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THE WITCH OF ATLAS—MRS SHELLETS NOTE. 75
sunny heaven spread over us, that rendered home and every scene we visited cheerful and bright. During some of the hottest days of August, Shelley made a solitary journey on foot to the summit of Monte San Pellegrino -a mountain of some height, on the top of which there is a chapel, the object, during certain days in the year, of many pilgrimages. The excursion delighted him while it lasted ; though he exerted himself too much, and the effect was considerable lassitude and weakness on his return. During the expedition he conceived the idea, and wrote, in the three days immediately succeeding to his return, the Witch of Atlas. This poem is peculiarly characteristic of his tastes—wildly fanciful, full of brilliant imagery, and discarding human interest and passion, to revel in the fantastic ideas that his imagination suggested.
The surpassing excellence of The Cenci had made me greatly desire that Shelley should increase his popularity by adopting subjects that would more suit the popular taste than a poem conceived in the abstract and dreamy spirit of the Witch of Atlas. It was not only that I wished him to acquire popularity as redounding to his fame; but I believed that he would obtain a greater mastery over his own powers, and greater happiness in his mind, if public applause crowned his endeavours. The few stanzas that precede the poem were addressed to me on my representing these ideas to him. Even now I believe that I was in the right. Shelley did not expect sympathy and approbation from the public ; but the want of it took away a portion of the ardour that ought to have sustained him while writing. He was thrown on his own resources, and on the inspiration of his own soul ; and wrote because his mind overflowed, without the hope of being appreciated. I had not the most distant wish that he should truckle in opinion, or submit his lofty aspirations for the human race to the low ambition and pride of the many ; but I felt sure that, if his poems were more addressed to the common feelings of men, his proper rank among the writers of the day would be acknowledged, and that popularity as a poet would enable his country men to do justice to his character and virtues, which in those days it was the mode to attack with the most flagitious calumnies and insulting abuse. That he felt these things deeply cannot be doubted, though he armed himself with the consciousness of acting from a lofty and heroic sense of right. The truth burst from his heart sometimes in solitude, and he would write a few unfinished verses that showed that he felt the sting; among such I find the following :—
Alas! this is not what I thought Life was.
The hearts of others And, when
I went among my kind, with triple brass
Of calm endurance my weak breast I armed,
To bear scorn, fear, and hate, a woTuI mass!
I believed that all this morbid feeling would vanish if the chord of sympathy between him and his countrymen were touched. But my persuasions were vain, the mind could not be bent from its natural inclination. Shelley shrunk instinctively from pourtraying human passion, with its mixture of good and evil, of disappointment and disquiet. Such opened again the wounds of his own heart; and he loved to shelter himself rather in the airiest flights of fancy, forgetting love and hate, and regret and lost hope, in such imaginations as borrowed their hues from sunrise or sunset, from the yellow moonshine or paly twilight, from the aspect of the far ocean or the shadows of the woods,—which celebrated the singing of the winds among the pines, the flow of a murmuring stream, and the thousand harmonious sounds which Nature creates in her solitudes. These are the materials which form the Witch of Atlas: it is a brilliant congregation of ideas such as his senses gathered, and his (ancy coloured, during his rambles in the sunny land he so much loved.
VERSES ADDRESSED tO tHE NOBLE AND UNFORTUNAtE LADY
NOW IMPRISONED IN tHE CONVENt OF St ANNE, PI5A.
L'anima amantc si slancia fuori del creato, e si crea nell* infmito un mondo tutto per essa, diverso assai da questo oscuro e pauroso baratro.—Her own words.
My Song, I fear that thou wilt find but few
Of such hard matter dost thou entertain;
Quite unaware of what thou dost contain,
The writer of the following lines died at Florence, as he was preparing for a voyage to one of the wildest of the Sporades, which he had bought, and where he had fitted up the ruins of an old building; and where it was his hope to have realized a scheme of life suited perhaps to that happier and better world of which he is now an inhabitant, but hardly practicable in this. His life was singular ; less on account of the romantic vicissitudes which diversified it than the ideal tinge which it received from his own character and feelings. The present poem, like the Vita Nova of Dante, is sufficiently intelligible to a certain class of readers without a matter-of-fact history of the circumstances to which it relates ; and to a certain other class it must ever remain incomprehensible, from a defect of a common organ of perception for the ideas of which it treats. Not but that "gran vergogna sarebbe a coluiche rimasse cosa sotto veste difigura o di colore rettorico, e domandato non sapesse denudare le sue parole da cotalveste, inguisa che avesscro verace intendimento."
The present poem appears to have been intended by the writer as the dedication to some longer one. The stanza on the preceding page is almost a literal translation from Dante's famous canzone
Vol che intendendo il terzo ciel movete, &c. The presumptuous application of the concluding lines to his own composition will raise a smile at the expense of my unfortunate friend: be it a smile not of contempt, but pity.
Sweet Spirit, sister of that orphan one
Poor captive bird, who from thy narrow cage
High spirit-winged heart, who dost for ever
Beat thine unfeeling bars with vain endeavour,
Till those bright plumes of thought in which arrayed
It oversoared this low and worldly shade
Lie shattered, and thy panting wounded breast
Stains with dear blood its unmaternal nest,—
I weep vain tears: blood would less bitter be,
Yet poured forth gladlier could it profit thee.
Seraph of heaven, too gentle to be human,
Veiling beneath that radiant form of Woman
All that is insupportable in thee
Of light and love and immortality!
Sweet benediction in the eternal curse I
Veiled glory of this lampless universe!
Thou moon beyond the clouds! thou living form
Among the dead! thou star above the storm!
Thou wonder, and thou beauty, and thou terror!
Thou harmony of Nature's art! thou mirror
In whom, as in the splendour of the sun,
All shapes look glorious which thou gazest on,—
Ay, even the dim words which obscure thee now
Flash lightning-like with unaccustomed glow!
I pray thee that thou blot from this sad song
All of its much mortality and wrong
With those clear drops which start like sacred dew
From the twin lights thy sweet soul darkens through,
Weeping till sorrow becomes ecstacy:
Then smile on it so that it may not die.
I never thought before my death to see
Would we two had been twins of the same mother!
Sweet lamp! my moth-like muse has burnt its wings;
Or, like a dying swan who soars and sings,
Young Love should teach Time, in his own grey style,
All that thou art. Art thou not void of guile—
A lovely soul formed to be blessed and bless—
A well of sealed and secret happiness,
Whose waters like blithe light and music are,
Vanquishing dissonance and gloom—a star
Which moves not in the moving heavens, alone—
A smile amid dark frowns—a gentle tone
Amid rude voices—a beloved light—
A solitude, a refuge, a delight—
A lute which those whom Love has taught to play
Make music on to soothe the roughest day,
And lull fond Grief asleep—a buried treasure—
A cradle of young thoughts of wingless pleasure—
A violet-shrouded grave of woe ?—I measure
The world of fancies, seeking one like thee,
And find—alas! mine own infirmity.
She met me, Stranger, upon life's rough way.
Embodied in the windless heaven of June,
Of planetary music heard in trance.
In her mild lights the starry spirits dance,
The sunbeams of those wells which ever leap _.
Under the lightnings of the soul—too deep
For the brief fathom-line of thought or sense.
The glory of her being, issuing thence,
Stains the dead blank cold air with a warm shade
Of unentangled intermixture, made,
By Love, of light and motion; one intense
Diffusion, one serene omnipresence,
Whose flowing outlines mingle in their flowing,
Around her cheeks and utmost fingers glowing
With the unintermitted blood, which there
Quivers (as in a fleece of snow-like air
The crimson pulse of living Mor n may quiver),
Continuously prolonged and ending never,
Till they are lost, and in that beauty furled
Which penetrates and clasps and fills the world;
Scarce visible from extreme loveliness.
Warm fragrance seems to fall from her light dress,
And her loose hair; and, where some heavy tress
The air of her own speed has disentwined,
The sweetness seeems to satiate the faint wind;
And in the soul a wild odour is felt,
Beyond the sense, like fiery dews that melt
Into the bosom of a frozen bud.
See where she stands! a mortal shape indued
With love and life and light and deity,
And motion which may change but cannot die;
An image of some bright eternity;
A shadow of some golden dream; a splendour
Leaving the third sphere pilotless; a tender
Reflection of the eternal moon of love
Under whose motions life's dull billows move;
A metaphor of Spring and youth and morning;
A vision like incarnate April, warning
With smiles and tears Frost the anatomy
Into his summer grave.
Ah! woe is me!