Saturday, July 20, 2013

And Listen to the Deep and Solemn Roar

Written on the Sea Shore, Oct. 1784.
by Charlotte Turner Smith

On some rude fragment of the rocky shore,
Where on the fractured cliff the billows break,
Musing, my solitary seat I take,
And listen to the deep and solemn roar.

O'er the dark waves the winds tempestuous howl;
The screaming sea-bird quits the troubled sea:
But the wild gloomy scene has charms for me,
And suits the mournful temper of my soul.

Already shipwreck'd by the storms of Fate,
Like the poor mariner methinks I stand,
Cast on a rock; who sees the distant land
From whence no succour comes--or comes too late.
Faint and more faint are heard his feeble cries,
Till in the rising tide the exhausted sufferer dies.

Like all of Charlotte Turner Smith's Elegiac Sonnets, this is not exactly cheerful. On the other hand, she put the Elegiac Sonnets together while in debtor's prison with her profligate and violent husband, so expecting cheerful would not be entirely reasonable. No doubt life at the time did feel like it had something of the frantic but inevitable doom of a rising tide coming to drown a man who can see the shore but never reach it. The Elegiac Sonnets marks an important point in the history of English poetry, though, since Smith's use of the sonnet showed Romantic poets like Wordsworth the potential of the form, which is why she is often considered the first significant Romantic poet writing in English.

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