April 2013 | Nate Pedersen

Bronte's "I've been wandering in the greenwoods"

Last week at the celebrated Roy Davids poetry sale at Bonham's in London, poems by Charlotte Bronte and John Keats set new world records.  The sale on April 10, which was the first of a two part poetry sale to be continued on May 8, netted a very impressive £940,000 (almost $1.5m).

A major contributor to that number was an early poem by Charlotte Bronte, entitled "I've been wandering in the greenwoods," which sold for a new world record of £92,450, doubling its estimate, and beating the last Bronte record by £30,000.  Bonham's estimated that no more than four Bronte manuscript poems remain in private hands, with the vast majority of her 200 poems now residing in institutions.

"I've been wandering in the greenwoods" was written when Bronte was a scant thirteen years old, scribbled onto a tiny piece of paper measuring approximately 3 x 3 inches.  Today a magnifying glass is required to render the text legible.  The poem is signed "C. Bronte" and dated 14 December 1829.  

The poem, which surprised no one when it was revealed to be a moody celebration of nature, was first published in The Young Man's Intelligencer, a literary journal edited by the young Bronte siblings.  The journal's distribution extended throughout the entirety of the Bronte parsonage, with an estimated readership of three to five persons.  Accusations of nepotism may be justified.  Traditional barriers to publishing were blithely set aside by the young Charlotte, who assumed the editorship of The Young Man's Intelligencer in 1829 -- and promptly published her own poem.

Here is "I've been wandering in the greenwoods" in its entirety:

I've been wandering in the greenwoods 
And mid flowery smiling plains 
I've been listening to the dark floods 
To the thrushes thrilling strains

I have gathered the pale primrose 
And the purple violet sweet 
I've been where the Asphodel grows 
And where lives the red deer fleet.

I've been to the distant mountain, 
To the silver singing rill 
By the crystal murmering fountain, 
And the shady verdant hill.

I've been where the poplar is springing 
From the fair Inamelled ground 
Where the nightingale is singing 
With a solemn plaintive sound.