by Anna Seward
Behold that tree in autumn’s dim decay,
Stripped by the frequent chill and eddying wind;
Where yet some yellow lonely leaves we find
Lingering and trembling on the naked spray,
Twenty, perchance, for millions whirled away!
Emblem–alas too just!–of human kind:
Vain man expects longevity, designed
For few indeed; and their protracted day
–What is it worth that wisdom does not scorn?
The blasts of sickness, care, and grief appal,
That laid the friends in dust, whose natal morn
Rose near their own!–and solemn is the call;
Yet, like those weak, deserted leaves forlorn,
Shivering they cling to life and fear to fall.
Anna Seward had the good fortune to have a “room of one’s own” in every fashion that Virginia Wolf articulated brilliantly 150 years later. Anna was born into a liberal, relatively wealthy educated family and remained resolutely single her entire life. Her father Thomas Seward, was a clergyman who wrote the poem “The Female Right To Literature” in which he penned:
Come then, Athenia, freely let us scan
The coward insults of that tyrant, man.
Self-prais’d, and grasping at despotick pow’r,
He looks on slav’ry as the female dow’r;
Go Thomas! She inherited an income of 400 pounds a year after her father’s death and had the good sense to spend it on herself. She traveled in eclectic circles with Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, and Sir Walter Scott both close friends. Sir Walter Scott edited the complete anthology of her poetry in three volumes and oversaw it’s publishing following her death. Seward’s sonnets mix religious themes with the natural world or observations of everyday life. I have a feeling her Father and Sir Walter Scott would both be quite pleased that her poetry is still being read and enjoyed 200 years after her death.
Lucy Ashton’s Song
By Sir Walter Scott
Look not thou on beauty’s charming;
Sit thou still when kings are arming;
Taste not when the wine-cup glistens;
Speak not when the people listens;
Stop thine ear against the singer;
From the red gold keep thy finger;
Vacant heart and hand and eye,
Easy live and quiet die.