Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.

Savoy: Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc

By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni

THE EVERLASTING universe of things

Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,

Now dark, now glittering, now reflecting gloom,

Now lending splendor, where from secret springs

The source of human thought its tribute brings

Of waters,—with a sound but half its own,

Such as a feeble brook will oft assume

In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,

Where waterfalls around it leap forever,

Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river

Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

Thus thou, Ravine of Arve,—dark, deep ravine,—

Thou many-colored, many-voicéd vale,

Over whose pines and crags and caverns sail

Fast clouds, shadows, and sunbeams; awful scene,

Where power in likeness of the Arve comes down,

From the ice-gulfs that gird his secret throne,

Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame

Of lightning through the tempest,—thou dost lie,

The giant brood of pines around thee clinging,

Children of elder time, in whose devotion

The chainless winds still come and ever came

To drink their odors, and their mighty swinging

To hear,—an old and solemn harmony;

Thine earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep

Of the ethereal waterfall, whose veil

Robes some unsculptured image; the strange sleep

Which, when the voices of the desert fail,

Wraps all in its own deep eternity;

Thy caverns echoing to the Arve’s commotion

A loud, lone sound, no other sound can tame:

Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion,

Thou art the path of that unresting sound,

Dizzy ravine! and when I gaze on thee,

I seem as in a trance sublime and strange

To muse on my own separate fantasy,

My own, my human mind, which passively

Now renders and receives fast influencings,

Holding an unremitting interchange

With the clear universe of things around;

One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings

Now float above thy darkness, and now rest

Where that or thou art no unbidden guest,

In the still cave of the witch Poesy,

Seeking among the shadows that pass by,

Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,

Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast

From which they fled recalls them, thou art there!

Some say that gleams of a remoter world

Visit the soul in sleep,—that death is slumber,

And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber

Of those who wake and live. I look on high;

Has some unknown omnipotence unfurled

The veil of life and death? or do I lie

In dream, and does the mightier world of sleep

Speed far around and inaccessibly

Its circles? for the very spirit fails,

Driven like a homeless cloud from steep to steep

That vanishes among the viewless gales!

Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,

Mont Blanc appears, still, snowy, and serene,—

Its subject mountains their unearthly forms

Pile round it, ice and rock; broad vales between

Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,

Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread

And wind among the accumulated steeps;

A desert peopled by the storms alone,

Save when the eagle brings some hunter’s bone,

And the wolf tracks her there,—how hideously

Its shapes are heaped around! rude, bare, and high,

Ghastly, and scarred, and riven. Is this the scene

Where the old earthquake-demon taught her young

Ruin? Were these their toys? or did a sea

Of fire envelop once this silent snow?

None can reply,—all seems eternal now.

The wilderness has a mysterious tongue

Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,

So solemn, so serene, that man may be

But for such faith with nature reconciled;

Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal

Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood

By all, but which the wise and great and good

Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.

The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams,

Ocean, and all the living things that dwell

Within the dædal earth; lightning, and rain,

Earthquake, and fiery flood, and hurricane,

The torpor of the year when feeble dreams

Visit the hidden buds, or dreamless sleep

Holds every future leaf and flower,—the bound

With which from that detested trance they leap;

The works and ways of man, their death and birth,

And that of him, and all that his may be;

All things that move and breathe with toil and sound

Are born and die, revolve, subside, and swell.

Power dwells apart in its tranquillity,

Remote, serene, and inaccessible:

And this, the naked countenance of earth,

On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains,

Teach the adverting mind. The glaciers creep,

Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains,

Slowly rolling on; there, many a precipice

Frost and the sun in scorn of mortal power

Have piled,—dome, pyramid, and pinnacle,

A city of death, distinct with many a tower,

And wall impregnable of beaming ice.

Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin

Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky

Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing

Its destined path, or in the mangled soil

Branchless and shattered stand; the rocks, drawn down

From yon remotest waste, have overthrown

The limits of the dead and living world,

Never to be reclaimed. The dwelling-place

Of insects, beasts, and birds becomes its spoil;

Their food and their retreat forever gone,

So much of life and joy is lost. The race

Of man flies far in dread: his work and dwelling

Vanish, like smoke before the tempest’s stream,

And their place is not known. Below, vast caves

Shine in the rushing torrent’s restless gleam,

Which from those secret chasms in tumult welling

Meet in the Vale, and one majestic river,

The breath and blood of distant lands, forever

Rolls its loud waters to the ocean waves,

Breathes its swift vapors to the circling air.

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high: the power is there,

The still and solemn power of many sights

And many sounds, and much of life and death.

In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,

In the lone glare of day, the snows descend

Upon that mountain; none beholds them there,

Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,

Or the star-beams dart through them; winds contend

Silently there, and heap the snow, with breath

Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home

The voiceless lightning in these solitudes

Keeps innocently, and like vapor broods

Over the snow. The secret strength of things,

Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome

Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!

And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,

If to the human mind’s imaginings

Silence and solitude were vacancy?