by Charlotte Smith
To Melancholy Theme of Man and the Natural World
Smile, and the world smiles with you. Right? Well, the reverse also seems to be true. The speaker of "To Melancholy" is moping, and it seems that the whole world is moping along with her. There's a fancy-schmancy literary critical term for the sense that the outside world is feeling what you're feeling: it's called the pathetic fallacy. ("Pathetic" meaning "having to do with emotions and pathos," not "Wow, you tripped over your bowling shoe laces? That's pathetic.")
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- List all the instances in which the speaker personifies the natural world. What's the effect of this?
- Why is it important that the poem is set in autumn? Why is it set in the evening? How would your reading of the poem be different if it were set in the spring? Or in the morning?
- The epigraph of the poem tells us the date that the poem was written, and also that it was written on the banks of the river Arun. Why do you think it's important to know which river, in particular? Would it change your reading to imagine that it was a made-up river? Or is it important to realize that the poet sat by a specific river as she wrote "To Melancholy"?
- In the first line, the speaker says that Autumn is wearing a "veil," and the veil is "evening." It's an interesting and unexpected image. What kind of a clothing metaphor would you write for the other seasons? What kind of outfit would summer wear, do you think? Or winter? What about spring? Why?
Chew on This
Hands off! Charlotte Smith specifies the time and place that the poem was composed to limit the universality of "To Melancholy." In other words, the poem is her personal ode to melancholy. The specific time and place make it harder for readers to appropriate the poem.
Despite the specific details of time and place in "To Melancholy," the poem describes universal sensations that any reader can identify with. All together now: siiiigh.