Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening

by Charlotte Smith
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How does Smith’s poem "Written Near a Port on a Dark Evening" explore feelings of ambivalence?

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Throughout Smith’s poem, the speaker expresses seemingly contradictory, or ambivalent feelings. For example, the poem opens with a very ominous tone. There are “huge vapours brooding,” and the night is settling “dark and mute.” These images connote perhaps fear or foreboding on the speaker’s part, and also perhaps a sense of resignation or listlessness. Later in the poem, these impressions are compounded by the line, “all is black shadow.”

However, there is also evidence in the poem that the speaker has more positive, hopeful feelings. For example, there is, within the blackness but piercing through it, a “lucid line / Marked by the light surf on the level sand.” This image connotes a more peaceful, tranquil mood. The “lucid line” also suggests a line of light, created by the foaming waves, and light often symbolizes hope and clarity. The image of the “level sand” also suggests peacefulness, in stark contrast to the restlessness implied by earlier images such as, “repercussive roar,” and “vapours brood.” There is also more light images a little later in the poem, with the “ship-lights” that “faintly shine / Like wandering fairy fires.” These lights seem to be beacons of hope, potentially guiding the speaker through and out of the settling darkness.

Overall, the speaker’s feelings of ambivalence are conveyed through a juxtaposition of language which, on the one hand suggests darkness and restlessness, and on the other suggests light and peacefulness. The speaker seems to be in an emotionally troubling place, and is thus brooding and fearful, but she also has reason for hope, and can see, as it were, a little light in the darkness. This light she calls, at the end of the poem, “a dubious light.” In other words, she is hopeful, but not convinced that the light she sees can lead her out of the darkness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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