The Subliminally Haunted Beach
When thinking about the Romantic period, some incorrectly think of love and happily ever after in stories and poetry. Even though writers did focus on those specific themes, they were also heavily focused on nature and its effects on humans in all aspects of their lives. Romantics believed in true emotion, poetic experimentation, rebellion, individualism and imagination. Separating themselves from the Enlightenment, the Romantics refused to be restrained by social and literary conventions and transformed the world of poetry and prose which can be clearly seen in Mary Robinson’s poem “The Haunted Beach”.
“The Haunted Beach”, tells the compelling story of a greedy, murdering fisherman and nature’s dark punishment upon him. Like most Romantic literature, this poem excels in its imagery as nature being a beautiful and powerful force. However, Robinson uses this powerful force and turns it into a frightening scene full of destruction and seclusion. Through the imagery Robinson uses, nature creates a sense of the fisherman’s isolation through its “lonely desart Beach” (Robinson 1) and the fisherman’s no “pow’r to stray” (78). The fisherman can’t leave the beach and is also the only person on it, aside from the dead sailor’s crewmate’s ghosts.
The ocean destroys everything with “its shad’wy jaws” (15) so the fisherman will have to suffer in his isolation for murdering the sailor. Manuel Aguirre states, “the violence of nature is presented as a response to the presence of the murdered man in the ﬁsherman’s shed” (695). Due to the fisherman’s greed, he doomed himself into lifelong isolation and guilt. His corruption of greed over the “Spanish gold” (52) actually corrupts nature which is why he is forced to live on this beach all alone. These dark characteristics of nature imitates the fisherman’s murdering tendency by killing everything that comes in its wake. It is easy to assume that when the fisherman dies, nature will be restored to its beautiful and majestic state that it once was.
Throughout “The Haunted Beach”, Robinson includes several gothic elements like ghosts/spectres, a skeleton and mystery and doom which are all used beautifully to give this poem and eerie impression. By adding these gothic elements, Robinson shows humanity’s darker side through the use of the environment around the fisherman. Creating this darker image, Robinson also gives the fisherman two characteristics that typically defy each other in most poetry and prose. Aguirre states “where the mariner holds the traditional hero-position, the ﬁsherman occupies centreground throughout, and his inconsistent status as both villain and protagonist (inconsistent, that is, from the standpoint of traditional narrative)” (695). Typically in most forms of poetry and prose the villain isn’t also the protagonist and if s/he is, they are given a chance at redemption. Something the fisherman isn’t and never will. Instead the fisherman must live “in Solitude and Pain” (80) for the rest of his life and dwell in his guilt as punishment.
By having to suffer in isolation the fisherman has nothing else to do but to dwell in guilt for murdering the sailor. Up to this point, every day for thirty years the fisherman “beheld band/of Spectres, gliding hand in hand-/Where the green billows play’d./And pale their faces were, as snow, And sullenly they wander’d:/And to the skies with hollow eyes/They look’d as though they ponder’d” (25-31). The fisherman must not only carry around the guilt of murder but also the sailor’s dead crew members who all died in a shipwreck. They haunt him for killing the only survivor of their ship because of what he did and to cause him agony for the rest of his life. The fisherman is “toil’d in vain” (65) and must live “veil’d in gloom” (68) for what he has done.
To enhance the fisherman’s guilt, Robinson repeats two words to show how nature causes him agony. The first word to appear, “hover’d” (11 & 38), is used in two instances to describe the birds that surround the fisherman’s hut. These birds are constantly around him and “screaming” (38) reminding him of what is in the hut day in and day out so he won’t ever forget and find some kind of piece. The second word, “bound” (12, 70 & 77) is repeated three times to express the fisherman’s fate on this beach because he is “bound by a strong and mystic chain” (77). He is fated to not only have to live in isolation and guilt but is bound to live in it because of nature has tied him to the beach forever. The fisherman is not allowed to amend his wrong doings because nature makes it impossible. He isn’t just by his guilt but he is also haunted by the beach and nature through the repetition of these two words.
With these two words, Robinson also produces a sense of hopelessness through the fisherman’s surroundings. Not only is the fisherman himself being controlled by an unstoppable force, but the poem’s structure also gives a feeling of control. Robinson wrote it in nine stanzas that each have nine lines that gives the reader as well a sense of confinement.
Robinson also uses the repetition of “the green billows” in every stanza except in the last stanza, which illustrates that the fisherman suffers “a loathsome life away” (81). The repetition of “The green billows” indicates that the natural world does the same thing every day in a perpetual loop. Which makes the fisherman’s days long and slow and also the same as every other day creating a sadness or depression. There is nothing new in his life to give him any kind of joy and ease his guilt.
Written in response to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Robinson gives the fisherman much of the same characteristics as Coleridge’s mariner. They both make selfish decisions, are fated to live on those events by being haunted, are fated to not come home and suffer from isolation. However, there is a difference between the two poems that can’t go unnoticed, which is that the sailor lives and gets to tell his story to better humanity.
Aguirre, Manuel. “Mary Robinson’s ‘the Haunted Beach’ and the Grammar of Gothic.” Neophilologus 98.4 (2014): 689-704. ProQuest. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.
Robinson, Mary. “The Haunted Beach.” The Longman Anthology British Literature: 5th ed, vol. 2A, edited by David Damrosch et.al., Pearson Education, Inc., 2012, pg. 297-298.
“Dumas Beach – A haunted beach where ghosts roam seamlessly.” Fear And You, http://www.fearandyou.in/2014/10/haunted-dumas-beach-in-gujarat.html. Accessed 4 April 2017