Chawton House Poetry Challenge Week 3

Harmonious Powers with Nature work

On sky, earth, river, lake, and sea:

Sunshine and storm, whirlwind and breeze

All in one duteous task agree.

Dorothy Wordsworth ‘Floating Island’ (late 1820s)

It’s Week 3 of our poetry 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.

We enjoyed reading last week’s sonnet submissions, which all took up Charlotte Smith’s springtime and melancholy themes. An elegy to youth, a mournful account of a blooming springtime field out of step with isolated humanity, and a beautiful Italian-language sonnet on ‘Primavera’ were read with admiration. The laurels this week go to Emily Lovelock, who impressed us with a very accomplished, and very eighteenth-century sonnet that we look forward to sharing with you in the next Female Spectator.

If you are still working on your Robinson or Smith impressions, you can submit your poem any time before this challenge ends on 15th May.


Week 3 is nature week, which will pick up on a theme we opened up last week with Smith’s late spring sonnet.

Female poets in the eighteenth century often include minute, everyday details in their poetry, and the natural world is one of the sources of such details, with Jane Barker writing botanical poetry in the early period, Anna Letitia Barbauld writing about space travel and detailing the night sky, or Charlotte Smith cataloguing 25 bird species and 26 plant species in her poem Beachy Head.

Our example this week is from an American poet, Ann Eliza Bleecker (1752-83), who wrote poetry about her experience of abandoning and then returning to her family home, Tomhanick, in upstate New York, during the turbulent years of the American War of Independence. Her poetry was collected and published posthumously in 1793. In this poem, ‘Return to Tomhanick’, her detailed list of 20 plants symbolizes her hope for the renewal of Spring, tempered with an understanding that this renewal will also have its end as the seasons turn once more.


Return to Tomhanick
HAIL, happy shades! Tho’ clad with heavy snows, 
At sight of you with joy my bosom glows;
Ye arching pines, that bow with every breeze,
Ye poplars, elms, all hail my well-known trees!
And now my peaceful mansion strikes my eye,
And now the tinkling rivulet I spy;
My little garden, Flora, hast thou kept,
And watch’d my pinks and lilies while I wept?
Or has the grubbing swine, by furies led,
Th’ enclosure broke, and on my flowrets fed?
  Ah me! that spot with blooms so lately grac’d,
With storms and driving snows is now defac’d;
Sharp icicles from ev’ry bush depend,
And frosts all dazzling o’er the beds extend:
Yet soon fair Spring shall give another scene,
And yellow cowslips gild the level green;
My little orchard sprouting at each bough,
Fragrant with clust’ring blossoms deep shall glow:
Ah! then ’tis sweet the tufted grass to tread,
But sweeter slumb’ring is the balmy shade;
The rapid humming bird, with ruby breast,
Seeks the parterre with early blue bells drest,
Drinks deep the honeysuckle dew, or drives
The lab’ring bee to her domestic hives:
Then shines the lupin bright with morning gems,
And sleepy poppies nod upon their stems;
The humble violet and the dulcet rose,
The stately lily then, and tulip blows.
  Farewell, my Plutarch! farewell, pen and Muse!
Nature exults—shall I her call refuse?
Apollo fervid glitters in my face,
And threatens with his beam each feeble grace:
Yet still around the lovely plants I toil,
And draw obnoxious herbage from the soil;
Or with the lime-twigs little birds surprise,
Or angle for the trout of many dyes.
  But when the vernal breezes pass away,
And loftier Phœbus darts a fiercer ray,
The spiky corn then rattles all around,
And dashing cascades give a pleasing sound;
Shrill sings the locust with prolonged note,
The cricket chirps familiar in each cot.
The village children, rambling o’er yon hill,
With berries all their painted baskets fill,
They rob the squirrel’s little walnut store,
And climb the half exhausted tree for more;
Or else to fields of maize nocturnal hie,
Where hid, th’elusive water-melons lie;
Sportive, they make incisions in the rind,
The riper from the immature to find;
Then load their tender shoulders with the prey,
And laughing bear the bulky fruit away.


Whilst this poem is in rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, this week, the form is up to you. We are looking for poetry containing:

  • A nature theme
  • A list of related objects found in the natural world (e.g. types of birds, flowers, weather)
  • Evidence of more than one sense – sight, smell, touch, taste, sound


Good luck & we look forward to reading your take on Bleecker’s garden!