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Analysis and Explanation of Love and Friendship Poem by Emily Brontë

It seems as if poets and authors with the name ‘Emily’ have a tough love-and-hate relationship with love. Emily Dickinson was on that list, and now, with the poem “Love and Friendship” by Emily Brontë, it would be right to add her as well. 

Emily Brontë has not written a lot of poetry. But the ones she wrote were very clear in terms of the message the poet wanted to give, and the feelings she wanted to express. 

In “Love and Friendship”, Emily Brontë makes a comparison between the two very similar (and often rivaled) relationships. She uses brilliant metaphors that convey her message without confusing the receiver.

Let’s take a look at the poem first and then at the detailed analysis, meaning, and theme of the poem. 

Love and Friendship

Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.

-Emily Brontë

Analysis and Meaning of the Poem

To make the analysis easier and better to understand, let’s look at each stanza separately and see what Emily Brontë is trying to express. 

Stanza 1: The Comparison

Love is like the wild rose-briar,

Friendship like the holly-tree—

The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms

But which will bloom most constantly?

The first stanza is where the poet turns to love and friendship into metaphors and then compares them. Love is said to be like a wild rose-briar while friendship is like a holly tree.

Using these physical, tangible flowers as metaphors helps in understanding what Emily Brontë thinks about the nature of these two emotions.

Love is like a wild, thorny rose, while friendship is a simple, mild holly tree. 

When the rose-briar blooms, the holly tree is dark. It means that when love takes over, people forget about friendship. The “bloom” of love is far more colorful than the pale friendship.

But that’s not what the poet wants to know. The poet wants to know which one amongst them will bloom most constantly. Which one of the blooms shall last the longest? The next stanza answers. 

Stanza 2: The Difference

The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,

Its summer blossoms scent the air;

Yet wait till winter comes again

And who will call the wild-briar fair?

Emily Brontë says that the wild rose-briar blooms and spreads colors and scent in the air during spring and summer. It is certainly more appealing when everything is warm and perfect. 

But when winter arrives, the bloom of the rose shivers and breaks. There is no rose to be seen when the chill takes over. 

The weather, just like the flowers, is used as a metaphor to portray a change in times. Summer and spring show happiness, warmth, and good times, whereas winter shows difficult, challenging times. 

While the wild roses bloom with vibrant radiance, it only lasts a few days when everything goes well. The moment things start getting tough and challenging, the color of roses fades away. 

Stanza 3; The Benefit

Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now

And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,

That when December blights thy brow

He still may leave thy garland green.

Now that the difference between the two flowers (and the relations) is established, we get to the benefit of having a friend than a lover. The dull redness of holly might not match the vibrant red of roses in the spring and summer. 

But when winter arrives and the rose wreath is nothing but a dull, dead wreath of thorns, one will look at the holly and the brilliant green color will adorn the dull and dark winter. 

As for the question of which of the two will bloom the longest, the answer is clear. But there’s more to this poem than what meets the eye. 

The Subtle Meaning of the Poem

At first read, it is very clear to see that Emily Brontë is saying that love will make the world look beautiful and your life full of happiness, but the effects are very short-lived. At the first arrival of tough times, the brittle appeal of love breaks. 

But the metaphors run deeper in this poem. Notice how in the end, Brontë says that the green of the holly tree will keep the colors in your life arrives when the blight of December takes over. There’s more meaning to it as well. 

When you compare love and friendship, the exciting part, the passion part of love is more appealing and exciting than friendship. The red color of wild roses is far more appealing than the red color of the holly tree.

The holly tree’s green represents the prosperity and consistency of friendship. It is not appealing as the red roses, but it does keep color in your life, no matter how cold the world gets. 

The subtleties don’t end here. When winter comes, and the bloom of roses withers, all that’s left behind is the painful remnant of something that uses to be beautiful. The wild roses have nothing but thorns left. 

This metaphor works perfectly well with the feeling that is left when love fails. The passion of love leaves a painful sting when it is gone, and that sting comes from the thorns that are left behind. 

From the colors to the thorns and the weather, everything in this poem works like a brilliant metaphor that has layers of meaning toward the relatively simple and common comparison of love and friendship. 

Theme 

The theme of “Love and Friendship” is the rivalry between two similar and comparable relationships of love and friendship. While love extends deeper and affects more, the effects last only for some time. 

Friendship, on the other hand, has a more subtle effect. It is not passionate, but it lasts much longer, and it stays strong even during difficult times. 

So does that make love not worth it? Perhaps this is what Emily Brontë was trying to convey, as she did not have a great experience with love in her life. Brontë was a recluse and she spent most of her time in her house. 

But this poem does not make “love” something negative or something that must always be ditched when there’s friendship. We think that this poem serves as a guide as to what to choose and how to choose. 

When it comes to love, if it is just a burning, passionate feeling of love, it is not going to last long. But if one can strengthen the passionate feeling of love with the consistency and strength of friendship, it will withstand any weather and last forever. 

So before you fall in love with someone, make sure there’s a strong foundation of friendship to reinforce and strengthen the love. 

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in the Poem are:

Enjambment– A few examples of enjambment from the poem include:

The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms

But which will bloom most constantly?

Yet wait till winter comes again

And who will call the wild-briar fair?

That when December blights thy brow

He still may leave thy garland green.

Metaphor– The poet turns Love and Friendship into metaphors and the compares them. It is through the flowers that we are able to understand the nature of the two emotions. For example:

Love is like the wild rose-briar,

Friendship like the holly-tree—

The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,

Its summer blossoms scent the air;

Alliteration– A few examples of alliteration are:

Love is like the wild rose-briar,

The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms

Yet wait till winter comes again

And who will call the wild-briar fair?

He still may leave thy garland green.

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