“But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.”
Above the harbour at Scarborough, between the castle and the ancient church is a small graveyard much visited for the sake of a single grave. That of Anne Brontë. Visitors are divided between pilgrims and passers by. Some have read her novels and admire her as being the third great novelist from a remarkable family. Many enjoy a few minutes repose and the inspiring views out over the south bay and beyond along the Yorkshire cliffs and headlands towards Bempton, unaware of just why the grave is marked as special.
I like to sit there. If you go in the evening there’s a better than even chance that you’ll have the place to yourself. I occasionally converse with the incumbent of the grave. Silently of course; I like to keep my madness to myself. And the conversations are not all one-way. It’s a good place to feel poetic. Scarborough is a handsome town and there is nowhere better to appreciate its charms. Reaching the spot isn’t easy though. From whichever direction you come its a haul. The best way is straight up from the harbour: a mix of historic ginnels, lanes and handsome terraces. Steep rows rising up literally through Paradise (the name of the hill just below the churchyard). A few post war developments don’t tick any beauty boxes and mark areas bombed in the first world war. Scarborough, along with Hartlepool, was the unlikely first victim of enemy shelling. You have to earn your rest, which is one of the messages hidden in the metaphors of the poem. Pleasure can come with pain, kindness with hurt, love with betrayal, heaven (whatever that means to you) is often attained through hardship; restful bliss through endurance. It’s a hell of a place to contemplate poetic philosophy.
The place caused controversy in 2010 when the church made the lower half of the graveyard into a pay and display car park. Richard Wilcocks of the Brontë Society was asked his opinion: “Car parking in church grounds and on reclaimed churchyards will always be controversial, and I would not wish to comment on the rights and wrongs of the church allowing their land to be used in this way, but would certainly respect that personal opinions will be varied.” It could be used as a starting point on using words to say nothing and demonstrates a faux diplomacy I don’t associate with any of the Brontë sisters.
And being able to drive to the grave takes away the effort required to fully enjoy the calm and the view. It’s the rose without the thorn.
As a footnote I might add that the grave is now largely eroded to the point whereby you can no longer read the inscription. A plaque has been placed there to remedy this. Very few words were used. Nothing about her achievements in poetry and novel writing or a short career in teaching.
“Here lie the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Revd P Brontë, incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire. She died aged 28, May 28th 1849.”
No, just who her father was and the date she died and her age, which the stone carver got wrong. She was 29. I’ve lived exactly twice as long and done so much less. I may not be able to write like her (few can) but I can read and appreciate the wonder in her poetry, in Agnes Grey and The Tennant of Wildfell Hall. She helped establish a feminist literature which examines oppression and isolation and the sacrifices that are made to survive and pursue happiness. Few regard her as being as great as her sisters (incidentally Charlotte chose this resting place for Anne) but Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights set the bar very high. I think she matches them. There were truly three great writers in that family.
Sitting near her grave on a summer’s evening as the lights begin to glow below in the old town is a good place to contemplate her thoughts.
The Narrow Way
Believe not those who say
The upward path is smooth,
Lest thou shouldst stumble in the way,
And faint before the truth.
It is the only road
Unto the realms of joy;
But he who seeks that blest abode
Must all his powers employ.
Bright hopes and pure delights
Upon his course may beam,
And there, amid the sternest heights
The sweetest flowerets gleam.
On all her breezes borne,
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.
Arm—arm thee for the fight!
Cast useless loads away;
Watch through the darkest hours of night,
Toil through the hottest day.
Crush pride into the dust,
Or thou must needs be slack;
And trample down rebellious lust,
Or it will hold thee back.
Seek not thy honor here;
Waive pleasure and renown;
The world’s dread scoff undaunted bear,
And face its deadliest frown.
To labor and to love,
To pardon and endure,
To lift thy heart to God above,
And keep thy conscience pure;
Be this thy constant aim,
Thy hope, thy chief delight;
What matter who should whisper blame,
Or who should scorn or slight?
What matter, if thy God approve,
And if, within thy breast,
Thou feel the comfort of His love,
The earnest of His rest?