But far, far happier is the lot of those
Who never learn’d her dear delusive art;
Which, while it decks the head with many a rose,
Reserves the thorn, to fester in the heart.
Charlotte Smith’s poetry is tinged with bitterness, some slight anger, and an appropriate amount of nature references, earning her place amongst the great Romantic writers. These four lines from Sonnet 1: The Partial Muse capture her bitterness towards the manipulative muse that forced genius onto her. These lines reveal that Smith feels burdened by her genius, and that it would be better to be simple-minded rather than filled with inspiration. This moment in the poem is significant because while it shows Smith’s appreciation for her genius, it also shows her intense bitterness towards her brilliance and her inability to escape its clutches.
Lines five and six say: “But far, far happier is the lot of those / Who never learn’d her dear delusive art.” Starting with line six and working backwards to line five, the reader first learns that Smith believes the muse that has gifted her with her genius to be manipulative, controlling, and deceitful. She calls on the people unburdened by this muse, saying that they are much better off without the brilliance Smith has been given. By saying that people are happier without the muse’s gift of genius, Smith shows how bitter she is towards her brilliance.
Even though those without her genius are happier than she, Smith does acknowledge that the gift of the muse “decks the head with many a rose” (Smith 7). The rewards of her trade are great, and she recognizes that. Roses, though, have thorns, which is the downfall of her talent. Yes, the muse has gifted her with this great intelligence, but she “reserves the thorn, to fester in the heart” (Smith 8). Smith is trapped within her own brilliance, and the roses that her talent might bring give her nothing but suffering.
These four lines of the sonnet reflect the poem in its entirety, and how Smith longs to be freed from the muse’s grip. In the poem, Smith is reflecting on her life, and how it is controlled by the unforgiving genius brought to her by the muse. Lines five through eight of the poem show that she wants to be freed of her genius but knows that she never could. Once someone learns of the muse’s “dear delusive art” (Smith 6), it becomes inescapable. Better to be simple, innocent, and happy, rather than forced to be brilliant and haunted.