“Why are you crushing those flowers?”
“I’m not crushing them–I’m pressing them. To try and preserve them.”
“Oh.” (the “whatever, Mom” was implied)
“They’re bluebells! Like Uncle Charlie’s album named after the Brontes’ poems! Remember the four kids who had great imaginations like you guys and wrote–”
“Can I play Minecraft now? I ate lunch.”
(gritting teeth) “Fine.”
“…and they’re actually purple.”
“I know. But they’re called bluebells. See! They look like little bells!”
Before the “DANGER DO NOT ENTER” sign warning of falling trees went up in the little woods, I’d go for walks alone. We’d go as a family sometimes. I’d take the kids after online-school destroyed us enough for the day. Sometimes we’d hear the train, but most of the time it was just birds. And leaves. And our own poetic feet on the dirt. One evening I went out after dinner because I was losing my poetic crap just a little bit and needed some serious social distance. It had rained for a few days and we’d been stuck inside. I got to the edge of the woods, crossed over the little mud hill, and where there had been nothing but (to my eye) nondescript green last time, there were now bluebells. So many bluebells the ground looked purple up ahead. Naturally, I’d left my phone at home (#ResponsibilityDistance) so I get to kick myself until March 2021 when I can then take a picture. Cuz it’s not real until it’s on my phone and I can look at it later.
By all accounts Anne and Emily Bronte were twin-like, always together and closely connected. But of the copious poetry Anne and Emily wrote they only shared one title: The Bluebell. Charles opens his album with a song inspired by Anne’s and closes it with one inspired by Emily’s. For the 5th Diary Paper representation, I pressed bluebells from the woods in a spectacular antique ledger I found in a shop when we first arrived. And yes: they are purple.
Most of the time, when I hear “purple” I’m reminded of a song my baby brother made up in the backseat of our station wagon. I remember him singing with both a dreamy and focused look on his little face.
Then we’d fly high in the sky with purple wings on our backs…
He made up words too:
I don’t remember what they meant, if they meant anything, but I remember him saying them in a context that made sense to him at 4 or 5 years old.
Charles has always been a musical chap. He tried the double bass in elementary school. They made a ridiculous pair. He tried the clarinet. It looked weird but sounded good. I don’t actually remember when he started playing guitar. He was a baby. Then he had a guitar. Like a permanent tooth, it was always part of him; I just couldn’t see it yet.
Then I went to college, they moved to another state, and I missed everything. I came home, a little fatter, a little smarter, and feeling a lot separate. The basement back wall was filled with my father’s guitars. Christopher was suddenly playing bass and looking more like our dad in every way. And Charles was a guitar. There was music everywhere.
While my preschooler brother had been composing a new lexicon and setting Maxfield Parish scenes to music, I too was drinking deeply from Inspiration’s well. My highly cerebral literary masterpiece, Boss of the Bathroom, was a bit of an obsession and everything I found amusing I recorded for the next 8 years in my pink paged notebook. The names were changed and I later made Charles–I mean “Alex”– the Asian best friend. There were no musicians in my story. That would’ve been too obvious. That would have given it all away. It was extremely important that I record these things though. I could not have explained why. My thesis was a short novel about stories my mother told me. I held on to Boss of the Bathroom for 30 years before declaring it done and over. Preservation is key. It should be done carefully. Correctly. Important things need to be kept and seen.
I don’t know anything about gardening, or flowers, or plants. My son asked me what poison ivy looks like and I told him she had red hair and dressed inappropriately but was one of my favorite characters in Batman: The Animated Series. To be fair, he accepted my answer with due consideration before clarifying he meant “the plant that makes you itch like fire.”
I Googled “pressing and preserving flowers” and got Place your flowers between two pieces of parchment paper. Place a book on top to flatten the flowers and make them easier to iron. I then disregarded the ironing part. Fool, I don’t iron clothes. What makes you think I’ll iron plants?
July 31, 1845
Emily and Anne open their 1841 diary papers a day early.
The Brontes are all together, except Branwell who is on a trip to Liverpool but will return to the parsonage.
Emily’s paper catalogues the recent comings and goings of the household, the varying state of living pets, and a record of Gondal characters she and Anne played while taking a trip that week. “…we were Ronald Macelgin, Henry Angora, Juliet Augusteena, Rosabella Esmalden, Ella and Julian Egremon[t], Catharine Navarre and Cordelia Fitzaphnold escaping from the Palaces of Instruction to join the Royalists who are hard driven at present by the victorious Republicans.” Emily is 27 years old. Emily is not 100% present in reality. Emily is fully content and comfortable with life. I want very much to be like Emily.
Anne’s paper confesses they opened their papers a day early and gives another detailed record of the past four years’ occupations and locations. Her paper conveys uncertainty. Will Charlotte go to Paris? Will she do a good job on her grey silk frock? Will she and Emily “sensibly diminish” their work for the day? Will she get in the habit of rising earlier? Will the Gondal chronicles ever be done and will the Gondal’s playing condition improve? What changes will they have seen and known in the world and themselves by 1848?
Emily is confident in her blurred reality where she has everything she needs and can imagine whatever she doesn’t have access to; the listing of characters inhabited on the train journey is as necessary as that of all surviving and recently departed pets so very close to her heart. Anne is concerned with rational logistics and how each of them would be affected; she is as worried about the choices her imaginary characters make as she is those of her real family.
Anne is 25 years old. Anne is made of questions. Anne watches everyone, sees everything, and is an emotional alchemist. I want very much to be like Anne.
The Gondal chronicles don’t have enough context for us to know what was really going on. We only have a few names and locations preserved between small sheets of paper. Their colors are faded. We can only guess at how vibrant they were, how explosive and compelling their skins that Emily and Anne would be them while on a train journey.
The world has been, and continues to be, desperate for any scrap of these women, anything that will tell us more about who they were, what they thought, and what radiance was cut and closed off too soon.
We flatter ourselves that we know things about Emily and Anne because we’ve read their books and poems and letters and these diary papers never meant for us, but whatever we know can’t ever be in the right context.
The representation of the sixth Diary Paper is Charles’s album, The Bluebell.
Faith Shines Equal Arming Me From Fear is inspired by Emily’s No Coward Soul Is Mine, and it is all I know of Emily. Moody, not just technically capable and impressive,but genuinely powerful and lovely, and then just when I think I have it figured out–and even when I know it’s coming– the hairs on my arm raise and something clutches at my heart because this is something different and special. And it hasn’t stopped arresting me.
Last year, Charles sent me a recording of Though Weak, Yet Longing To Believe, inspired by Anne’s The Doubter’s Prayer. He had written and recorded it on his phone while in an airport waiting for a flight. It was only barely audible through the clinking of dishes and murmur of many voices. Even though I have a clear recoding of it now and love it, I miss that first one. It was exactly as I see Anne and how I read most of her poetry: delicate but steady in the middle of a loud noise. Charles said he hadn’t been sure it was good enough but just kept playing and when he looked up there was a little girl standing there, listening. “I like your song,” she said.
I think these pieces, small, quiet, and startling are as close to a pressed and preserved bloom as we can get. Listening makes us feel something curious and compelling. Something brief.
The bluebells are purple. Or they were when I picked them… At best, they’ll be purple for 5-7 years. At worst, they were already brown once I packed them carefully and sent them across the sea. Perhaps I should have ironed them, should have crushed them with heat and metal. For their own good. To keep their color longer. To preserve them as they were when I stole them.
“Why are you picking them! You tell us not to pick them! They’re nature!” my daughter rebukes.
“These are wild flowers,” I reply. “They don’t belong to anyone. Nobody grew them on purpose.”
“You’re still killing them.”
“Go play some Minecraft and get a snack.”
I felt some remorse. I walked home with the gorgeous bouquet of purple and justified myself. Nobody sees them in the woods. People will see them now. They will be loved now. Even dry, technically dead, and discolored they will mean something and be loved now.
But know this: They Were Purple.
Dear Emily and Anne,
Please tell us the name of your dog. Show us the room your aunt is sitting in. Describe what you’re making for dinner and how the weather feels. Say you haven’t done your music exercise which consists of b major…
We know it’s important.
We like your song.
Charlie Rauh’s album, The Bluebell, along with 30 sets of The Diary Papers Box, is available for preorder from Destiny Records HERE.