Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Charlotte Turner Smith: Sonnet Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex

Pressed by the Moon, mute arbitress of tides,

While the loud equinox its power combines,

The sea no more its swelling surge confines,

But o’er the shrinking land sublimely rides.

The wild blast, rising from the western cave,
 
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed;

Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,

And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!

With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore,

Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
 
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;

They hear the warring elements no more:

While I am doomed, by life’s long storm oppressed,

To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest. 

This poem is from Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes. England: Vols. I–IV.  1876–79. Edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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Charlotte Turner Smith

Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806) was an English Romantic poet and novelist. She initiated a revival of the English sonnet, helped establish the conventions of Gothic fiction, and wrote political novels of sensibility. A successful writer for decades, she published ten novels, three books of poetry, four children’s books, and other assorted works, over the course of her career. She saw herself as a poet first and foremost, poetry at that period being considered the most exalted form of literature. Scholars now credit her with transforming the sonnet into an expression of woeful sentiment. Although an important writer and poet, Smith had a difficult family life and died in poverty, largely forgotten.

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