilege to die

O we have castles reared for kings
Embattled towers and buttressed wings
Thrice three feet thick, and guarded well
With chain and bolt and sentinel!

We build our despots dwellings sure
Knowing they love to live secure
And our respect for royalty
Extends to thy estate and thee

The supplicant groaned his moistened eye
Swam wild and dim with agony
The gentle blood could ill sustain
Degrading taunts, unhonoured pain

Bold had he shown himself to lead
Eager to smite and proud to bleed
A man amid the battle's storm
An infant in the after calm

Beyond the town his mansion stood
Girt round with pasture land and wood
And there our wounded soldiers lying
Enjoyed the ease of wealth in dying

For him, no mortal more then he
Had softened life with luxury
And truly did our priest declare
Of good things he had had his share

We lodged him in an empty place
The full moon beaming on his face
Through shivered glass, and ruins, made
Where shell and ball the fiercest played

I watched his ghastly couch beside
Regardless if he lived or died
Nay, muttering curses on the breast
Whose ceaseless moans denied me rest

Twas hard, I know, 'twas harsh to say
'Hell snatch thy worthless soul away!
But then 'twas hard my lids to keep
Through this long night, estranged from sleep

Captive and keeper, both outworn
Each in his misery yearned for morn
Even though returning morn should bring
Intenser toil and suffering

Slow slow it came Our dreary room
Grew drearier with departing gloom
Yet as the west wind warmly blew
I felt my pulses bound anew

And turned to him nor breeze nor ray
Revived that mould of shattered clay
Scarce conscious of his pain he lay
Scarce conscious that my hands removed
The glittering toys his lightness loved
The jewelled rings and locker fair

Forsake the world without regret
I murmured in contemptuous tone
The world poor wretch will soon forget
Thy noble name when thou art gone

And words of such contempt I said
Cold insults o'er a dying bed
Which as they darken memory now
Disturb my pulse and flush my brow

I know that Justice holds in store
Reprisals for these days of gore
Not for the blood, but for the sin
Of stifling mercy's voice within

The blood spilt gives no pang at all
It is my conscience haunting me
Telling how oft my lips shed gall
On many a thing too weak to be

Even in thought, my enemy
And whispering ever, when I pray
'God will repay - God will repay!

He does repay and soon and well
The deeds that turn his earth to hell
The wrongs that aim a venomed dart
Through nature at the Eternal Heart

Surely my cruel tongue was cursed
I know my prisoner heard me speak
A transient gleam of feeling burst
And wandered o'er his haggard cheek

And from his quivering lips there stole
A look to melt a demon's soul
A silent prayer more powerful far
Then any breathed petitions are
Pleading in mortal agony
To mercy's Source but not to me

My plunder taken I left him there
Without one breath of morning air
To struggle with his last despair
Regardless of the wildered cry
Which wailed for death yet wailed to die

I left him there unwatched alone
And eager sought the court below

W'ere o'er a trough of chiselled stone
An ice cold well did gurgling flow
The water in its basin shed
A stranger tinge of fiery red
I drank and scarcely marked the hue
My food was dyed with crimson too

As I went out a ragged child
With wasted cheek and ringlets wild
A shape of fear and misery
Raised up her helpless hands to me
And begged her fathers face to see

I spurned the piteous wretch away
Thy fathers face is lifeless clay
As thine mayst be ere fall of day
Unless the truth be quickly told
Where thou hast hid thy father's gold

Yet in the intervals of pain
He heard my taunts and moaned again
And mocking moans did I reply
And asked him why he would not die
In noble agony uncomplaining
Was it not foul disgrace and shame
To thus disgrace his ancient name?

Just then a comrade came hurrying in
Alas, he cried sin genders sin
For every soldier slain they've sworn
To hang up five come morn

They've taken of stranglers sixty three
Full thirty from one company
And all my father's family
And comrade thou hadst only one
They've taken thy all thy little son

Down at my captive's feet I fell
I had no option in despair
As thou wouldst save thy soul from hell
My heart's own darling bid them spare
Or human hate and hate divine
Blight every orphan flower of thine

He raised his head from death beguiled
He wakened up he almost smiled
Twice in my arms twice on my knee
You stabbed my child and laughed at me
And so with choking voice he said
I trust I hope in God she's dead

Yet not to thee not even to thee
Would I return such misery?
Such is that fearful grief I know
I will not cause thee equal woe

Write that they harm no infant there
Write that it is my latest prayer
I wrote - he signed and thus did save
My treasure from the gory grave

And oh my soul longed wildly then
To give his saviour life again
But heedless of my gratitude
The silent corpse before me lay

And still methinks in gloomy mood
I see it fresh as yesterday
The sad face raised imploringly
To mercy's God and not to me

I could not rescue him his child
I found alive and tended well
But she was full of anguish wild
And hated me, hated to hell
And weary with her savage woe
One moonless night I let her go

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Note: in the Fisk work, this is sung by Heathcliff


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)

Researcher for this text: Terry Fisk

This text was added to the website: 2004-03-22
Line count: 251
Word count: 1628