‘Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening’ is a sonnet by one of the great proto-Romantic poets of the second half of the eighteenth century, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806). Smith’s sonnets anticipate Romanticism partly because nature in her poetry is so often feared with an awesome power that verges on the terrifying: ‘life’s long darkling way’ is brooding and full of menace here.
Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening
Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night on 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
Misled the pilgrim–such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends in life’s long darkling way.
If you enjoyed ‘Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening’, you might also like Smith’s sonnet on being cautioned against walking on a headland.