Live, reborn Chatterton

I have always been fascinated with many of the lesser known poets of the 17th and 18th centuries. Thomas Chatterton lived from 1752 to 1770. At his age 17 year old death he was held as just another miserable poverty stricken poet. Much has been written about him and his consideration as a forger of pseudo-medieval poetry. He did write under the pseudonym Thomas Rowley. Both Chatterton and his pen name Rowley stirred controversy after his death.

This is a homage to Thomas Chatterton and the inscription upon his grave stone: “To the memory of Thomas Chatterton. Reader! judge not. If thou art a Christian, believe that he shall be judged by a Superior Power. To that Power only is he now answerable.”


He sat in the dark gloom lighted
With only the glow of one sputtering
Candle. The quiet of the night
Momentarily interrupted by the scratch
Of a single feather quill and,
A gentle jab at an ink well.
His hair fell down about his
Stubbled and lined face
Accentuating its hawkish wanness.
Though he was so much younger,
He showed the poverty of years.
Scribbling upon the parchment,
His gauntness was softened by genius
in his eyes. He mumbled the words,
Syllables, patches of words that
Rhymed, words that carried music
In their meaning. These words would live,
Take on the symbols of love, of soul,
Of godliness, though the oppression
Of his moment was an ache,
Upon his talent. There was resignation
In his calm, a romantic yearning
For cleverness, that one exquisite
Verse that would phrase the meaning
Of all that was beautiful. Sipping
The arsenic of despondency, he wagered
His gifts for tomorrow, to the decades,
To the unborn. At the nights morning,
When light burst through the shattered
window pane of his hovel, he convulsed
With the drought of anonymity, dying
In the dust of yesteryear, only to live
In resurrection, reborn in the pages of today.

Copyright: 2009, Donald Harbour

9 thoughts on “Live, reborn Chatterton

  1. When light burst through the shattered
    window pane of his hovel, he convulsed
    With the drought of anonymity

    I love the way you merge the prompt image with Chatterton’s obscurity.

    These words would live,
    …though the oppression
    Of his moment was an ache,
    Upon his talent.

    You present the tension between genius and non-recognition, the pain of obscurity beautifully.

    Happy New Year, Donald!


  2. Your poem is a wonderful tribute, Donald. I like the way the morning light in the window ensures the promise of remembrance. Thank you for sharing this. I hope the coming year brings good health, love and joy your way. Happy New Year!


  3. This is a very moving testament to this poet, and ALL others…very beautifully written. “His gauntness was softened by genius in his eyes.” A perfect line.


  4. I could identify with what you drew beautifully. Poet working in obscurity and impoverishment, the legacy of words on a page.

    Thanks Donald and wishing you a wonderful new year. Warmest wishes.


Thank you for visiting my poetry blog.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.