Beachy Head

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. 

4 thoughts on “Beachy Head”

  1. I love how you highlighted the flowers from this poem as an important point to notice. As I look back on the flowers and how you were thinking of them in their most natural state, I’m also interested in how Charlotte Smith also sees immense beauty in the imperfection of that nature. She writes that her speaker is a lover of the “rudest scenes,” “uncultured flowers,” and “unfrequented lanes” in the first 30 lines of the excerpt in the book (297). Her speaker is not only a lover of the imperfect, but “An early worshipper at Nature’s shrine,” which makes me think that the speaker sees nature’s imperfections in herself and her human loves and takes great comfort in that mirrored picture (297).

  2. This is such an interesting analysis! I specifically enjoy how you point out and analyze the divine and royal imagery associated with Nature. In a lot of these Romantic poems, Nature seems to be personified and defied into the greatest of all things. With nature standing in for God and the royals, how exactly does that challenge the hierarchy of power during this period? Do you think that the writers literally thought of Nature as the new God, or do you think it is simply metaphorical to show how much nature effects our author? It may be interesting to compare to how Wordsworth describes Nature in “Lines Written in Early Spring”…

  3. I really like your analysis here, especially when drawing on Smith’s use of colors. I think Smith’s use of colors in general is very interesting and play a big role in her imagery. I agree with your point on the repetition of the color purple. When rereading the poem I noticed that Smith also references yellow/gold multiple times throughout the poem. I especially think her inclusions of gold also help create this idea that Nature is powerful because the color is associated with luxury and wealth.

  4. I really loved your points about the importance of nature as its own untamed being. I think that this really emphasizes the ideas in the poem about the life of nature. I also noticed in relation to your points, that there is a heavy use of personification in this poem. For example in line 350, the “clasping woodbine” paints this picture of a human trait on a woodbine, gripping tight to the wild roses because every living part of nature is one. I think that your points about the untamed being of nature really emphasize the necessity of life and recognizing life within nature in every aspect. Every single woodbine or stem of a rose.

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