Charlotte Smith

Charlotte Turner Smith’s The Swallow & Love and Folly.

Charlotte Turner Smith wrote her poem The Swallow in 1797. The main theme of the poem is about the beauty and mystery of nature. The narrator describes the unknown migration path of a Swallow as an escape to exotic places. The narrator uses events, diction, imagery, and symbols to express the theme.

The main event in The Swallow is the narrator looking at the swallow on a spring day. The narrator listens to the bird, “let my ear your music catch,” and wonders where the bird came from? The narrator is curious of where the bird has traveled and is jealous of the bird’s freedom to fly away. The narrator thinks “I wish I did his power possess, That I might learn, fleet bird, from thee, What our vain systems only guess, And know from what wide Wilderness You came across the sea.” Another line that suggest that the narrator desire for agency to escape is the imagery of “I saw her dash with rapid wings.” The words dash and rapid imply speed and control in the bird’s movement. “In Afric” and “in Asia” symbolizes exotic places that the bird could have visited and places the narrator wants to escape to. In the view of the narrator the possibilities of where the bird could fly are endless and mysterious. “I would enquire how journeying long, The vast and pathless ocean o’er.” The narrator thinks about what she would communicate with the bird if they could communicate. Birds travel to warm locations when the winter comes. The narrator fined this beautiful as well. “Thus lost to life, what favouring dream Bids you to happier hour awake; And tells, that dancing in the beam.” These lines suggest that the birds have a happy and free life because they don’t experience the cold harsh winters that the narrator does. The idea that birds don’t experience cold winters symbolizes that the birds are untouched by pain and suffering. The beam is a symbol of light, warmth and happiness. The last stanza of the poem is a comment on the limits on science in understanding nature. “Alas! How little can be known, Her sacred veil where nature draws; let baffled Science humbly own, Her mysteries understood alone, By Him who gives her laws.” The narrator is expressing the mysteries of nature can’t by explain by nature because the freedom and innocence of the bird was given to the bird by God. He is a reference to God and describing science as humble shows that science is limited in its explanations.

The focus on a Swallow symbolizes the narrator’s and Smith’s desire for freedom and happiness. Smith suffered from depression her entire adult life and desired happiness. The migrating bird that only experiences happiness could be a symbol for Smith’s personal desire for happiness in her own life. Charlotte Smith was a feminist that rejected the idea of domestic felicity. The freedom of the bird and it’s happiness dependent on its freedom could be a symbol of Smith’s rejection of the idea the women should gain happiness from staying in the home. Smith wanted to have the happiness and freedom she identified in the bird.

Charlotte Smith wrote the poem Love and Folly about the foolishness and suffering that is part of falling in love. She used allusion to roman mythology to express the theme of the foolishness of love. There are many references to cupid in the poem with the lines of “ill thrown, yet resistless darts,” “thoughtless child,” and “mischievous malignant boy.” These character description make cupid a careless match maker that doesn’t know or care what he is doing to people. “Hapless mortals can’t withstand them,” (Cupid’s arrows). The narrator believes that everyone will be affected by cupid. The narrator believes that Cupid wasn’t always so careless, “once less cruel and perverse.” The narrator believes that love will turn to suffering, “Loud and more loud the quarrels grow…For Folly’s rage is prompt to rise.” Cupid is matching up carelessly and love turns into hate. A suffering Venus, goddess of love, prays to the God of the gods, Jove, to kill Cupid. “The wild with anguish Venus pray’d, For vengeance on the idiot’s head, And begg’d of cloud-compelling Jove, His swiftest lightening, to destroy, The mischievous malignant boy That blinded love.” Venus believed that Cupid had destroyed love by forcing it on people and making love blind. Jove denied Venus’s request and Cupid continues to strike people with his arrows and make them fall in love. Jove said, “For Love, tho blind, will reign around The world.” The foolishness of love will remain and lovers will quarrel. Another theme of the poem, which is related to Smith’s life, is that people get trapped in harmful relationships. Smith was in an abusive marriage. Cupid traps people in love matches by careless shooting his love darts and these relationships start of good, but then become toxic. This idea could be a personal reflection of Smith’s own ideas about love and marriage. Smith could identify with Venus and her prayer for the freeing of victims of Cupid and the death of foolish and harmful relationships.

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Charlotte Turner Smith

Charlotte Turner Smith wrote romantic poetry, gothic fiction and political novels. She was born on May 4th, 1749 and died on October 28th, 1806. Smith had three books of poetry published in the late 1700s and early 1800s. She also wrote novels and children books. She had liberal political beliefs and supported the French Revolution. Charlotte Smith suffered from depression and anxiety due to her life circumstances. She married Benjamin Smith, who was unreliable finically and acted violently towards her. Her family sold her to him at the age of 15. He was the son of slave owning West India merchant. Due to the physical violence, she legally separated from her husband in 1787. She wrote to gain respect and financial security. Smith referred to her writing as slavery because she felt like she needed to work to survive. She lost her first 3 children and only had one surviving child. The death of her children before their birth was a source of melancholy that her poems are known for. Mary Wollstonecraft criticized Smith for copying other’s work, which was popular during the romantic era. She claimed that Smith imitated neoclassical art in order to be successful.
Smith’s depression caused her desire for privacy and solitude. She believed solitude was a state worth cultivating. She claimed that some of her poems were never meant to be published because they were products of her melancholy personal moments. Her personal poems were about memories, meditative states, dreams, sexuality and madness. She believed that poems were results of the body’s lived experiences. Smith used imagery of the heart to examine sensibility and sympathy in the human experience. She was heartbroken and lonely throughout her life, but was aware of others’ suffering. She believed that the poet could only rely on poetry and nature.

Smith, like Wordsworth, was known for her style of hybrid poems. She combined lyrical ballads and elegiac sonnets. . She created a new form of poetry. Smith would write an elegiac sonnet and conclude with a lyrical ballad. She used 14 lines with a single sentiment knowing that readers that read well would understand. She mixed rhyme schemes and structures.
Charlotte Smith was politically radical and supported the French Revolution. Smith believed in the revolution for potential for social transformation and freeing the culture from the bondage of tradition and prejudices. She believed women play an important role in forming a democracy because women are disenfranchised, along with the lower class. She believed the French Revolution came out of anger at the crimes of France against its own people and saw the British Monarchy committing the same crimes. Smith was against the institutional hierarchy of privilege and power. She desired major political and social reform.
Charlotte Smith was a feminist and was influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the rights of woman. Smith believed that she was creating a space for women’s political opinions by writing. She published her work to raise public awareness for issues she believed in and promote revolutionary politics. Her writing addressed issues of liberty, justice, and national identity. She wrote about the connection of public and private space and it’s relation to the suffering of woman. Smith believed woman’s suffering came from external factors opposed to internal factors. Her feminist writings focused on the idea of domestic felicity. She disagreed with the idea that woman should find bliss in taking care of the home because a woman’s bliss is destroyed by economic and political violence, and physical violence committed against woman by husbands. Her experiences with sexual violence caused her depression and influenced her writing.
Smith was a humanist. She conceptualized human nature over cultural limitations of nationalism. Smith believed that the power of human sentiment could be more powerful that governments and religion, and could transcend past boarders. But, she also acknowledged the duel nature of exile and liberty in being a citizen of the world. Over time, she became very pessimistic about the state of political justice in Britain. She idealized nature and dreamed of alternative, utopian, multicultural communities. Smith criticized the creation patriarchal hierarchies and slave economies in the New World because it was a failure to escape oppression.