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NOTE ON THE POEMS OF J820.
BY THE EDITOR.
We spent the latter part of the year 1819 in Florence, where Shelley passed several hours daily in the Gallery, and made various notes on its ancient works of art. His thoughts were a good deal taken up also by the project of a steamboat, undertaken by a friend, an engineer, to ply between Leghorn and Marseilles, for which he supplied a sum of money. This was a sort of plan to delight Shelley, and he was greatly disappointed when it was thrown aside.
There was something in Florence that disagreed excessively with his health, and he suffered far more pain than usual ; so much so that we left it sooner than we intended, and removed to Pisa, where we had some friends, and, above all, where we could consult the celebrated Vacca, as to the cause of Shelley's sufferings. He, like every other medical man, could only guess at that, and gave little hope of immediate relief; he enjoined him to abstain from all physicians and medicine, and to leave his complaint to nature. As he had vainly consulted medical men of the highest repute in England, he was easily persuaded to adopt this advice. Pain and ill-health followed him to the end, but the residence at Pisa agreed with him better than any other, and there in consequence we remained.
In the spring we spent a week or two near Leghorn, borrowing the house of some friends, who were absent on a journey to England.—It was on a beautiful summer evening, while wandering among the lanes, whose myrtle hedges were the bowers of the fire-flies, that we heard the carolling of the sky-lark, which inspired one of the most beautiful of his poems. He addressed the letter to Mrs. Gisborae from this house, which was hers ; he had made his Btudy of the workshop of her son, who was an engineer. Mrs. Gisborae had been a friend of my father in her younger days. She was a lady of great accomplishments, and
charming from her frank and affectionate nature. She had the most intense love of knowledge, a delicate and trembling sensibility, and preserved freshness of mind, after a life of considerable adversity. As a favourite friend of my father we had sought her with eagerness, and the most open and cordial friendship was established between am.
We spent the summer at the baths of San Giuliano, four miles from Pisa. These baths were of great use to Shelley in soothing his nervous irritability. We made several excursions in the neighbourhood. The country around is fertile; and diversified and rendered picturesque by ranges of near hills and more distant mountains. The peasantry are a handsome, intelligent race, and there was a gladsome 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 Pelegrino— 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 master)' 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 countrymen 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
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 portraying 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 fancy coloured, during his rambles in the sunny land he so much loved.
Our stay at the baths of San Giuliano was shortened by an accident. At the foot of our garden ran the canal that communicated between the Serchio and the Arno. The Serchio overflowed its banks, and breaking its bounds, this canal also overflowed ; all this part of the country is below the level of its rivers, and the consequence was, that it was speedily flooded. The rising waters filled the square of the baths, in the lower part of which our house was situated. The canal overflowed in the garden behind; the rising waters on either side at last burst open the doors, and meeting in the house, rose to the height of six feet. It was a picturesque sight at night, to see the peasants driving the cattle from the plains below, to the hills above the baths. A Are was kept up to guide them across the ford ; and the forms of the men and the animals showed in dark relief against the red glare of the flame, which was reflected again in the waters that filled the square.
We then removed to Pisa, and took up our abode there for the winter. The extreme mildness of the climate suited Shelley, and his solitude was enlivened by an intercourse with several intimate friends. Chance cast us, strangely enough, on this quiet, half-unpeopled town ; but its very peace suited Shelley,—its river, the near mountains, and not distant sea, added to its attractions, and were the objects of many delightful excursions. We feared the south of Italy and a hotter climate, on account of our child; our former bereavement inspiring us with terror. We seemed to take root here, and moved little afterwards; often, indeed, entertaining projects for visiting other parts of Italy, but still delaying. But for our fears, on account of our child, I believe we should have wandered over the world, both being passionately fond of travelling. But human life, besides its great unalterable necessities, is ruled by a thousand liliputian ties, that shackle at the time, although it is difficult to account afterwards for their influence over our destiny.
POEMS WRITTEN IN MDCCCXXI.
VERSES ADDRESSED TO THE NOBLE AND UNFORTUNATE
LADY EMILIA V .
NOW IMPRISONED IN THE CONVENT OF .
amante si slancia furlo del create, o si crea nel infinito un Mondo tutto per esaa, diverso da queato oscuro e pauroso baratro."—Her own wo nit.
5h Song, I fear that thou wilt find but few
The writer of the following lines died at Florence, at 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 realised 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 Nuova 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 tarebbe a coluiy che rima&se cosa sotto veste di figure, o di colore rettorico: e domandato non sapesse denudare U sue parole da cotal veste, in guisa che avesscro verace intendtmento.
The present poem appears to have been intended by the writer as the dedication to some longer one. The stanza on the above page is almost a literal translation from Dante's famous canzone
Vox ch* intendendo, U Urzo del moveUt dec.
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. S.
Swkei Spirit! Sister of that orphan one, Whose empire is the name thou weepest on, In my heart's temple I suspend to thee These votive wreaths of withered memory.
Poor captive bird! who, from thy narrow cage, Pourest such music, that it might assuage The rugged hearts of those who prisoned thee, Were they not deaf to all sweet melody; This song shall be thy rose: its petals pale Are dead, indeed, my adored Nightingale! But soft and fragrant is the faded blossom, And it has no thorn left to wound thy bosom.
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 over-soared 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! Veiled Glory of this Uunpless Universe! Thou Moon beyond the clouds! Thou living
Form Among the Dead! Thou Star above the Storm 1 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, AU shapes look glorious which thou gazest on! Ay, even the dim words which obscure thee uow Flash, lightning-like, with unaccustomed glow; I pray thee that thou blot from this sad song Ali 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 Youth's vision thus made perfect: Emily, I love thee; though the world by no thin name Will hide that love, from its unvalued shame. Would we two had been twins of the same mother! Or, that the name my heart lent to another Could be a sister's bond for her and thee, Blending two beams of one eternity! Yet were one lawful and the other true, These names, though dear, could paint not, as is due, How beyond refuge I am thine. Ah me! I am not thine: I am a part of thee.
Sweet Lamp! my moth-like Muse has burnt its wings, Or, like a dying swan who Boars 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 blest and bless i A well of sealed and secret happiness, Whose waters like blithe light and music are, Vanquishing dissonance and gloom 1 A Star Which moves not in the moving Heavens, alone! A smile amid dark frowns? a gentle tone Amid rude voices 1 a beloved light \ A Solitude, a Refuge, a Delight I 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 i A cradle of young thoughts of wingless pleasure t A violet-shrouded grave of Woe1—I measure The world of fancies, seeking one like thee, And find—alas I mine own infirmity.
She met me, Stranger, upon life's rough way, And lured me towards sweet Death; as Night by
Day, Winter by Spring, or Sorrow by swift Hope, Led into light, life, peace. An antelope, In the suspended impulse of its lightness, Were less ethereally light: the brightness Of her divinest presence trembles through Her limbs, as underneath a cloud of dew Embodied in the windless heaven of June, Amid the splendour-winged stars, the Moon Burns inextinguishably beautiful: And from her lips, as from a hyacinth full Of honey-dew, a liquid murmur drops, Killing the sense with passion: sweet as stops 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 morning quiver,) Continuously prolonged, and ending never, Till they are lost, and in that Beauty furled Which penetrates and clasps and tills 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 seems 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 on 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! What have I dared t where am I lifted 1 how Shall I descend, and perish not t I know That Love makes all things equal: I have heard By mine own heart this joyous truth averred: The spirit of the worm beneath the sod, In love and worship, blends itself with God.
Spouse! Sister! Angel! Pilot of the Fate Whose course has been so starless I 0 too late Beloved 1 0 too soon adored, by me 1 For in the fields of immortality My spirit should at first have worshipped thine, A divine presence in a place divine; Or should have moved beside it on this earth, A shadow of that substance, from its birth; But not as now :—I love thee; yes, I feel That on the fountain of my heart a seal Is set, to keep its waters pure and bright For thee, since in those tears thou hast delight. We—are we not formed, as notes of music are, For one another, though dissimilar; Such difference without discord, as can make Those sweetest sounds, in which all spirits shake, As trembling leaves in a continuous air '.
Thy wisdom speaks in me, and bids me dare Beacon the rocks on which high hearts are wreckt. I never was attached to that great sect, Whose doctrine is, that each one should select Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend, And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend To cold oblivion, though it is in the code Of modern morals, and the beaten road Which those poor slaves with weary footsteps tread, Who travel to their home among the dead By the broad highway of the world, and so With one chained friend, perhaps a jealous foe, The dreariest and the longest journey go.
True Love in this differs from gold and clay, That to divide is not to take away. Love is like understanding, that grows bright, Gazing on many truths; 'tis like thy light, Imagination I which, from earth and sky, And from the depths of human phantasy, As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills The Universe with glorious beams, and kills Error, the worm, with many a sun-like arrow Of its reverberated lightning. Narrow The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates, The life that wears, the spirit that creates One object, and one form, and builds thereby A sepulchre for its eternity.
Mind from its object differs most in this: Kvil from good ; misery from happiness; The baser from the nobler; the impure And frail, from what is clear and must endure. If you divide suffering and dross, you may Diminish till it is consumed away; If you divide pleasure and love and thought, Each part exceeds the whole ; and we know not How much, while any yet remains unshared, Of pleasure may be gained, of sorrow spared: This truth is that deep well, whence sages draw The unenvied light of hope ; the eternal law By which those live, to whom this world of life Is as a garden ravaged, and whose strife Tills for the promise of a later birth The wilderness of this Elysian earth.
There was a Being whom my spirit oft Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft, In the clear golden prime of my youth's dawn, Upon the fairy isles of sunny lawn, Amid the enchanted mountains, and the caves Of divine sleep, and on the air-like waves Of wonder-level dream, whose tremulous floor Paved her light steps ;—on an imagined shore, Under the grey beak of some promontory She met me, robed in such exceeding glory, That I beheld her not In solitudes Her voice came to me through the whispering woods, And from the fountains, and the odours deep Of flowers, which, like lips murmuring in their sleep Of the sweet kisses which had lulled them there, Breathed but of her to the enamoured air; And from the breezes whether low or loud, And from the rain of every passing cloud, And from the singing of the summer-birds, And from all sounds, all silence. In the words Of antique verse and high romance,—in form, Sound, colour—in whatever checks that Storm Which with the shattered present chokes the past; And in that best philosophy, whose taste Makes this cold common hell, our life, a doom As glorious as a fiery martyrdom; Her Spirit was the harmony of truth.—
Then, from the caverns of my dreamy youth I sprang, as one samialled with plumes of tin . And towards the loadstar of my one desire, I flitted, like a dizzy moth, whose flight Is as a dead leaf's in the owlet light, When it would seek in Hesper's setting sphere A radiant death, a fiery sepulchre, As if it were a lamp of earthly flame.— But She, whom prayers or tears then could not tame. Past, like a God throned on a winged planet, Whose burning plumes to tenfold swiftness fan it. Into the dreary cone of our life's shade; And as a man with mighty loss dismayed, I would have followed, though the grave between Yawned like a gulf whose spectres are unseen: Whenavoice said:—"OThouof hearts the weakest, The phantom is beside thee whom thou seekest-" Then I—" Where!" the world's echo answered
"where!" And in that silence, and in my despair, I questioned every tongueless wind that flew Over my tower of mourning, if it knew Whither 'twas fled, this soul out of my soul; And murmured names and spells which have controul