1797.11 - "The Female Exile"

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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1797.11
The Female Exile
Charlotte Smith
The European Magazine, XXXII (October 1797), p. 264
The Scots Magazine, LIX (November 1797), p. 842

Written at Brighthelmstone, in Nov. 1792.

November's chill blast on the rough beach
                        is howling,
    The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the
                        shore,
Dark clouds o'er the sea gather heavy and
                        scowling,
    And the white cliffs re'echo the wild wintry
                        roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger re-
                        clining
    Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely
                        seat;
Her eyes fill'd with tears, and her heart with
                        repining,
    She starts at the billows that burst at
                        her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart
                        heaving,
    She watches the waves where they mingle
                        with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes
                        deceiving,
    May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing
                        tresses,
    Once woven with garlands of gay summer
                        flowers;
Her dress unregarded bespeaks her distresses,
    And beauty is blighted by grief's heavy
                        hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
    To seek the gloss'd shell or the crimson
                        weed stray,
Amus'd with the present, they heed not to-
                        morrow,
    Nor think of the storm that is gathering
                        today.

The gilt, fairyship, with its ribbon-sail
                       spreading,
    They launch on the salt-pool the tide
                        left behind;
Ah! victims—for whom their sad mother is
                        dreading
    The multiplied mis'ries that wait on
                        mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them, with
                        anguish,
    Now wand'rers with her on a once hostile
                        soil,
Perhaps doom'd for life in chill penury to
                        languish,
    Or abject dependence, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors
                        renewing,
    O'er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin,
    All breathless with haste, half-expiring with
                        fears.

Poor mourner!—I would that my fortune had
                        left me
    The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But, like thine, my hard fate has of affluence
                        bereft me,
     I can warm the cold heart of the wretched
                        no more.[1]


Notes

1. [Author's note]: "This little Poem, of which a sketch first appeared in blank verse in a poem called "The Emigrants," was suggested by the sight of the group it attempts to describe—a French Lady and her children."

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Published @ RC

September 2004