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robinson - the haunted beach

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Robinson: The Haunted Beach

The Haunted Beach appears in a collection which by it’s title ‘lyrical tale’ situates itself within the Romantic tradition of narrative poetry, and more specifically can be seen as a variation of the themes dealt with in several of the Lyrical ballads republished in 1800.

The poem conforms closely to a structure which emphasises the ‘na´ve’ aspect of the poem. The rhyme-scheme and in particular the inner rhyme as in scene/serene gives a tone of lively playfulness which lexically echoes the repeated line ‘the green billows played’ and is increasingly at odds with the subject. The alternation between the longer lines normally ending in feminine rhyme ‘scattered/shattered’ and monosyllabic rhymes contained within this frame ‘door/roar/shore’ is effective as the tempo of each stanza emphasises it’s beginning and close. 

The language and description, in keeping with the mystery of ‘a lonely haunted beach’ does not draw attention to the specifics of the landscape. The beach remains unnamed, unlike in ‘Beachy Head’ and what Abram’s sees as the typically romantic concentration on the specificity of a locale, this poem is concerned not with the egotistical sublime or with the poets memories, or experience but rather with creating images in the readers head, which build up from a description of a scene to a story. 

The lyrical element is combined with the drama of suspense and building to a climax which is delayed in the closing off each stanza and the sense of enjoyment in the present-moment description. In a sense the constant use of adjectives to ‘sombre patch’ ‘chalky shore’ in its sensory emphasis is reminiscent of Keats’s later preoccupation with senses: as he famously commented ‘oh for a life of sensations rather than one of thought’. This seems typically romantic in its emphasis on passion/feeling as opposed to reason, however in recent years critics have seen the age of reason simply defined as problematic, and some have seen even Pope’s archetypically perfect couplet as a smokescreen to allow him to ‘snatch a grace.’ His description of the sylphs for example in Rape of the Lock is very far from ‘what oft was thought’ and has been compared in its sensory emphasis to Keats.

The atmospheric description in Robinson’s poem as well as its theme however perhaps links it more immediately to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. The still summer ocean line is reminiscent of Coleridge’s ‘a painted ocean’ and both are an indication of the supernatural, a hushed moment in the usually unceasing ‘deafening roar’. 

This conjunction of the natural and the supernatural is typical in Romantic poetry, as is the appearance of shades and spectres both metaphorical as part of the imagination and as in this case literal and very substantial. The benign and terrifying aspects of nature are juxtaposed in ‘moaning wind’ and ‘summer ocean’ however here the ‘ghastly crowd’ is not a cautionary exemplum as in Parnell’s A Night Piece on Death. As the end reveals it is not the beach that it haunted and not the spectres gliding hand in hand who haunt it. The hermit figure, of the fisherman in his ‘lone shed’ like the woman in the Thorn seems to be part of the romantic depiction of characters who live close to nature and who are witness to its sublime truths. This ‘mystification’ of nature and the supernatural is de-sublimated in the abrupt revelation of the murdered man ‘with ten wide gashes on his head’. The following line to ‘deep was made his sandy bed’ reads back ‘ten wide’ as the murdered man is returned to the earth and the sea, like the ghost’s ‘hammock shroud’. 

The little shed which in the begining is described in personified terms ‘up reared it’s head’ is returned to in the end, when it is shown to be not part of the natural law or withstanding it but wholly outside and transient, the low door is covered.

This can be read as part of gendering of landscape in the poem. Mellor’s argument that the romantic poets appropriated the feminine and saw nature as an aid for their imagination is in Richardson’s reading of the Prelude part of the depiction of the imaginative man as essentially maternal. Robinson’s poem covertly undermines this, in her use of feminine and masculine rhyme as well as in her use of natural imagery. For example in the crags which are bound with weeds, ‘forever waving’ like the billows forever playing, the jutting cliff ‘wrapped’ in shade, the slanting sand all depict the immortality of a nature gendered female but also shifting and elusive. This celebration of play can been seen as an enactment of Robinson’s enclosing a subversive rereading in the terms of a lyrical tale whose ending reveals it is not a poem intended for children. The sea birds ‘craving’ the spectres with their faces, like princesses white as ‘snow’ looking to the sky ‘as though they pondered’ and finally the curlews ‘screaming’ can be seen as representations of female nature denied and then finally breaking "with furious roar" "the low door". 

While the murdered man is laid, the green billows still play 

written: 2007
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