1798 | London

Light Surf on Level Sand

Observing a port on a dark evening.

Huge vapors brood above the clifted shore,
Night over the ocean settles, dark and mute;
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch relieved; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding, “Strike the bell!”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Marked by the light surf on the level sand;
Or where afar the ship lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim: such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends in life’s long darkling way.


Charlotte Smith

“Huge Vapors Brood Above the Clifted Shore.” Married at the age of fifteen in 1765, Smith gave birth to twelve children between 1766 and 1785, six of whom survived her. To keep the family afloat while her husband was in debtors’ prison and her inheritance was held in dispute, she published a volume of poetry in 1784; it was a success. Smith published her first novel, Emmeline, the Orphan of the Castle, in 1788, followed by nine others over the next ten years, among them The Old Manor House and The Banished Man.