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 From an Unpublished Poem”, And “Grief.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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.]
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.]
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 Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54