Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the wither’d rose,
And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
Like the young hours that lead the tender year,
Enchantress! come, and charm my cares to rest:—
Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo!—the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
“For me the vernal garland blooms no more.”
Come then, “pale Misery’s love!” be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who, tho’ slow, art sure.
Charlotte Smith published “To Hope” as a part of her collection of poems she called “Elegiac Sonnets.” She basically blends together two types of poetic form: the elegy, or a sad, mournful poem, and the sonnet, which is traditionally a love poem. By combining the sonnet form with the elegy, Smith made a revolutionary move in poetry for 1786, when the only sonnets most readers were familiar with had been written a couple of centuries before, by William Shakespeare and by the Italian poet Petrarch. Charlotte Smith pretty much single-handedly re-popularized the sonnet form, even if she’s a largely forgotten poet today.
A sonnet is a 14-line poem that is usually, but not always, in iambic pentameter. Also, a sonnet is usually, but not always, about love. (“To Hope” is an exception to this.) Now, there are two types of traditional sonnets. The original is the Petrarchan sonnet, which was invented by the Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch. William Shakespeare imported the sonnet form to England, and he changed it up a bit.
So, Charlotte Smith had a choice: she could use the imported English (a.k.a. Shakespearean) sonnet form, or she could go to the roots of the form and use the Petrarchan sonnet. She chose Petrarch—maybe because she wanted to re-popularize the form in England, but didn’t want to do it in the same way that Shakespeare did.