Shelley, a poem, with other writings relating to Shelley, to which is added an essay on the poems of William Blake/Shelley (Poem)


UPON a grassy slope of shore I lay
   Hour after hour, from sunset into night,
Outgazing tranquil o'er the tranquil bay,
   And dreaming in a mood of rare delight.
   Yes, for some hours, sky-pure sea-calm star-bright
My spirit was in tune with heaven and earth,
Nor felt the discords of its mortal birth.

The round moon floated half-way up the sky,
   Beneath an arch of clouds serenely fair
As if upfurled where never breeze could fly:
   So that it seemed a lamp suspended there
   To light the sea-floored theatre of air;
Whose curtain raised, whose hush of expectation
Foretold a solemn drama's celebration.

My dream grew deeper, deeper evermore;
   A sleepless dream, a seeing trance, no swoon.
I floated with the throb of sea and shore,
   And felt the earth swift-wheeling with the moon,
   And saw the worlds as they indeed are,—strewn
Above, below, as fish through ocean roam,
Not gliding round an even-surfaced dome.

Until the Drama which that hush foretold
   Did come indeed as at a monarch's call;
Although its pregnant scenes were not unrolled
   Upon that sea-stage, nor within that wall
   Of circling crystal, nor were lamped at all
By that serenest moon, they claimed a stage
Of ampler scope and grander equipage.

The stars are speeding in their companies;
   God's chariots in divine array, they roll
Circling the sphere of three infinities,
   Our symbol of His thought-confounding Whole
   As Plato saw them with his clear-eyed soul,[1]
He saw, we saw; and each one tries to tell
The Vision each one knows ineffable.

And every silver-burning chariot-sphere
   Whose wheels churn Æther to the foam of Light
Is guided by its seraph-charioteer,
   Serenely regnant o'er its fulgent flight,
   Sceptred and crowned and clothed with awful might:
The infinite armies of the Lord, whose pinions
Flash fire throughout His infinite dominions.

And yet, as every dreamer seems to be
   The centre of the action of his dream,
Our speck of this poor earth-speck was to me
   The single central fountain whence did stream
   The growing river of that drama's theme;
Which rolled so far and broadened out so wide
That all the worlds were floated on its tide.

A voice fell past me like a plummet cast
   To fathom that unfathomable sea,
A voice austerely sad,—"At last, at last
   The measure of the earth's iniquity
   Brims God's great urn; at last it all must be
Poured out upon the earth in blood and tears
And raging fire, for years and years and years.

"The Churches are polluted,—let them fall
   And crush old errors underneath their weight;
The royal purples are a bloody pall
   To stifle Freedom,—rend them ere too late;
   The laws are silken meshes for the great
But iron nets to hold the poor and mean,—
Let them too perish . . . . But what next is seen?

"Because the priests were false, the shrines impure,
   Mankind in God Himself all faith have lost;
Because blood dyed old purples, they endure
   To walk all naked in the sun and frost;
   Because old laws the law of justice crost,
They would live henceforth without any law:
No loyal service, no revering awe!

"Who will go down amidst these desolations
   Of fire and blood and lunacies and woe,
To chant aloud to all the wildered nations
   Those heavenly truths no earth can overthrow,
   The changeless truths Eternal? Who will go
To preach the Gospel of our Lord above,
Chanting perpetually the law of Love?"

Throughout the whole sphere-throbbing vastitude
   Deep silence followed when that great voice ended;
Even the music of the multitude
   Of all their rhythmic revolutions blended,
   The ever-rolling music, seemed suspended:
And I then dared to lift my awe-shut eyes
And search for him who spoke throughout the skies.

Search for the moon of night, the sun of day!—
   In centre of the universal round
A broad and steadfast disc of splendour lay;
   Fit field for him who stood upon its ground,
   The solemn angel with pure glory crowned,—
His right hand raised, his countenance divine
Intently listening through the hyaline.

From far, far, far, far even in that vast,
   A voice came trembling ravishingly sweet—
"O Raphael beloved of God! the last
   And meanest of the spirits who repeat
   Eternal praises round the Judgment-Seat
Implores that he, if none of greater worth,
May sing the self-same praises on that earth."

A pure joy lighted up great Raphael's face
   As then he gestured "Hither!"; and there came
A star-like speck from out the bounds of space
   With swift and swerveless flight to reach its aim;
   Developing into a tongue of flame,
Until it stood upon that field of light
A fervent Seraph beautiful and bright.

Most beautiful in the eternal youth
   Of those who ever breathe the heavenly air
Of perfect holiness and love and truth;
   Most bright in full-flusht fervour, standing there
   With half-spread wings and backward-streaming hair,
As if alit for but a moment's rest
While speeding forward on his single quest.

Then Raphael laid a benedictive hand
   On that pure brow, and spake in gentle tone—
"Thou dear, dear Child of God, than whom doth stand
   No purer humbler spirit near His throne,
   And none more ardent to speed forth alone
On any errand from the bliss above
In single-hearted and unbounded love;

"Thy service is accepted: thou shalt pall
   In mortal flesh thy seraphood sublime;
A witness of the one true Lord of all
   Amidst a world gone mad with sin and crime,
   A prophet of the glorious Future time
And of Eternity when Time is past
Amidst the Present of a world aghast.

"I see the storm's commencing clouds of gloom,
   I see the storm's first lightnings fiercely flash,
I hear the storm's first thunders roll and boom,
   I hear the storm's first ruins quake and crash,—
   O Man, thy judgment-wrath is wild and rash!
...Go down, dear Child; and may God give thee power
To serve Him loyally thro' this stern hour."

Then most elastic Time, as oft in dream,
   Stretched out until five lustrums came and went,
Swaying my soul upon their stormy stream.
   The earth was shaken, the great deeps were rent;
   From all the quarters of the firmament
A desolating deluge seemed to pour
Of fire and blood and tears and frantic war.

Amidst whose terrors one stern human form,
   Above the mad crowds throned in haughty state,
Appeared to wield the thunders of the storm
   And hurl its dreadful lightnings, and dilate—
   The Captain-Executioner of Fate;
Until dragged down, and with a galling chain
Bound to a lonely rock amidst the main.

And then another lustrum came and went,
   Of peaceful years compared with those before;
Wherein I heard that Voice whose ravishment
   I had not heard amid the crash and roar
   And shriekings of the earth-confusing war.
Through all the lustrum till the chained Chief died
That glorious Voice the air beatified.

A voice of right amidst a world gone wrong,
   A voice of hope amidst a world's despair,
A voice instinct with such melodious song
   As hardly until then had thrilled the air
   Of this gross underworld wherein we fare
With heavenly inspirations, too divine
For souls besotted with earth's sensual wine.

All powers and virtues that ennoble men—
   The hero's courage and the martyr's truth,
The saint's white purity, the prophet's ken,
   The high unworldliness of ardent youth,
   The poet's rapture, the apostle's ruth,
Informed the Song; whose theme all themes above
Was still the sole supremacy of Love.

The peals of thunder echoing through the sky,
   The moaning and the surging roar of seas,
The rushing of the storm's stern harmony,
   The subtlest whispers of the summer breeze,
   The notes of singing birds, the hum of bees,
All sounds of nature, sweet and wild and strong
Commingled in the flowing of the song;

Which flowing mirrored all the Universe,—
   With sunsets flushing down the golden lines,
And mountains towering in the lofty verse,
   And landscapes with their olives and their vines
   Spread out beneath a sun which ever shines,
With moonlit seas and pure star-spangled skies,
The World a Poem, and Earth Paradise.

But ever and anon in its swift sweetness
   The voice was heard to lisp and hesitate,
Or quiver absently from its completeness,
   As one in foreign realms who must translate
   Old thoughts into new language—Ah, how great
The difference between our rugged tongue
And that in which its hymns before were sung!

A glorious voice of glorious inspiration;
   A voice of rapid rapture so intense
That in its musical intoxication
   The Truth arrayed with such an affluence
   Of Beauty half-escaped the ravished sense,—
A sun scarce visible in its own shine,
A god forgotten in his gorgeous shrine.

A voice divinely sweet, a voice no less
   Divinely sad; for all the maddening jar
Of all the wide world's sin and wretchedness
   Swelled round its music, as when round a star
   Black storm-clouds gather and its white light mar:
Pure music is pure bliss in heaven alone;
Earth's air transmutes it to melodious moan.
The lustrum passed. The vultures of despair
   And fierce ambition ceased not to consume
The heart of him rock-bound, who failed to bear
   With Titan-patience his Promethean doom—
   Lacking the Titan's conscience. When the tomb
Had held him but a little while in peace,
I heard the singing voice for ever cease.

And then once more the Vision filled my soul
   Of universal Æther, and the spheres
Whose marshalled myriads through its silence roll
   With life and light and music; while the years,
   Heavy with anguish, blind with blood and tears,
Pant after them, exhausted one by one
Till the last heir of Time shall sink foredone.

Upon his central field of burning gold
   Great Raphael stood; and there with meek head bowed
And drooping wings and suppliant hands, behold,
   The Seraph knelt, whom still the sullen cloud
   Of mortal life enveloped like a shroud,
Through which his native glorious beauty shone
Star-sad, star-pure, star-tremulous, star-wan.

And Raphael said "How faint and sad and pale
   You now return to us, Beloved One,
From that far Earth of stormy guilt and bale
   Wherein thy errand now is wholly done!
   Hath ever God deserted a dear Son?"
While bending down, his princely hand carest
The saintly brow so pallid and deprest.
What voice of quivering anguish made reply!—
   "I am unworthy of thy ruthful love,
Thou pure Archangel! Never more may I
   Rejoin in bliss the stainless quires above,
   Who singing in their circles ever move
Around the footstool of the Throne of Grace;
Ah, never, nevermore behold His face!

"I dared—weak worm unconscious of my weakness!—
   To claim a service to our Lord and King—;
And I have failed;—in hope and faith and meekness,
In wisdom, knowledge, patient suffering,
   In prudence, calmness, power, in everything!
   The awful eyes of all Thy stars, O Lord,
Transfix me with rebukes, each glance a sword!

"Breathing for ever Heaven's inviolate calm,
   I knew not how on Earth the wild winds blow;
Singing for ever Heaven's ecstatic psalm,
   I knew not how on earth the wails of woe
   And shrieks of rage to maddening discord grow;
Circling for ever in the Sun's full light,
I knew not Earth's black clouds and sphereless night.

"I could not understand men; all their hearts
   Had secrets which I could not even guess.
Their greed for dross upon the daily marts,
   Their pride and fawning in the palaces,
   Their solemn church-attending worldliness,
Their servile fear of Custom's lawless law,
Filled me with sad perplexity and awe.

"Their gods seemed hideous monsters only great
   In power and malice, or such phantoms vain
As self-bewildered thought might evocate
   To mock the yearning heart and weary brain.
   I strove to teach them the true God, Whose reign
Is infinite love for all things that exist;
And I was branded as an Atheist.

"I pitied both the tyrant and the slave;
   The one so cursed with pride and heartless mood,
The other from the cradle to the grave
   With soul and body famishing for food.
   I charged them by their common brotherhood
To fling their mutual bonds off and be free:
They paused in their old strife to spurn at me.

"I who was sent to charm their souls to love,
   Could only vex them to worse hate and scorn;
And yet I swear, O Raphael, that I strove
   With all my power to mend their state forlorn:
   By every pang they felt my heart was torn,[2]
And wounded worse by their unkindly spurning:
I love them with a love of infinite yearning.

"Lo, I have failed: but God, He cannot fail.
   He speeds a shaft against Hell's Dragon-King,
And it falls shivered from the iron mail;—
   There let it rot, the weak and worthless thing!
   I dare to triumph in my perishing:
His quiver lacks not many a nobler dart
Equal to pierce the Monster to the heart!"

But Raphael raised the Seraph from his kneeling,
   And prest him heart to heart in long embrace;
Then stood erect, to all the heights revealing
   The fulgent beauty of his solemn face;
   And flung abroad his voice to swell through space
And thrill on all the ever-rolling spheres
Triumphant music for celestial ears.

"I call to witness all the angel-quires
   Sphering the heavens with their eternal hymn,
I call to witness all the orbed fires
   Bearing the light of life through Æther dim;
The Saints, the Cherubim, the Seraphim,
All armies of the Servants of our Lord,
I call to witness to my just award.

"Thou hast not failed; where holy love and truth
   Contend with Evil failure cannot be:
Their sorest scars claim reverence not ruth,
   Their worst repulse is still a victory.
   Thou, well-belovèd, who didst bend the knee
In pure self-sacrifice to meet God's frown,
Kneeling wert circled with the martyr's crown.

"Music is sweet, whatever madmen's ears
   Be startled and tormented by the strain;
Sunshine is glorious, whatever spheres
   Cloud themselves from it in dark storm and rain:
   Your spirit is as pure from worldly stain
As is a moonbeam on a shore of slime;
You sank not your Eternity in Time.

"O wretched Earth! God sends thee age by age,
   In pity of thy wild perpetual moan,
The saint, the bard, the hero, and the sage:
   But still the lofty life is led alone,
   The singer sings as in a tongue unknown,
The sage's wisdom lamps his single urn;
Thou wilt not heed or imitate or learn.

"The blood of prophets thou hast loved to shed
   Still keepeth green thy fields, whose costly soil
Is of the dust of nameless heroes dead;[3]
   The only music in the vast turmoil
   Of all thy complicated strife and toil
Was breathed from poets whom you starved with scorn:[4]
O ever-unregenerate world forlorn!"

Lo, while the great Archangel's voice rang on,
   The spirit by that tearful earth-cloud shaded
In ever clear and clearer beauty shone
   To full transfiguration; for it faded
   As mists of night whose meshes are unbraided
By the swift beams of morning, so that they
Evanish wholly in the perfect day.

And there, amidst the wheeling constellations,
   Upon the central disc of burning gold
That throbbed harmonious with their palpitations,
   He stood with Raphael glorious to behold. . . . .
   Then all the Vision from my brain was rolled;
For that broad disc of palpitating fire,
Consuming far through heaven the dead night's pyre,

And bridging the deep bay with golden splendour,
   Was our own Sun . . . The sky was clear and calm,
The morning air most fragrant, fresh and tender;
   The green earth glittered with its dewy balm:
   The flashing waters sang a joyous psalm,
All was as beautiful and pure that morn
As if a sinless world had just been born.

Jersey, 1861.

  1. See the Phædrus.
  2. "Me, who am as a nerve o'er which do creep
    The else-unfelt oppressions of the earth."
    "Julian and Maddalo."
  3. Carlyle.
  4. "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."— Shelley, "Defence of Poetry."