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A Descriptive Ode

Charlotte Smith 1749 (London) – 1806 (Tilford, Surrey)



Supposed to have been written under the Ruins of
Rufus's Castle, among the remains of the ancient
Church on the Isle of Portland.
CHAOTIC pile of barren stone,
That Nature's hurrying hand has thrown,
Half finish'd, from the troubled waves;
On whose rude brow the rifted tower
Has frown'd, through many a stormy hour,
On this drear site of tempest-beaten graves.
Sure Desolation loves to shroud
His giant form within the cloud
That hovers round thy rugged head;
And as through broken vaults beneath,
The future storms low-muttering breathe,
Hears the complaining voices of the dead.
Here marks the fiend with eager eyes,
Far out at sea the fogs arise
That dimly shade the beacon'd strand,
And listens the portentous roar
Of sullen waves, as on the shore,
Monotonous, they burst and tell the storm at hand.
Northward the demon's eyes are cast
O'er yonder bare and sterile waste,
Where, born to hew and heave the block,
Man, lost in ignorance and toil,
Becomes associate to the soil,
And his heart hardens like his native rock.

On the bleak hills, with flint o'erspread,
No blossoms rear the purple head;
No shrub perfumes the zephyrs' breath,
But o'er the cold and cheerless down
Grim desolation seems to frown,
Blasting the ungrateful soil with partial death.
Here the scathed trees with leaves half-dress'd,
Shade no soft songster's secret nest,
Whose spring-notes soothe the pensive ear;
But high the croaking cormorant flies,
And mews and hawks with clamorous cries
Tire the lone echoes of these caverns drear.
Perchance among the ruins grey
Some widow'd mourner loves to stray,
Marking the melancholy main
Where once, afar she could discern
O'er the white waves his sail return
Who never, never now, returns again!
On these lone tombs, by storms up-torn,
The hopeless wretch may lingering mourn,
Till from the ocean, rising red,
The misty moon with lurid ray
Lights her, reluctant, on her way,
To steep in tears her solitary bed.
Hence the dire spirit oft surveys
The ship, that to the western bays
With favouring gales pursues its course;
Then calls the vapour dark that blinds
The pilot,--calls the felon winds
That heave the billows with resistless force.
Commixing with the blotted skies,
High and more high the wild waves rise,
Till, as impetuous torrents urge,
Driven on yon fatal bank accursed
The vessel's massy timbers burst,
And the crew sinks beneath the infuriate surge.
There find the weak an early grave,
While youthful strength the whelming wave
Repels; and labouring for the land,

With shorten'd breath and upturn'd eyes,
Sees the rough shore above him rise,
Nor dreams that rapine meets him on the strand.
And are there then in human form
Monsters more savage than the storm,
Who from the gasping sufferer tear
The dripping weed?--who dare to reap
The inhuman harvest of the deep,
From half-drown'd victims whom the tempests spare?
Ah, yes! by avarice once possess'd,
No pity moves the rustic breast;
Callous he proves--as those who haply wait
Till I (a pilgrim weary worn)
To my own native land return,
With legal toils to drag me to my fate!

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

2:42 min read
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Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Turner Smith 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, 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. more…

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