Study Guide

To Melancholy Quotes

By Charlotte Smith

  • Sadness

    I love to listen to the hollow sighs (3)

    The speaker has odd taste, to say the least. She doesn't like listening to birds singing or the river babbling. Nope, she likes listening to the sighing of the wind. And these aren't just any sighs. They're hollow sighs. So the sighs are empty and devoid of meaning. This is one mopey speaker!

    Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
    As of night wanderers, who their woes bewail! (7-8)

    The speaker imagines that she can hear funny music on the wind, ghostly music. And check out all the alliteration in these lines: the repeated S of "strange sounds," the repeated M of "mournful melodies," and the repeated W of "wanderers who their woes bewail." Those letters in particular make a kind of windy, sighing sound. Appropriate for ghostly music, don't ya think?

    Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
    Pity's own Otway I methinks could meet,
    And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden'd wind! (9-11)

    The speaker imagines that she could meet the ghost of the poet Thomas Otway, since he grew up around these parts. What would the ghost of Thomas Otway be doing down by the river, anyway? What do all good poets do when they're down by the river? They sigh and feel melancholy, obviously.

    O Melancholy!--such thy magic power,
    That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
    And soothe the pensive visionary mind! (12-14)

    The speaker finally addresses melancholy directly here in the last few lines. She says that melancholy actually soothes her mind and soul when she's feeling pensive. Kind of like how we like to listen to sad songs on repeat when we're feeling mopey. The speaker doesn't have an iPod, so she just goes down to the river and listens to the sighing of the wind.

  • Man and the Natural World

    When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil (1)

    Huh, this is a funky metaphor: Autumn is personified as a woman who wears a veil. And in this metaphor, "evening" is the veil that Autumn wears.

    And the grey mists from these dim waves arise, (2)

    The fact that the grey mists are arising from the water makes it sound like the mists have agency, or a will of their own. The mists sound kind of creepy, if you ask us.

    I love to listen to the hollow sighs,
    Through the half-leafless wood that breathes the gale: (3-4)

    The mists aren't the only thing in Nature with agency, or a will of its own. The wind doesn't just blow. It "sighs" and "breathes" as though it were alive. It's like the whole natural world is agreeing with and sympathizing with the speaker's melancholy mood. How does that work?

  • Women and Femininity

    When latest Autumn spreads her evening veil (1)

    Hm. The season Autumn is getting personified as a lady wearing an "evening veil." People wear veils to hide themselves, or part of themselves. This is an odd way of describing the way darkness spreads at dusk during the fall months. It seems like no coincidence that a female poet, who was very self-conscious about how she was exposing herself to criticism for writing poetry at all, would include this image of a woman wearing a veil.

    Oft seems to fleet before the poet's eyes; (6)

    Charlotte Smith doesn't say "my eyes." Instead, she refers to herself in a kind of distanced and universal way as "the poet." It seems like she wants to emphasize the fact that she's a poet, and therefore has stuff in common with all other poets, male and female.

    Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
    Pity's own Otway I methinks could meet, (9-10)

    The speaker imagines that she might meet the ghost of the poet and playwright Thomas Otway (check out the "Best of the Web" for more info on him). He was a poet that Smith particularly admired, but it's important that he's a male poet. Smith seems to want her readers to think of her as part of a broader English poetic tradition, and not just as a lady poet.

  • The Supernatural

    For at such hours the shadowy phantom, pale,
    Oft seems to fleet before the poet's eyes; (5-6)

    Creepy times! We know from the epigraph to the poem that it was written in the month of October, and it doesn't take much imagination to figure it could very well have been written on Halloween. The speaker says that there's something about this particular day and hour that makes poets see ghosts. Ooooooooohhhhhhh!

    Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies,
    As of night wanderers, who their woes bewail! (7-8)

    This isn't Casper the Friendly Ghost, either. The speaker imagines that she sees grumpy ghosts who wander around, moaning and groaning. Sounds like a job for the Ghost Busters, but apparently the speaker kinda likes seeing these visions.

    Here, by his native stream, at such an hour,
    Pity's own Otway I methinks could meet,
    And hear his deep sighs swell the sadden'd wind! (9-11)

    In particular, the speaker imagines that she might see the ghost of Thomas Otway, a poet and playwright who lived in the late 1600s and grew up near the River Arun. Why do you think he might be haunting the river where he grew up? Maybe she likes to imagine that he used to get inspiration from looking at the same river that she likes to watch.

    O Melancholy!—such thy magic power,
    That to the soul these dreams are often sweet,
    And soothe the pensive visionary mind! (12-14)

    The speaker says that it's her melancholy mood that allows her to see these visions, and guess what? She actually likes it. What, haven't you ever listened to a sad song on repeat when you were having a crummy day?