Charlotte Smith, Sonnet XXI, "Supposed to be Written by Werther" (1786)

Go! cruel tyrant of the human breast
To other hearts, thy burning arrows bear;
Go, where fond hope, and fair illusion rest!
Ah! why should love inhabit with despair!
Like the poor maniac I linger here,
Still haunt the scene, where all my treasure lies;
Still seek for flowers, where only thorns appear,
"And drink delicious poison from her eyes!"
Tow'rds the deep gulph that opens on my flight
I hurry forward, passion's helpless salve!
And scorning reason's mild and sober light,
Pursue the path that leads me to the grave!
So round the flame the giddy insect flies,
And courts the fatal fire, by which it dies!

One of many poems written in response to The Sorrows of Young Werther (see also Anna Seward's work), five such sonnets appear in Smith's Elegiac Sonnets. Most of these poetic reader responses were composed by women (more in England than even in Goethe's Germany). Seen elsewhere in the literature of sensibility, we recognize in this sonnet the madness of the passionate which is accompanied by a complete loss of reason and rationality: in Smith's description, Werther metamorphosizes into an irrational animal -- a moth -- which lives solely by its senses. Yet, even as living through the senses and the passions leads to sure poisoning, sure madness and death, there is also a revelling in this state and a need to propagated it through more and more artistic production: Werther, for these female poets, is a tragic hero seeking, rather than "reason's mild and sober light," the grander, fatal flame.

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