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This essay considers Charlotte Smith’s treatment of the River Arun in her Elegiac Sonnets, focusing on how the river functions as a metaphor for literary influence and dramatizes her engagement with a range of poetic predecessors and contemporaries. In later editions of her sonnets, the sea replaces the river in importance and inscribes a rather different poetic outlook. In tracing the shift between river and sea, this essay offers a new way of situating and reading Smith’s sonnets as poems frequently celebrated for their innovation. This essay argues that the poems are nonetheless also deeply engaged with the literary past.