To the Poppy

Anna Seward

Edited by Jack Lynch

Seward is doing at least two novel things in this poem: first, she is part of a revival of the sonnet form; second, she plays with the conventional poetic addresses to roses and turns her attention to a different red flower, the poppy — the source of opium, which was legal and widely available at the end of the eighteenth century.

The poem was probably written around 1789, but first appeared in print in Original Sonnets on Various Subjects; and Odes Paraphrased from Horace (1799), the source of this text.

Sonnet LXXI.
To the Poppy

While Summer Roses all their glory yield
   To crown the Votary of Love and Joy, votary = someone devoted
   Misfortune’s Victim hails, with many a Sigh,
   Thee, scarlet Poppy of the pathless field,
Gaudy, yet wild and lone; no leaf to shield [5]
   Thy flaccid vest, that, as the gale blows high, flaccid = drooping
   Flaps, and alternate folds around thy head.— alternate = by turns
   So stands in the long grass a love-craz’d Maid,
Smiling aghast; while stream to every wind aghast = shocked
   Her gairish ribbons, smear’d with dust and rain; [10] gairish = showy
   But brain-sick visions cheat her tortur’d mind,
And bring false peace. Thus, lulling grief and pain,
   Kind dreams oblivious from thy juice proceed, oblivious = forgetful; juice = opium
   Thou flimsy, shewy, melancholy weed. shewy = showy