Chawton House Poetry Challenge

Hail! Goddess of persuasive art!

The magic of whose tuneful tongue

Lulls to soft harmony the wand’ring heart

With fascinating song

Mary Robinson, ‘Ode to Eloquence’ (1789)


Calling all budding poets – beginners and experts alike! Over the next four weeks, we invite you to join us for a weekly poetry-writing challenge.

Each Friday at noon we will post one of our favourite poems by a woman writer in our collection, and invite you to try your hand at imitating its style. Over the week, we will be logging in to provide you with some starter challenges and tips to help develop and hone your skills on our brand new forum. You are then invited to share your poems there, or, if you’re a little shy, to email them directly to us at with Poetry Challenge in your subject title. Our favourite poems will be credited each week, and published in the next issue of The Female Spectator, due out this summer.

For Week 1, we are inviting you to step into Mary Robinson’s shoes, and to play with pace and sound. Celebrity actress, popular novelist, and poet, Robinson had an immensely productive career, publishing four collections of poetry, seven novels, a play, two political tracts, a translation, and countless individual poems in the last decade of her life alone. She wrote for various magazines under different pseudonyms, including Oberon, Tabitha Bramble, and her initials, M. R. According to her posthumous Memoirs, completed by her daughter (also Mary), she penned 74 poems in the last year of her life alone, and this week’s poem, which first appeared in the Morning Post in 1800, was one of those.

We love ‘The Camp’ (published by ‘Oberon’) for its fast-paced comedy and evocation of the chaos of an army encampment, but also for its attention to detail and its inclusiveness – all manner of people, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, are found here.

[Reading by Clio O’Sullivan]

Tents, marquees, and baggage waggons;
Suttling-houses, beer in flagons;
Drums and trumpets, singing, firing;
Girls seducing, beaux admiring;
Country lasses gay and smiling,
City lads their hearts beguiling;
Dusty roads, and horses frisky,
Many an Eton Boy in whisky;
Tax’d carts full of farmers’ daughters;
Brutes condemn’d, and man who slaughters!
Public-houses, booths, and castles,
Belles of fashion, serving vassals;
Lordly gen’rals fiercely staring,
Weary soldiers, sighing, swearing!
Petit-maitres always dressing,
In the glass themselves caressing;
Perfum’d, painted, patch’d, and blooming
Ladies—manly airs assuming!
Dowagers of fifty, simp’ring,
Misses for their lovers whimp’ring;
Husbands drill’d to household tameness;
Dames heart sick of wedded sameness.
Princes setting girls a-madding,
Wives for ever fond of gadding;
Princesses with lovely faces,
Beauteous children of the Graces!
Britain’s pride and virtue’s treasure,
Fair and gracious beyond measure!
Aid-de-camps and youthful pages,
Prudes and vestals of all ages!
Old coquets and matrons surly,
Sounds of distant hurly-burly!
Mingled voices, uncouth singing,
Carts full laden, forage bringing;
Sociables and horses weary,
Houses warm, and dresses airy;
Loads of fatten’d poultry; pleasure
Serv’d (to nobles) without measure;
Doxies, who the waggons follow;
Beer, for thirsty hinds to swallow;
Washerwomen, fruit-girls cheerful,
Ancient ladies—chaste and fearful!!
Tradesmen, leaving shops, and seeming
More of war than profit dreaming;
Martial sounds and braying asses,
Noise, that ev’ry noise surpasses!
All confusion, din, and riot,
Nothing clean—and nothing quiet.


This week, we are looking for fast-paced poems with

  • A pseudonym
  • Description of a scene packed with detail
  • Rhyming couplets


Good luck & we look forward to reading your Robinson-inspired lines!