Charlotte Smith’s “Beachy Head” is an ode to the beauty and power of nature. This poem’s excerpt immediately establishes themes of natural grandeur by both personifying and deifying Nature; the narrator states they were “An early worshipper at Nature’s shrine / I loved her rudest scenes” (lines 346-347). These lines not only establish the immense importance of Nature, but also the beauty of Nature in its wildest state. As the narrator goes on to describe “unfrequented lanes,” “wild roses,” “uncultured flowers,” and numerous other natural miracles, they emphasize the beauty of Nature when it is untamed (lines 349, 350, 359). The narrator’s listing of wild flora culminates with the declaration that these flowers and grasses were “Fit crown for April’s fair but changeful brow” (line 367). The comparison of these natural elements to a crown emphasizes the beauty of Nature while also restating the royal or godlike importance of it. Additionally, by referencing April as a representation of Nature, the narrator links Nature to seasons and the passing of time – which is further reinforced by the mention of April’s “changeful brow” (line 367). Allusions to royalty continue throughout the poem; the narrator details “purple tassels,” “purple clouds,” and “purple haze” (line 351, 366, 487). The repetition of the color purple, which is commonly associated with royalty, carries connotations of majesty that reinforce the narrator’s belief in the power and importance of Nature.
The power and importance of Nature are themes that are expanded further, especially in relation to time. After discovering seashells on cliffs far above the sea, the narrator wonders at possible changes the landscape could have undergone that could explain this phenomenon. The narrator muses on natural changes that would have taken centuries to develop, though they eventually dismiss these theories as simple “conjecture,” seemingly concluding that Nature works on timelines that are too extensive to ever fully comprehend (line 393). The narrator’s deference to the power of Nature is further emphasized through their depictions of common people, each of whom are reliant on Nature for their livelihoods. These people work, “unheeding such inquiry” into Nature’s power, and not considering the “remains of men” that rest “deep beneath them” (lines 396, 402, 401). Rather than trying to comprehend the great power of Nature, they are simply grateful for what it gives them. This contrast between the working people and the bones and fossils buried deep beneath them reinforces Nature’s power and introduces the idea that everything will return to Nature eventually. While the contrast of humanity’s short lives to Nature’s long reign may seem bleak, the narrator seems to find this return to the natural world humbling and comforting. Though this poem exalts the beauty and power of Nature, it also understands that the passing of time will inevitably return everything to its wildest, most natural, and most beautiful state.