Imágenes de páginas


Rough wind, that moanest loud

Grief too sad for song;
Wild wind, when sullen cloud

Knells all the night long;
Sad storm, whose tears are vain,
Bare woods, whose branches stain,
Deep caves and dreary main,

Wail, for the world's wrong!




These are two friends whose lives were undivided;
So let their memory be, now they have glided
Under the grave; let not their bones be parted,
For their two hearts in life were single-hearted.




The circumstances in which this poem was written serve to throw light upon its meaning. Already at twenty-three Shelley was disillusioned of some eager and exorbitant hopes; the first great experiment of his heart had proved a failure; his boyish ardour for the enfranchisement of a people had been without result; his literary efforts had met with little sympathy or recognition; and, during the early months of the year, he had felt how frail was his hold on life, and had almost confronted that mystery which lies behind the veil of mortal existence” (Dowden's Life, Vol. I, p. 530). “In the spring of 1815," says Mrs. Shelley in her note on this poem, “an eminent physician pronounced that he was dying rapidly of a consumption.” The mood reflected in Alastor is the mood in which Shelley regarded his own past, with death staring him in the face. As he looks back on his life, he notes especially its isolation and apparent fruitlessness. He feels that he has been a creature alone and apart, pursuing aims which the mass of men do not understand, and thus cut off from the wholesome and stimulating sympathy of his fellows. This " selfcentred seclusion,” as he explains in the Preface to the poem, is not the result of a cold or egoistic nature; he does not belong to the class described in the second paragraph of the Preface. His isolation is caused by the loftiness of his ideal and by his perfect devotion to it. He neglected attainable but imperfect good for the sake of ideal perfections which forever escape his grasp. One form of this devotion to the ideal is the desire for complete sympathy of mind and feeling, such as would be afforded by a woman in perfect harmony with his own highest self; it is this aspect of his eager but vain quest which is made especially prominent in Alastor.

These experiences, then, of Shelley's spiritual life and this mood in which he regards them, form the substance of the poem; the poet does not, however, describe these things directly: he symbolizes them in the wanderings of an imaginary hero, and the intangible feelings and experiences of which we have spoken are concretely shadowed forth in descriptions of scenery. But these descriptions do not stand in the poem solely on account of their symbolic import; the poet delights in them for their own sake, and so will the appreciative reader. To follow the course of a stream on foot or by boat was always to Shelley a peculiarly fascinating employment. In 1814 he had “ visited some of the more magnificent scenes of Switzerland, and returned to England from Lucerne by the Reuss and Rhine. This river-navigation enchanted him. In his favourite poem of Thalaba his imagination had been excited by the description of such a voyage” (Mrs. Shelley's note). In the beginning of September, 1815, immediately before writing Alastor, he had followed in a wherry the course of the Thames from Windsor almost to its source. The poem itself was written at Bishopsgate, on the borders of Windsor forest, amidst whose oaks he spent a great part of his time. From the stores of natural beauty thus accumulated in his mind, he shaped the scenery of the poem. But he does not realistically reproduce what he has observed. He modifies and combines elements derived from actual nature in order to reflect his own feelings and moods. But, although the journey of the hero symbolizes Shelley's own life, and the different scenes suggest the character of its various experiences, the reader must not attempt to press the symbolism too far. Alastor is not an allegory like the first two books of the Faery Queen; each circumstance does not have a definite allegorical meaning. But, rather, the poet, in the vaguer fashi of a musical composer, suggests and stimulates certain frames of mind and feeling through the use of concrete imagery. To appreciate the poem, we must catch its varying tone and spirit, not too inquisitively search for secondary senses.

The blank verse of Alastor is evidently affected by the study of Wordsworth (cf. Tintern Abbey, for example), and the influence of the elder poet is apparent also occasionally in individual phrases : “natural piety” (1. 3), “ obstinate questionings ” (1. 26), “ too deep for tears ” (1. 713). Southey's Thalaba, as Mrs. Shelley points out, was also a factor in the composition of Alastor, and Shelley may have read and got hints from Volney's Genie des Tombeaux.1

2 33. The lines with which the Preface closes are from Wordsworth's Excursion, Book I. Shelley misquotes; the original has “ And they” not “And those.”

1 Sources, parallel passages, etc., have been collected by Dr. Ackermann and M. Beljame ; see the Bibliography at end of this volume.

Alastor is a Greek word meaning an evil genius. Peacock, who suggested the title, explains, in his Memoirs of Shelley, that the poem is so called because the spirit of solitude is here treated as a spirit of evil. Alastor is not the name of the hero.

3 1-9. The poet invokes the inspiration of Nature.
3 2. Mother : Nature.
3 16.

This boast : the claims which the poet makes for himself in the preceding conditional clauses.

3 18. Mother : see l. 2.
4 46. modulate : be in harmony with.

4 50-66. A description of the hero; the most marked peculiarity of his life is its isolation.

5 60–63. Cf. Longfellow's Excelsior.

5 67–128. At l. 67 the narrative of the hero's life begins; it embodies, partly in symbols, Shelley's spiritual autobiography, -- his alienation from the opinions of those about him and his pursuit of truth through the study of science and of ancient literature.

6 93. Frequent: thronged; cf. Paradise Lost, I, 1. 797.

6 101. Shelley himself preferred a purely vegetable diet, and advocated abstinence from animal food in a note to Queen Mab, subsequently printed as a separate pamphlet.

6 118-120. M. Beljame in his edition of Alastor, p. 92, points out that Shelley had probably in mind the zodiac of Denderah, a ruined town of Upper Egypt, celebrated for a temple “with noble portico supported by twenty-four columns. The walls, columns, etc., are covered with figures and hieroglyphics. ... On the ceiling of the portico are numerous mythological figures arranged in zodiacal fashion.” In Volney's Ruines des Tombeaux mention is made of the zodiac of Denderah. 6 120.

This line refers to the hieroglyphics. 7 129–139. These lines symbolize the neglect of human sympathy and affection. Note how purely ideal the framework of the poem is; we do not, even in imagination, feel that these events and scenes have any reality.

7 140–191. Upon the poet's mind bursts the conception of ideal perfection and beauty embodied in female form. Nothing will satisfy him but the finding of the counterpart of this ideal in the actual world. The search for this counterpart becomes the passion of his life, and is symbolized in the further wanderings of the hero. Cf. 11. 190–255 of Epipsychidion.

7 141. Carmanian : Carmania (modern Kerman), an eastern province of Persia, containing a frightful salt desert.

[ocr errors]

7 142. The mountains where the Indus and Oxus rise are the Hindu-Kush.

7 145. the vale of Cashmire is the valley of the Upper Jhelum in northern India, proverbial for its beauty and fertility.

9 193-6. An example of Shelley's power of suggesting a vast landscape.

9 211-222 If the ideal is unattainable in this life, may it not be ours after death?

9 219. Conduct: this is the reading of the original edition. Rossetti conjectures conducts, which seems natural, as “vault” is the subject; but Forman suggests that “ Shelley meant us to understand the rather outré construction, * Does the bright arch lead, while does death's blue vault conduct,' etc."

9 213-219. The connection of the two ideas here expressed seems to be: “ If the beautiful reflection in the water allures to something so unlike itself as the black depths beneath, may not the ugly vault of death lead to something as unlike itself, to the beautiful ideal world ?”

10 227 ff. Such a conflict between an eagle and a serpent is described at length in stanzas viii ff. of The Revolt of Islam, I.

10 240. Aornos: in ancient times one of the chief cities of Bactria, near the northern foot of the Hindu-Kush Mountains. This and other of the proper names in the passage are evidently derived from the poet's reading in classical literature.

Petra : the Petra referred to is probably the city situated on a lofty cliff in Sogdiana, mentioned in Quintus Curtius as taken by Alexander the Great.

10 242. Balk: the modern name of Bactra, a city situated somewhat to the east of Aornos. These two places are mentioned as the greatest cities of Bactria in Arrian's Expedition of Alexander (M. Beljame's edition, p. 112).

where the desolated tombs, etc.: at Arbela, namely, a city in Adiabene in Assyria; the Emperor Caracalla dispersed the contents of the tombs of the Parthian kings to the winds (see Dion Cassius, Ixxviii, 1, cited by M. Beljame, p. 113).

10 255–271. Cf. Longfellow's Excelsior.

11 272. Chorasmian shore : in ancient times the Chorasmii dwelt to the south of the Aral Sea, and one would suppose that the shore of this lake is referred to. The description of the voyage and the reference to the Caucasus (1. 377) would, however, lead us to suppose that the poet had in his mind the Caspian Sea. M. Beljame seems to

« AnteriorContinuar »