Anna Seward, "Written in the Blank Page of the Sorrows of Werther" (1792)

O thou, who turnest this impassioned leaf,
Where Anguish claims the sympathetic grief,
If no relentless prejudice can bind
In stagnant frost the mercy of thy mind;
If thou shalt guess how hard to inflict the smart
Of icy absence on the glowing heart,
When all that charm'd the sense, th' affection won,
Dwells in that form, which prudence bids us shun;
That present, soothes each rankling woe to rest,
Departed, desolates the languid breast,
Then thou'lt lament, amidst thy virtuous blame,
The wretched victim of a baneful flame,
Where ill-starr'd Love its deadliest lightning shed
On the pale Suicide's devoted head,
And woes, that would no holier thought allow,
Threw ghastly shadows on the bleeding brow.--
Still, as thou weep'st their unresisted powers,
The virtues of the lost-one's happier hours
Shall o'er his fatal errors gently rise,
Live in thy heart, and consecrate thy sighs!
And for the soft compassion thou hast shown
For woes and frailties, to thy soul unknown,
For generous sympathy, which shines confest,
Eternal inmate of the noble breast,
Ne'er may embosom'd grief thine eye-lids dim,--
O! live to love, but not to mourn, like him!

The Sorrows of Young Werther sparked many such poems that fathomed the sentiments and lamented the suicide of the tragically sensibilious Werther (more in England than even in Germany). Seward's somewhat convoluted lines are unique in that they address the reader and defend the novel against immorality. (Is the "blank page" that the poem is "discovered on" the result of censureship?) The poem claims that if read poperly Werther's suicide serves a didactic purpose: "The virtues of the lost-one's happier hours/Shall o'ver his fatal errors gentle rise." These many poems on Werther (see also Charlotte Smith's lines on Werther under spirit) serve as another sort of contemporary reader response -- in this case, demonstrating how Werther may be read as a story of morality and virtue. This often seems to be the didactic mode of operation in the literature of sensibility; the novel's audience experience a communal, cathartic mourning which reminds them of the better virtues.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography