The Complete Poetical Works, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poems Written in 1816.

Table of Contents

The Sunset.

Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.

Mont Blanc.

Cancelled Passage of Mont Blanc.

Fragment: Home.

Fragment of a Ghost Story.

Note on Poems of 1816, by Mrs. Shelley.

The Sunset.

There late was One within whose subtle being,

As light and wind within some delicate cloud

That fades amid the blue noon’s burning sky,

Genius and death contended. None may know


The sweetness of the joy which made his breath

Fail, like the trances of the summer air,

When, with the Lady of his love, who then

First knew the unreserve of mingled being,

He walked along the pathway of a field


Which to the east a hoar wood shadowed o’er,

But to the west was open to the sky.

There now the sun had sunk, but lines of gold

Hung on the ashen clouds, and on the points

Of the far level grass and nodding flowers


And the old dandelion’s hoary beard,

And, mingled with the shades of twilight, lay

On the brown massy woods — and in the east

The broad and burning moon lingeringly rose

Between the black trunks of the crowded trees,


While the faint stars were gathering overhead. —

‘Is it not strange, Isabel,’ said the youth,

‘I never saw the sun? We will walk here

To-morrow; thou shalt look on it with me.’

That night the youth and lady mingled lay


In love and sleep — but when the morning came

The lady found her lover dead and cold.

Let none believe that God in mercy gave

That stroke. The lady died not, nor grew wild,

But year by year lived on — in truth I think


Her gentleness and patience and sad smiles,

And that she did not die, but lived to tend

Her aged father, were a kind of madness,

If madness ’tis to be unlike the world.

For but to see her were to read the tale


Woven by some subtlest bard, to make hard hearts

Dissolve away in wisdom-working grief; —

Her eyes were black and lustreless and wan:

Her eyelashes were worn away with tears,

Her lips and cheeks were like things dead — so pale;


Her hands were thin, and through their wandering veins

And weak articulations might be seen

Day’s ruddy light. The tomb of thy dead self

Which one vexed ghost inhabits, night and day,

Is all, lost child, that now remains of thee!


‘Inheritor of more than earth can give,

Passionless calm and silence unreproved,

Whether the dead find, oh, not sleep! but rest,

And are the uncomplaining things they seem,

Or live, or drop in the deep sea of Love;


Oh, that like thine, mine epitaph were — Peace!’

This was the only moan she ever made.

[Written at Bishopsgate, 1816 (spring). Published in full in the “Posthumous Poems”, 1824. Lines 9-20, and 28-42, appeared in Hunt’s “Literary Pocket-Book”, 1823, under the titles, respectively, of “Sunset. From an Unpublished Poem”, And “Grief. A Fragment”.]

_4 death 1839; youth 1824.

_22 sun? We will walk 1824; sunrise? We will wake cj. Forman.

_37 Her eyes . . . wan Hunt, 1823; omitted 1824, 1839.

_38 worn 1824; torn 1839.

Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.


The awful shadow of some unseen Power

Floats though unseen among us — visiting

This various world with as inconstant wing

As summer winds that creep from flower to flower —


Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,

It visits with inconstant glance

Each human heart and countenance;

Like hues and harmonies of evening —

Like clouds in starlight widely spread —


Like memory of music fled —

Like aught that for its grace may be

Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.


Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate

With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon


Of human thought or form — where art thou gone?

Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,

This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?

Ask why the sunlight not for ever

Weaves rainbows o’er yon mountain-river,


Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,

Why fear and dream and death and birth

Cast on the daylight of this earth

Such gloom — why man has such a scope

For love and hate, despondency and hope?


No voice from some sublimer world hath ever

To sage or poet these responses given —

Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven.

Remain the records of their vain endeavour,

Frail spells — whose uttered charm might not avail to sever,


From all we hear and all we see,

Doubt, chance, and mutability.

Thy light alone — like mist o’er mountains driven,

Or music by the night-wind sent

Through strings of some still instrument,


Or moonlight on a midnight stream,

Gives grace and truth to life’s unquiet dream.


Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart

And come, for some uncertain moments lent.

Man were immortal, and omnipotent,


Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,

Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.

Thou messenger of sympathies,

That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes —

Thou — that to human thought art nourishment,


Like darkness to a dying flame!

Depart not as thy shadow came

Depart not — lest the grave should be,

Like life and fear, a dark reality.


While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped


Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,

And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing

Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.

I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;

I was not heard — I saw them not —


When musing deeply on the lot

Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing

All vital things that wake to bring

News of birds and blossoming —

Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;


I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!


I vowed that I would dedicate my powers

To thee and thine — have I not kept the vow?

With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now

I call the phantoms of a thousand hours


Each from his voiceless grave: they have in visioned bowers

Of studious zeal or love’s delight

Outwatched with me the envious night —

They know that never joy illumed my brow

Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free


This world from its dark slavery,

That thou — O awful LOVELINESS,

Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.


The day becomes more solemn and serene

When noon is past — there is a harmony


In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,

Which through the summer is not heard or seen,

As if it could not be, as if it had not been!

Thus let thy power, which like the truth

Of nature on my passive youth


Descended, to my onward life supply

Its calm — to one who worships thee,

And every form containing thee,

Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind

To fear himself, and love all human kind.

[Composed, probably, in Switzerland, in the summer of 1816. Published in Hunt’s “Examiner”, January 19, 1817, and with “Rosalind and Helen”, 1819.]

_2 among 1819; amongst 1817.

_14 dost 1819; doth 1817.

_21 fear and dream 1819; care and pain Boscombe manuscript.

_37-_48 omitted Boscombe manuscript.

_44 art 1817; are 1819.

_76 or 1819; nor 1839.

Mont Blanc.

Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni.


The everlasting universe of things

Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,

Now dark — now glittering — now reflecting gloom —

Now lending splendour, where from secret springs


The source of human thought its tribute brings

Of waters — with a sound but half its own,

Such as a feeble brook will oft assume

In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,

Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,


Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river

Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.


Thus thou, Ravine of Arve — dark, deep Ravine —

Thou many-coloured, many-voiced vale,

Over whose pines, and crags, and caverns sail


Fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams: awful scene,

Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down

From the ice-gulfs that gird his secret throne,

Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame

Of lightning through the tempest; — thou dost lie,


Thy giant brood of pines around thee clinging,

Children of elder time, in whose devotion

The chainless winds still come and ever came

To drink their odours, and their mighty swinging

To hear — an old and solemn harmony;


Thine earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep

Of the ethereal waterfall, whose veil

Robes some unsculptured image; the strange sleep

Which when the voices of the desert fail

Wraps all in its own deep eternity; —


Thy caverns echoing to the Arve’s commotion,

A loud, lone sound no other sound can tame;

Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion,

Thou art the path of that unresting sound —

Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee


I seem as in a trance sublime and strange

To muse on my own separate fantasy,

My own, my human mind, which passively

Now renders and receives fast influencings,

Holding an unremitting interchange


With the clear universe of things around;

One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings

Now float above thy darkness, and now rest

Where that or thou art no unbidden guest,

In the still cave of the witch Poesy,


Seeking among the shadows that pass by

Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,

Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast

From which they fled recalls them, thou art there!


Some say that gleams of a remoter world


Visit the soul in sleep — that death is slumber,

And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber

Of those who wake and live. — I look on high;

Has some unknown omnipotence unfurled

The veil of life and death? or do I lie


In dream, and does the mightier world of sleep

Spread far around and inaccessibly

Its circles? For the very spirit fails,

Driven like a homeless cloud from steep to steep

That vanishes among the viewless gales!


Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,

Mont Blanc appears — still, snowy, and serene —

Its subject mountains their unearthly forms

Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between

Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,


Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread

And wind among the accumulated steeps;

A desert peopled by the storms alone,

Save when the eagle brings some hunter’s bone,

And the wolf tracts her there — how hideously


Its shapes are heaped around! rude, bare, and high,

Ghastly, and scarred, and riven. — Is this the scene

Where the old Earthquake-daemon taught her young

Ruin? Were these their toys? or did a sea

Of fire envelope once this silent snow?


None can reply — all seems eternal now.

The wilderness has a mysterious tongue

Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,

So solemn, so serene, that man may be,

But for such faith, with nature reconciled;


Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal

Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood

By all, but which the wise, and great, and good

Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.


The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams,


Ocean, and all the living things that dwell

Within the daedal earth; lightning, and rain,

Earthquake, and fiery flood, and hurricane,

The torpor of the year when feeble dreams

Visit the hidden buds, or dreamless sleep


Holds every future leaf and flower; — the bound

With which from that detested trance they leap;

The works and ways of man, their death and birth,

And that of him and all that his may be;

All things that move and breathe with toil and sound


Are born and die; revolve, subside, and swell.

Power dwells apart in its tranquillity,

Remote, serene, and inaccessible:

And THIS, the naked countenance of earth,

On which I gaze, even these primaeval mountains


Teach the adverting mind. The glaciers creep

Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains,

Slow rolling on; there, many a precipice,

Frost and the Sun in scorn of mortal power

Have piled: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle,


A city of death, distinct with many a tower

And wall impregnable of beaming ice.

Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin

Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky

Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing


Its destined path, or in the mangled soil

Branchless and shattered stand; the rocks, drawn down

From yon remotest waste, have overthrown

The limits of the dead and living world,

Never to be reclaimed. The dwelling-place


Of insects, beasts, and birds, becomes its spoil;

Their food and their retreat for ever gone,

So much of life and joy is lost. The race

Of man flies far in dread; his work and dwelling

Vanish, like smoke before the tempest’s stream,


And their place is not known. Below, vast caves

Shine in the rushing torrents’ restless gleam,

Which from those secret chasms in tumult welling

Meet in the vale, and one majestic River,

The breath and blood of distant lands, for ever


Rolls its loud waters to the ocean waves,

Breathes its swift vapours to the circling air.


Mont Blanc yet gleams on high — the power is there,

The still and solemn power of many sights,

And many sounds, and much of life and death.


In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,

In the lone glare of day, the snows descend

Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,

Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,

Or the star-beams dart through them:— Winds contend


Silently there, and heap the snow with breath

Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home

The voiceless lightning in these solitudes

Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods

Over the snow. The secret strength of things


Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome

Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!

And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,

If to the human mind’s imaginings

Silence and solitude were vacancy?

July 23, 1816.

Cancelled Passage of Mont Blanc.

There is a voice, not understood by all,

Sent from these desert-caves. It is the roar

Of the rent ice-cliff which the sunbeams call,

Plunging into the vale — it is the blast


Descending on the pines — the torrents pour . . .

[Composed in Switzerland, July, 1816 (see date below). Printed at the end of the “History of a Six Weeks’ Tour” published by Shelley in 1817, and reprinted with “Posthumous Poems”, 1824. Amongst the Boscombe manuscripts is a draft of this Ode, mainly in pencil, which has been collated by Dr. Garnett.]

_15 cloud-shadows]cloud shadows 1817; cloud, shadows 1824; clouds, shadows 1839.

_20 Thy 1824; The 1839.

_53 unfurled]upfurled cj. James Thomson (‘B.V.’).

_56 Spread 1824; Speed 1839.

_69 tracks her there 1824; watches her Boscombe manuscript.

_79 But for such 1824; In such a Boscombe manuscript.

_108 boundaries of the sky]boundary of the skies cj. Rossetti (cf. lines 102, 106).

_121 torrents’]torrent’s 1817, 1824, 1839.

[Published by Garnett, “Relics of Shelley”, 1862.]

Fragment: Home.

Dear home, thou scene of earliest hopes and joys,

The least of which wronged Memory ever makes

Bitterer than all thine unremembered tears.

[Published by Garnett, “Relics of Shelley”, 1862.]

Fragment of a Ghost Story.

A shovel of his ashes took

From the hearth’s obscurest nook,

Muttering mysteries as she went.

Helen and Henry knew that Granny


Was as much afraid of Ghosts as any,

And so they followed hard —

But Helen clung to her brother’s arm,

And her own spasm made her shake.

[Published by Garnett, “Relics of Shelley”, 1862.]

Note on Poems of 1816, by Mrs. Shelley.

Shelley wrote little during this year. The poem entitled “The Sunset” was written in the spring of the year, while still residing at Bishopsgate. He spent the summer on the shores of the Lake of Geneva. The “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” was conceived during his voyage round the lake with Lord Byron. He occupied himself during this voyage by reading the “Nouvelle Heloise” for the first time. The reading it on the very spot where the scenes are laid added to the interest; and he was at once surprised and charmed by the passionate eloquence and earnest enthralling interest that pervade this work. There was something in the character of Saint-Preux, in his abnegation of self, and in the worship he paid to Love, that coincided with Shelley’s own disposition; and, though differing in many of the views and shocked by others, yet the effect of the whole was fascinating and delightful.

“Mont Blanc” was inspired by a view of that mountain and its surrounding peaks and valleys, as he lingered on the Bridge of Arve on his way through the Valley of Chamouni. Shelley makes the following mention of this poem in his publication of the “History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, and Letters from Switzerland”: ‘The poem entitled “Mont Blanc” is written by the author of the two letters from Chamouni and Vevai. It was composed under the immediate impression of the deep and powerful feelings excited by the objects which it attempts to describe; and, as an undisciplined overflowing of the soul, rests its claim to approbation on an attempt to imitate the untamable wildness and inaccessible solemnity from which those feelings sprang.’

This was an eventful year, and less time was given to study than usual. In the list of his reading I find, in Greek, Theocritus, the “Prometheus” of Aeschylus, several of Plutarch’s “Lives”, and the works of Lucian. In Latin, Lucretius, Pliny’s “Letters”, the “Annals” and “Germany” of Tacitus. In French, the “History of the French Revolution” by Lacretelle. He read for the first time, this year, Montaigne’s “Essays”, and regarded them ever after as one of the most delightful and instructive books in the world. The list is scanty in English works: Locke’s “Essay”, “Political Justice”, and Coleridge’s “Lay Sermon”, form nearly the whole. It was his frequent habit to read aloud to me in the evening; in this way we read, this year, the New Testament, “Paradise Lost”, Spenser’s “Faery Queen”, and “Don Quixote”.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00