In the 1790s, the Paris salon of Helen Maria Williams was the meeting place
of many writers and intellectuals. Her Letters from France, published between
1790 and 1815, were important and widely read accounts of Revolutionary
and post-Revolutionary events. Some of her sonnets first appeared in her
novel Julia (1790) and in her translation of Bernardin St. Pierre's Paul et
Virginie (1795).William Wordsworth could recite from memory her sonnet
“To Hope, ” and his earliest published poem was entitled “Sonnet, on Seeing
Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress” (1787).
Meek Twilight! soften the declining day,
And bring the hour my pensive spirit loves;
When, o'er the mountain slow descends the ray
That gives to silence the deserted groves.
Ah, let the happy court the morning still,
When, in her blooming loveliness arrayed,
She bids fresh beauty light the vale, or hill,
And rapture warble in the vocal shade.
Sweet is the odor of the morning's flower,
And rich in melody her accents rise;
Yet dearer to my soul the shadowy hour,
At which her blossoms close, her music dies—
For then, while languid nature droops her head,
She wakes the tear 'tis luxury to shed.
Oh, ever skilled to wear the form we love!
To bid the shapes of fear and grief depart,
Come, gentle Hope! with one gay smile remove
The lasting sadness of an aching heart.
Thy voice, benign enchantress! let me hear;
Say that for me some pleasures yet shall bloom!
That fancy's radiance, friendship's precious tear,
Shall soften, or shall chase, misfortune's gloom.—
But come not glowing in the dazzling ray
Which once with dear illusions charmed my eye!
Oh strew no more, sweet flatterer! on my way
The flowers I fondly thought too bright to die.
Visions less fair will soothe my pensive breast,
That asks not happiness, but longs for rest!