I hoped that with the brave and strong
Anne Brontë (1820-49)
Tune: CRIPPLEGATE, George Alexander Macfarren (1813-87)
I hoped that with the brave and strong
my portioned task might lie;
to toil amid the busy throng
with purpose pure and high:
but God has fixed another part,
and he has fixed it well;
I said so with my breaking heart,
when first this trouble fell
These weary hours will not be lost,
these days of misery,
these nights of darkness, tempest tossed,
can I but turn to thee,
with secret labour to sustain
in patience every blow,
to gather fortitude from pain,
and holiness from woe.
If Thou shouldst bring me back to life,
more humble I should be,
more wise, more strengthened for the strife,
more apt to lean on Thee;
Should death be standing at the gate,
thus should I keep my vow:
but, Lord, whatever be my fate,
O let me serve Thee now!
Reflection: Gillian Warson
Anne, the youngest and perhaps the least well-known of the Brontë sisters, leaves us two beautiful and personal hymns. One of these, I hoped that with the brave and strong is taken from the longer poem A dreadful darkness closes written in January 1849 a few brief months before her death in May of the same year. Only weeks before her beloved sister Emily had died having been taken ill at the funeral of their adored brother Branwell. Anne, a victim of galloping consumption, also feared that her short life would soon be at an end and the poem speaks of her deep sorrow as well as her regret that she had not achieved more in her short life.
Anne, along with the rest of the Brontë family, was no stranger to suffering, yet, unlike Emily, who rejected her Christian upbringing, she took comfort in her faith. Whilst Anne is bravely facing the prospect of her own death, she shows a poignant urge to cling to life. The first verse suggests Anne’s bitter disappointment that health and circumstance had prevented her from to leading the life of a celebrated published author to which she aspired. She reluctantly recognises that she must follow the role assigned to her by God and she knows that she must willingly follow it despite her anguish. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, for example, Anne would have read that, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Thus, far from passively suffering her fate, she asks God that she may “gather fortitude from pain/and holiness from woe”. She is, therefore, striving to transmute the pain of her suffering into courage through the Lord’s grace. In the third verse it seems the will to live reasserts itself despite her best intention to accept her lot. Life, she has learned, is precarious and, should she be granted more years, she will be all the more determined to live a life of Christian service.
Anne died in Charlotte’s arms in May 1849. She was 29. Harsh on herself, she had always wanted to achieve more, yet she leaves a lasting legacy which can surely be seen as fulfilling her pledge to perform her Christian service. “Gird on thy armour,” Anne commands herself in Self-Communion, her long autobiographical poem. This is a direct quotation from Ephesians 6:11 reminding us that there are many ways of preparing ourselves for service. In her writing Anne exposes the sorry plight of women and, perhaps, goes someway to altering the perceptions and prejudices of centuries including the virtual non-existence of married women before the Law. In Agnes Grey, for example, we learn a little of Anne’s own experiences enduring the difficult life of a governess. In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall we meet Helen Graham, a woman brave enough to defy the law and leave her abusive husband in order to safe-guard her son and earn her own living as an artist. In these novels, based on experience in her own life, Anne shows that however painful life may be, there is a hope that, with God’s help, evil may be defeated.
In our hymn, Anne writes that, if she should be spared, she would be further armed for the strife—wiser and stronger to confront whatever life has in store. Yet, I can only reflect that if I could offer posterity two great feminist novels and a substantial body of poetry, that would indeed be service!
On her death-bed, Anne’s last words were “take courage”. Surely these words are “brave and strong” and show wisdom indeed?
Father in heaven
may we find strength and inspiration to see the world you made in a positive light. Today may we bring hope and happiness to all those around us. Amen.
I hoped that with the brave and strong played by Gillian Warson