The Complete Poetical Works, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Early Poems [1814, 1815].

[The poems which follow appeared, with a few exceptions, either in the volumes published from time to time by Shelley himself, or in the “Posthumous Poems” of 1824, or in the “Poetical Works” of 1839, of which a second and enlarged edition was published by Mrs. Shelley in the same year. A few made their first appearance in some fugitive publication — such as Leigh Hunt’s “Literary Pocket-Book”— and were subsequently incorporated in the collective editions. In every case the editio princeps and (where this is possible) the exact date of composition are indicated below the title.]

Table of Contents

Stanza, Written at Bracknell.

Stanzas. — April, 1814.

To Harriet.

To Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

To —.

Mutability.

On Death.

A Summer Evening Churchyard.

To —.

To Wordsworth.

Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte.

Lines.

Note on the Early Poems, by Mrs. Shelley.

Stanza, Written at Bracknell.

Thy dewy looks sink in my breast;

Thy gentle words stir poison there;

Thou hast disturbed the only rest

That was the portion of despair!

5

Subdued to Duty’s hard control,

I could have borne my wayward lot:

The chains that bind this ruined soul

Had cankered then — but crushed it not.

[Composed March, 1814. Published in Hogg’s “Life of Shelley”, 1858.]

Stanzas. — April, 1814.

Away! the moor is dark beneath the moon,

Rapid clouds have drank the last pale beam of even:

Away! the gathering winds will call the darkness soon,

And profoundest midnight shroud the serene lights of heaven.

5

Pause not! The time is past! Every voice cries, Away!

Tempt not with one last tear thy friend’s ungentle mood:

Thy lover’s eye, so glazed and cold, dares not entreat thy stay:

Duty and dereliction guide thee back to solitude.

Away, away! to thy sad and silent home;

10

Pour bitter tears on its desolated hearth;

Watch the dim shades as like ghosts they go and come,

And complicate strange webs of melancholy mirth.

The leaves of wasted autumn woods shall float around thine head:

The blooms of dewy spring shall gleam beneath thy feet:

15

But thy soul or this world must fade in the frost that binds the dead,

Ere midnight’s frown and morning’s smile, ere thou and peace may meet.

The cloud shadows of midnight possess their own repose,

For the weary winds are silent, or the moon is in the deep:

Some respite to its turbulence unresting ocean knows;

20

Whatever moves, or toils, or grieves, hath its appointed sleep.

Thou in the grave shalt rest — yet till the phantoms flee

Which that house and heath and garden made dear to thee erewhile,

Thy remembrance, and repentance, and deep musings are not free

From the music of two voices and the light of one sweet smile.

[Composed at Bracknell, April, 1814. Published with “Alastor”, 1816.]

_6 tear 1816; glance 1839.

To Harriet.

Thy look of love has power to calm

The stormiest passion of my soul;

Thy gentle words are drops of balm

In life’s too bitter bowl;

5

No grief is mine, but that alone

These choicest blessings I have known.

Harriet! if all who long to live

In the warm sunshine of thine eye,

That price beyond all pain must give —

10

Beneath thy scorn to die;

Then hear thy chosen own too late

His heart most worthy of thy hate.

Be thou, then, one among mankind

Whose heart is harder not for state,

15

Thou only virtuous, gentle, kind,

Amid a world of hate;

And by a slight endurance seal

A fellow-being’s lasting weal.

For pale with anguish is his cheek,

20

His breath comes fast, his eyes are dim,

Thy name is struggling ere he speak,

Weak is each trembling limb;

In mercy let him not endure

The misery of a fatal cure.

25

Oh, trust for once no erring guide!

Bid the remorseless feeling flee;

’Tis malice, ’tis revenge, ’tis pride,

’Tis anything but thee;

Oh, deign a nobler pride to prove,

30

And pity if thou canst not love.

[Composed May, 1814. Published (from the Esdaile manuscript) by Dowden, “Life of Shelley”, 1887.]

To Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

1.

Mine eyes were dim with tears unshed;

Yes, I was firm — thus wert not thou; —

My baffled looks did fear yet dread

To meet thy looks — I could not know

5

How anxiously they sought to shine

With soothing pity upon mine.

2.

To sit and curb the soul’s mute rage

Which preys upon itself alone;

To curse the life which is the cage

10

Of fettered grief that dares not groan,

Hiding from many a careless eye

The scorned load of agony.

3.

Whilst thou alone, then not regarded,

The . . . thou alone should be,

15

To spend years thus, and be rewarded,

As thou, sweet love, requited me

When none were near — Oh! I did wake

From torture for that moment’s sake.

4.

Upon my heart thy accents sweet

20

Of peace and pity fell like dew

On flowers half dead; — thy lips did meet

Mine tremblingly; thy dark eyes threw

Their soft persuasion on my brain,

Charming away its dream of pain.

5.
25

We are not happy, sweet! our state

Is strange and full of doubt and fear;

More need of words that ills abate; —

Reserve or censure come not near

Our sacred friendship, lest there be

30

No solace left for thee and me.

6.

Gentle and good and mild thou art,

Nor can I live if thou appear

Aught but thyself, or turn thine heart

Away from me, or stoop to wear

35

The mask of scorn, although it be

To hide the love thou feel’st for me.

[Composed June, 1814. Published in “Posthumous Poems”, 1824.]

_2 wert 1839; did 1824.

_3 fear 1824, 1839; yearn cj. Rossetti.

_23 Their 1839; thy 1824.

_30 thee]thou 1824, 1839.

_32 can I 1839; I can 1824.

_36 feel’st 1839; feel 1824.

To —.

Yet look on me — take not thine eyes away,

Which feed upon the love within mine own,

Which is indeed but the reflected ray

Of thine own beauty from my spirit thrown.

5

Yet speak to me — thy voice is as the tone

Of my heart’s echo, and I think I hear

That thou yet lovest me; yet thou alone

Like one before a mirror, without care

Of aught but thine own features, imaged there;

10

And yet I wear out life in watching thee;

A toil so sweet at times, and thou indeed

Art kind when I am sick, and pity me . . .

[Published in “Poetical Works”, 1839, 2nd edition. See Editor’s Note.]

Mutability.

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;

How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,

Streaking the darkness radiantly! — yet soon

Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

5

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings

Give various response to each varying blast,

To whose frail frame no second motion brings

One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest. — A dream has power to poison sleep;

10

We rise. — One wandering thought pollutes the day;

We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;

Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same! — For, be it joy or sorrow,

The path of its departure still is free:

15

Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;

Nought may endure but Mutability.

Nor aught endure save Lodore, chapter 49, 1835 (Mrs. Shelley).

[Published with “Alastor”, 1816.]

_15 may 1816; can Lodore, chapter 49, 1835 (Mrs. Shelley).

_16 Nought may endure but 1816;

On Death.

THERE IS NO WORK, NOR DEVICE, NOR KNOWLEDGE, NOR WISDOM, IN THE GRAVE, WHITHER THOU GOEST. — Ecclesiastes.

The pale, the cold, and the moony smile

Which the meteor beam of a starless night

Sheds on a lonely and sea-girt isle,

Ere the dawning of morn’s undoubted light,

Is the flame of life so fickle and wan

5

That flits round our steps till their strength is gone.

O man! hold thee on in courage of soul

Through the stormy shades of thy worldly way,

And the billows of cloud that around thee roll

10

Shall sleep in the light of a wondrous day,

Where Hell and Heaven shall leave thee free

To the universe of destiny.

This world is the nurse of all we know,

This world is the mother of all we feel,

15

And the coming of death is a fearful blow

To a brain unencompassed with nerves of steel;

When all that we know, or feel, or see,

Shall pass like an unreal mystery.

The secret things of the grave are there,

20

Where all but this frame must surely be,

Though the fine-wrought eye and the wondrous ear

No longer will live to hear or to see

All that is great and all that is strange

In the boundless realm of unending change.

25

Who telleth a tale of unspeaking death?

Who lifteth the veil of what is to come?

Who painteth the shadows that are beneath

The wide-winding caves of the peopled tomb?

Or uniteth the hopes of what shall be

30

With the fears and the love for that which we see?

[For the date of composition see Editor’s Note. Published with “Alastor”, 1816.]

A Summer Evening Churchyard.

Lechlade, Gloucestershire.

The wind has swept from the wide atmosphere

Each vapour that obscured the sunset’s ray;

And pallid Evening twines its beaming hair

In duskier braids around the languid eyes of Day:

5

Silence and Twilight, unbeloved of men,

Creep hand in hand from yon obscurest glen.

They breathe their spells towards the departing day,

Encompassing the earth, air, stars, and sea;

Light, sound, and motion own the potent sway,

10

Responding to the charm with its own mystery.

The winds are still, or the dry church-tower grass

Knows not their gentle motions as they pass.

Thou too, aereal Pile! whose pinnacles

Point from one shrine like pyramids of fire,

15

Obeyest in silence their sweet solemn spells,

Clothing in hues of heaven thy dim and distant spire,

Around whose lessening and invisible height

Gather among the stars the clouds of night.

The dead are sleeping in their sepulchres:

20

And, mouldering as they sleep, a thrilling sound,

Half sense, half thought, among the darkness stirs,

Breathed from their wormy beds all living things around,

And mingling with the still night and mute sky

Its awful hush is felt inaudibly.

25

Thus solemnized and softened, death is mild

And terrorless as this serenest night:

Here could I hope, like some inquiring child

Sporting on graves, that death did hide from human sight

Sweet secrets, or beside its breathless sleep

30

That loveliest dreams perpetual watch did keep.

[Composed September, 1815. Published with “Alastor”, 1816.]

To —.

DAKRTSI DIOISO POTMON ‘APOTMON.

Oh! there are spirits of the air,

And genii of the evening breeze,

And gentle ghosts, with eyes as fair

As star-beams among twilight trees:—

5

Such lovely ministers to meet

Oft hast thou turned from men thy lonely feet.

With mountain winds, and babbling springs,

And moonlight seas, that are the voice

Of these inexplicable things,

10

Thou didst hold commune, and rejoice

When they did answer thee; but they

Cast, like a worthless boon, thy love away.

And thou hast sought in starry eyes

Beams that were never meant for thine,

Another’s wealth:— tame sacrifice

15

To a fond faith! still dost thou pine?

Still dost thou hope that greeting hands,

Voice, looks, or lips, may answer thy demands?

Ah! wherefore didst thou build thine hope

20

On the false earth’s inconstancy?

Did thine own mind afford no scope

Of love, or moving thoughts to thee?

That natural scenes or human smiles

Could steal the power to wind thee in their wiles?

25

Yes, all the faithless smiles are fled

Whose falsehood left thee broken-hearted;

The glory of the moon is dead;

Night’s ghosts and dreams have now departed;

Thine own soul still is true to thee,

30

But changed to a foul fiend through misery.

This fiend, whose ghastly presence ever

Beside thee like thy shadow hangs,

Dream not to chase; — the mad endeavour

Would scourge thee to severer pangs.

Be as thou art. Thy settled fate,

35

Dark as it is, all change would aggravate.

[Published with “Alastor”, 1816. See Editor’s Note.]

_1 of 1816; in 1839.

_8 moonlight 1816; mountain 1839.

To Wordsworth.

Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know

That things depart which never may return:

Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow,

Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.

5

These common woes I feel. One loss is mine

Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.

Thou wert as a lone star, whose light did shine

On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:

Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood

10

Above the blind and battling multitude:

In honoured poverty thy voice did weave

Songs consecrate to truth and liberty —

Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,

Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.

[Published with “Alastor”, 1816.]

Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte.

I hated thee, fallen tyrant! I did groan

To think that a most unambitious slave,

Like thou, shouldst dance and revel on the grave

Of Liberty. Thou mightst have built thy throne

5

Where it had stood even now: thou didst prefer

A frail and bloody pomp which Time has swept

In fragments towards Oblivion. Massacre,

For this I prayed, would on thy sleep have crept,

Treason and Slavery, Rapine, Fear, and Lust,

10

And stifled thee, their minister. I know

Too late, since thou and France are in the dust,

That Virtue owns a more eternal foe

Than Force or Fraud: old Custom, legal Crime,

And bloody Faith the foulest birth of Time.

[Published with “Alastor”, 1816.]

Lines.

1.

The cold earth slept below,

Above the cold sky shone;

And all around, with a chilling sound,

From caves of ice and fields of snow,

5

The breath of night like death did flow

Beneath the sinking moon.

2.

The wintry hedge was black,

The green grass was not seen,

The birds did rest on the bare thorn’s breast,

10

Whose roots, beside the pathway track,

Had bound their folds o’er many a crack

Which the frost had made between.

3.

Thine eyes glowed in the glare

Of the moon’s dying light;

15

As a fen-fire’s beam on a sluggish stream

Gleams dimly, so the moon shone there,

And it yellowed the strings of thy raven hair,

That shook in the wind of night.

4.

The moon made thy lips pale, beloved —

20

The wind made thy bosom chill —

The night did shed on thy dear head

Its frozen dew, and thou didst lie

Where the bitter breath of the naked sky

Might visit thee at will.

[Published in Hunt’s “Literary Pocket-Book”, 1823, where it is headed “November, 1815”. Reprinted in the “Posthumous Poems”, 1824. See Editor’s Note.]

_17 raven 1823; tangled 1824.

Note on the Early Poems, by Mrs. Shelley.

The remainder of Shelley’s Poems will be arranged in the order in which they were written. Of course, mistakes will occur in placing some of the shorter ones; for, as I have said, many of these were thrown aside, and I never saw them till I had the misery of looking over his writings after the hand that traced them was dust; and some were in the hands of others, and I never saw them till now. The subjects of the poems are often to me an unerring guide; but on other occasions I can only guess, by finding them in the pages of the same manuscript book that contains poems with the date of whose composition I am fully conversant. In the present arrangement all his poetical translations will be placed together at the end.

The loss of his early papers prevents my being able to give any of the poetry of his boyhood. Of the few I give as “Early Poems”, the greater part were published with “Alastor”; some of them were written previously, some at the same period. The poem beginning ‘Oh, there are spirits in the air’ was addressed in idea to Coleridge, whom he never knew; and at whose character he could only guess imperfectly, through his writings, and accounts he heard of him from some who knew him well. He regarded his change of opinions as rather an act of will than conviction, and believed that in his inner heart he would be haunted by what Shelley considered the better and holier aspirations of his youth. The summer evening that suggested to him the poem written in the churchyard of Lechlade occurred during his voyage up the Thames in 1815. He had been advised by a physician to live as much as possible in the open air; and a fortnight of a bright warm July was spent in tracing the Thames to its source. He never spent a season more tranquilly than the summer of 1815. He had just recovered from a severe pulmonary attack; the weather was warm and pleasant. He lived near Windsor Forest; and his life was spent under its shades or on the water, meditating subjects for verse. Hitherto, he had chiefly aimed at extending his political doctrines, and attempted so to do by appeals in prose essays to the people, exhorting them to claim their rights; but he had now begun to feel that the time for action was not ripe in England, and that the pen was the only instrument wherewith to prepare the way for better things.

In the scanty journals kept during those years I find a record of the books that Shelley read during several years. During the years of 1814 and 1815 the list is extensive. It includes, in Greek, Homer, Hesiod, Theocritus, the histories of Thucydides and Herodotus, and Diogenes Laertius. In Latin, Petronius, Suetonius, some of the works of Cicero, a large proportion of those of Seneca and Livy. In English, Milton’s poems, Wordsworth’s “Excursion”, Southey’s “Madoc” and “Thalaba”, Locke “On the Human Understanding”, Bacon’s “Novum Organum”. In Italian, Ariosto, Tasso, and Alfieri. In French, the “Reveries d’un Solitaire” of Rousseau. To these may be added several modern books of travel. He read few novels.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30