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English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

505. Written Among the Euganean Hills, North Italy

MANY a green isle needs must be

In the deep wide sea of misery,

Or the mariner, worn and wan,

Never thus could voyage on

Day and night, and night and day,

Drifting on his dreary way,

With the solid darkness black

Closing round his vessel’s track;

Whilst above, the sunless sky

Big with clouds, hangs heavily,

And behind the tempest fleet

Hurries on with lightning feet,

Riving sail, and cord, and plank,

Till the ship has almost drank

Death from the o’er-brimming deep;

And sinks down, down, like that sleep

When the dreamer seems to be

Weltering through eternity;

And the dim low line before

Of a dark and distant shore

Still recedes, as ever still

Longing with divided will,

But no power to seek or shun,

He is ever drifted on

O’er the unreposing wave,

To the haven of the grave.

What, if there no friends will greet;

What, if there no heart will meet

His with love’s impatient beat;

Wander whereso’er he may,

Can he dream before that day

To find refuge from distress

In friendship’s smile, in love’s caress?

Then ’twill wreak him little woe

Whether such there be or no:

Senseless is the breast, and cold,

Which relenting love would fold;

Bloodless are the veins and chill

Which the pulse of pain did fill;

Every little living nerve

That from bitter words did swerve

Round the tortured lips and brow,

Are like sapless leaflets now

Frozen upon December’s bough.

On the beach of a northern sea

Which tempests shake eternally,

As once the wretch there lay to sleep,

Lies a solitary heap,

One white skull and seven dry bones,

On the margin of the stones,

Where a few gray rushes stand,

Boundaries of the sea and land:

Nor is heard one voice of wail

But the sea-mews, as they sail

O’er the billows of the gale;

Or the whirlwind up and down

Howling, like a slaughtered town,

When a king in glory rides

Through the pomp of fratricides:

Those unburied bones around

There is many a mournful sound;

There is no lament for him,

Like a sunless vapour, dim,

Who once clothed with life and thought

What now moves nor murmurs not.

Ay, many flowering islands lie

In the waters of wide Agony:

To such a one this morn was led

My bark, by soft winds piloted.

—’Mid the mountains Euganean

I stood listening to the paean

With which the legion’d rooks did hail

The Sun’s uprise majestical:

Gathering round with wings all hoar,

Through the dewy mist they soar

Like gray shades, till the eastern heaven

Bursts, and then,—as clouds of even

Fleck’d with fire and azure, lie

In the unfathomable sky,—

So their plumes of purple grain

Starr’d with drops of golden rain

Gleam above the sunlight woods,

As in silent multitudes

On the morning’s fitful gale

Through the broken mist they sail;

And the vapours cloven and gleaming

Follow down the dark steep streaming,

Till all is bright, and clear, and still

Round the solitary hill.

Beneath is spread like a green sea

The waveless plain of Lombardy,

Bounded by the vaporous air,

Islanded by cities fair;

Underneath day’s azure eyes,

Ocean’s nursling, Venice lies,—

A peopled labyrinth of walls,

Amphrite’s destined halls,

Which her hoary sire now paves

With his blue and beaming waves.

Lo! the sun upsprings behind,

Broad, red, radiant, half-reclined

On the level quivering line

Of the waters crystalline;

And before that chasm of light,

As within a furnace bright,

Column, tower, and dome, and spire,

Shine like obelisks of fire,

Pointing with inconstant motion

From the altar of dark ocean

To the sapphire-tinted skies;

As the flames of sacrifice

From the marble shrines did rise

As to pierce the dome of gold

Where Apollo spoke of old.

Sun-girt City! thou hast been

Ocean’s child, and then his queen;

Now is come a darker day,

And thou soon must be his prey,

If the power that raised thee here

Hallow so thy watery bier.

A less drear ruin then than now

With thy conquest-branded brow

Stooping to the slave of slaves

From thy throne among the waves,

Wilt thou be,—when the sea-mew

Flies, as once before it flew,

O’er thine isles depopulate,

And all is in its ancient state,

Save where many a palace-gate

With green sea-flowers overgrown

Like a rock of ocean’s own,

Topples o’er the abandon’d sea

As the tides change sullenly.

The fisher on his watery way

Wandering at the close of day,

Will spread his sail and seize his oar

Till he pass the gloomy shore,

Lest thy dead should, from their sleep,

Bursting o’er the starlight deep,

Lead a rapid masque of death

O’er the waters of his path.

Noon descends around me now:

’Tis the noon of autumn’s glow,

When a soft and purple mist

Like a vaporous amethyst,

Or an air-dissolvéd star

Mingling light and fragrance, far

From the curved horizon’s bound

To the point of heaven’s profound,

Fills the overflowing sky;

And the plains that silent lie

Underneath; the leaves unsodden

Where the infant frost has trodden

With his morning-wingéd feet

Whose bright print is gleaming yet;

And the red and golden vines

Piercing with their trellised lines

The rough, dark-skirted wilderness;

The dun and bladed grass no less,

Pointing from this hoary tower

In the windless air; the flower

Glimmering at my feet; the line

Of the olive-sandall’d Apennine

In the south dimly islanded;

And the Alps, whose snows are spread

High between the clouds and sun;

And of living things each one;

And my spirit, which so long

Darken’d this swift stream of song,—

Interpenetrated lie

By the glory of the sky;

Be it love, light, harmony,

Odour, or the soul of all

Which from heaven like dew doth fall,

Or the mind which feels this verse,

Peopling the lone universe.

Noon descends, and after noon

Autumn’s evening meets me soon,

Leading the infantine moon

And that one star, which to her

Almost seems to minister

Half the crimson light she brings

From the sunset’s radiant springs:

And the soft dreams of the morn

(Which like wingéd winds had borne

To that silent isle, which lies

’Mid remember’d agonies,

The frail bark of this lone being),

Pass, to other sufferers fleeing,

And its ancient pilot, Pain,

Sits beside the helm again.

Other flowering isles must be

In the sea of life and agony:

Other spirits float and flee

O’er that gulf: ev’n now, perhaps,

On some rock the wild wave wraps,

With folding wings they waiting sit

For my bark, to pilot it

To some calm and blooming cove,

Where for me, and those I love,

May a windless bower be built,

Far from passion, pain, and guilt,

In a dell ’mid lawny hills

Which the wild sea-murmur fills,

And soft sunshine, and the sound

Of old forests echoing round,

And the light and smell divine

Of all flowers that breathe and shine.

—We may live so happy there,

That the spirits of the air

Envying us, may even entice

To our healing paradise

The polluting multitude;

But their rage would be subdued

By that clime divine and calm,

And the winds whose wings rain balm

On the uplifted soul, and leaves

Under which the bright sea heaves;

While each breathless interval

In their whisperings musical

The inspired soul supplies

With its own deep melodies;

And the Love which heals all strife

Circling, like the breath of life,

All things in that sweet abode

With its own mild brotherhood.

They, not it, would change; and soon

Every sprite beneath the moon

Would repent its envy vain,

And the Earth grow young again!