Home  »  The Book of Georgian Verse  »  Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.


Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

SWEET 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-wingèd 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 lampless Universe!

Thou Moon beyond the clouds! Thou living Form

Among the Dead! Thou Star above the Storm!

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,

All shapes look glorious which thou gazest on!

Ay, even the dim words which obscure thee now

Flash, lighting-like, with unaccustomed glow;

I pray thee that thou blot from this sad song

All 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 ecstasy:

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 soars and sings,

Young Love should teach Time, in his own gray style,

All that thou art. Art thou not void of guile,

A lovely soul formed to be blest and bless?

A well of sealed and secret happiness,

Whose waters like blithe light and music are,

Vanquishing dissonance and gloom? A Star

Which moves not in the moving Heavens, alone?

A smile amid dark frowns? a gentle tone

Amid rude voices? a belovèd light?

A Solitude, a Refuge, a Delight?

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?

A cradle of young thoughts of wingless pleasure;

A violet-shrouded grave of Woe?—I measure

The world of fancies, seeking one like thee,

And find—alas! 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-wingèd 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 fills 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 of the eternal Moon of Love

Under whose motion 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? where am I lifted? how

Shall I descend, and perish not? 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! Oh, too late

Belovèd! Oh, too soon adored, by me!

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 wrecked.

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! 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:

Evil 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 gray 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 sandalled with plumes of fire,

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,

Passed, like a God throned on a wingèd 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:

When a voice said:—‘O Thou of 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 control

Over the sightless tyrants of our fate;

But neither prayer nor verse could dissipate

The night which closed on her; nor uncreate

That world within this Chaos, mine and me,

Of which she was the veiled Divinity,

The world I say of thoughts that worshipped her:

And therefore I went forth, with hope and fear

And every gentle passion sick to death,

Feeding my course with expectation’s breath,

Into the wintry forest of our life;

And struggling through its error with vain strife,

And stumbling in my weakness and my haste,

And half bewildered by new forms, I past

Seeking among those untaught foresters

If I could find one form resembling hers,

In which she might have masked herself from me.

There,—One, whose voice was venomed melody

Sate by a well, under blue nightshade bowers;

The breath of her false mouth was like faint flowers,

Her touch was as electric poison,—flame

Out of her looks into my vitals came,

And from her living cheeks and bosom flew

A killing air, which pierced like honey-dew

Into the core of my green heart, and lay

Upon its leaves; until, as hair grown gray

O’er a young brow, they hid its unblown prime

With ruins of unseasonable time.

In many mortal forms I rashly sought

The shadow of that idol of my thought,

And some were fair—but beauty dies away:

Other were wise—but honeyed words betray:

And One was true—oh! why not true to me?

Then, as a hunted deer that could not flee,

I turned upon my thoughts, and stood at bay,

Wounded and weak and panting; the cold day

Trembled, for pity of my strife and pain.

When, like a noonday dawn, there shone again

Deliverance. One stood on my path who seemed

As like the glorious shape which I had dreamed,

As is the Moon, whose changes ever run

Into themselves, to the eternal Sun;

The cold chaste Moon, the Queen of Heaven’s bright isles,

Who makes all beautiful on which she smiles,

That wandering shrine of soft yet icy flame

Which ever is transformed, yet still the same,

And warms not but illumines. Young and fair

As the descended Spirit of that Sphere,

She hid me, as the Moon may hide the night

From its own darkness, until all was bright

Between the Heaven and Earth of my calm mind,

And, as a cloud charioted by the wind,

She led me to a cave in that wild place,

And sate beside me, with her downward face

Illumining my slumbers, like the Moon

Waxing and waning o’er Endymion.

And I was laid asleep, spirit and limb,

And all my being became bright or dim

As the Moon’s image in a summer sea,

According as she smiled or frowned on me;

And there I lay, within a chaste cold bed:

Alas, I then was nor alive nor dead:—

For at her silver voice came Death and Life,

Unmindful each of their accustomed strife,

Masked like twin babes, a sister and a brother,

The wandering hopes of one abandoned mother,

And through the cavern without wings they flew,

And cried ‘Away, he is not of our crew.’

I wept, and though it be a dream, I weep.

What storms then shook the ocean of my sleep,

Blotting that Moon, whose pale and waning lips

Then shrank as in the sickness of eclipse:—

And how my soul was as a lampless sea,

And who was then its Tempest; and when She,

The Planet of that hour, was quenched, what frost

Crept o’er those waters, till from coast to coast

The moving billows of my being fell

Into a death of ice, immovable:—

And then—what earthquakes made it gape and split,

The white Moon smiling all the while on it,

These words conceal:—If not, each word would be

The key of staunchless tears. Weep not for me!

At length, into the obscure Forest came

The Vision I had sought through grief and shame.

Athwart that wintry wilderness of thorns

Flashed from her motion splendour like the Morn’s

And from her presence life was radiated

Through the gray earth and branches bare and dead;

So that her way was paved, and roofed above

With flowers as soft as thoughts of budding love;

And music from her respiration spread

Like light,—all other sounds were penetrated

By the small, still, sweet spirit of that sound,

So that the savage winds hung mute around;

And odours warm and fresh fell from her hair,

Dissolving the dull cold in the frore air:

Soft as an Incarnation of the Sun,

When light is changed to love, this glorious One

Floated into the cavern where I lay,

And called my Spirit, and the dreaming clay

Was lifted by the thing that dreamed below

As smoke by fire, and in her beauty’s glow

I stood, and felt the dawn of my long night

Was penetrating me with living light:

I knew it was the Vision veiled from me

So many years—that it was Emily.

Twin Spheres of light who rule this passive Earth,

This world of love, this me; and into birth

Awaken all its fruits and flowers, and dart

Magnetic might into its central heart;

And lift its billows and its mists, and guide

By everlasting laws, each wind and tide

To its fit cloud, and its appointed cave;

And lull its storms, each in the craggy grave

Which was its cradle, luring to faint bowers

The armies of the rainbow-wingèd showers;

And, as those married lights, which from the towers

Of Heaven look forth and fold the wandering globe

In liquid sleep and splendour, as a robe;

And all their many-mingled influence blend,

If equal, yet unlike, to one sweet end;—

So ye, bright regents, with alternate sway

Govern my sphere of being, night and day!

Thou, not disdaining even a borrowed might;

Thou, not eclipsing a remoter light;

And, through the shadows of the seasons three,

From Spring to Autumn’s sere maturity,

Light it into the Winter of the tomb,

Where it may ripen to a brighter bloom.

Thou too, O Comet beautiful and fierce,

Who drew the heart of this frail Universe

Towards thine own; till, wrecked in that convulsion,

Alternating attraction and repulsion,

Thine went astray and that was rent in twain;

Oh, float into our azure heaven again!

Be there love’s folding-star at thy return;

The living Sun will feed thee from its urn

Of golden fire; the Moon will veil her horn

In thy last smiles; adoring Even and Morn

Will worship thee with incense of calm breath

And lights and shadows; as the star of Death

And Birth is worshipped by those sisters wild

Called Hope and Fear—upon the heart are piled

Their offerings,—of this sacrifice divine

A World shall be the altar.
Lady mine,

Scorn not these flowers of thought, the fading birth

Which from its heart of hearts that plant puts forth

Whose fruit, made perfect by thy sunny eyes,

Will be as of the trees of Paradise.

The day is come, and thou wilt fly with me.

To whatsoe’er of dull mortality

Is mine, remain a vestal sister still;

To the intense, the deep, the imperishable,

Not mine but me, henceforth be thou united

Even as a bride, delighting and delighted.

The hour is come:—the destined Star has risen

Which shall descend upon a vacant prison.

The walls are high, the gates are strong, thick set

The sentinels—but true Love never yet

Was thus constrained: it overleaps all fence:

Like lightning, with invisible violence

Piercing its continents; like Heaven’s free breath,

Which he who grasps can hold not; liker Death,

Who rides upon a thought, and makes his way

Through temple, tower, and palace, and the array

Of arms; more strength has Love than he or they;

For it can burst his charnel, and make free

The limbs in chains, the heart in agony,

The soul in dust and chaos.

A ship is floating in the harbour now,

A wind is hovering o’er the mountain’s brow;

There is a path on the sea’s azure floor,

No keel has ever ploughed that path before;

The halcyons brood around the foamless isles;

The treacherous ocean has foresworn its wiles;

The merry mariners are bold and free;

Say, my heart’s sister, wilt thou sail with me?

Our bark is as an albatross, whose nest

Is a far Eden of the purple East;

And we between her wings will sit, while Night

And Day, and Storm, and Calm, pursue their flight,

Our ministers, along the boundless Sea,

Treading each other’s heels, unheededly.

It is an Isle under Ionian skies,

Beautiful as a wreck of Paradise,

And, for the harbours are not safe and good,

This land would have remained a solitude

But for some pastoral people native there,

Who from the Elysian, clear and golden air

Draw the last spirit of the age of gold,

Simple and spirited, innocent and bold.

The blue Ægean girds this chosen home,

With ever-changing sound and light and foam,

Kissing the sifted sands, and caverns hoar;

And all the winds wandering along the shore

Undulate with the undulating tide:

There are thick woods where sylvan forms abide;

And many a fountain, rivulet, and pond,

As clear as elemental diamond,

Or serene morning air; and far beyond,

The mossy tracks made by the goats and deer

(Which the rough shepherd treads but once a year),

Pierce into glades, caverns, and bowers, and halls

Built round with ivy, which the waterfalls

Illumining, with sound that never fails

Accompany the noonday nightingales;

And all the place is peopled with sweet airs;

The light clear element which the isle wears

Is heavy with scent of lemon-flowers,

Which floats like mist laden with unseen showers

And falls upon the eyelids like faint sleep;

And from the moss violets and jonquils peep,

And dart their arrowy odour through the brain

Till you might faint with that delicious pain,

And every motion, odour, beam and tone

With that deep music is in unison:

Which is a soul within the soul—they seem

Like echoes of an antenatal dream.—

It is an isle ’twixt Heaven, Air, Earth, and Sea,

Cradled, and hung in clear tranquillity;

Bright as that wandering Eden Lucifer,

Washed by the soft blue Oceans of young air.

It is a favoured place. Famine or Blight,

Pestilence, War, and Earthquake, never light

Upon its mountain-peaks; blind vultures, they

Sail onward far upon their fatal way:

The wingèd storms, chanting their thunder-psalm

To other Lands, leave azure chasms of calm

Over this isle, or weep themselves in dew,

From which its fields and woods ever renew

Their green and golden immortality.

And from the sea there rise, and from the sky

There fall, clear exhalations, soft and bright,

Veil after veil, each hiding some delight,

Which Sun or Moon or zephyr draw aside,

Till the isle’s beauty, like a naked bride

Glowing at once with love and loveliness,

Blushes and trembles at its own excess:

Yet, like a buried lamp, a Soul no less

Burns in the heart of this delicious isle,

An atom of the Eternal, whose own smile

Unfolds itself, and may be felt, not seen

O’er the gray rocks, blue waves, and forests green,

Filling their bare and void interstices.—

But the chief marvel of the wilderness

Is a lone dwelling, built by whom or how

None of the rustic island-people know;

’Tis not a tower of strength, though with its height

It overtops the woods; but, for delight,

Some wise and tender Ocean-King, ere crime

Had been invented, in the world’s young prime;

Reared it, a wonder of that simple time,

An envy of the isles, a pleasure-house

Made sacred to his sister and his spouse.

It scarce seems now a wreck of human art,

But, as it were Titanic; in the heart

Of Earth having assumed its form, then grown

Out of the mountains, from the living stone,

Lifting itself in caverns light and high;

For all the antique and learnèd imagery

Has been erased, and in the place of it

The ivy and the wild vine interknit

The volumes of their many twining stems;

Parasite flowers illume with dewy gems

The lampless halls, and when they fade, the sky

Peeps through their winter-roof of tracery

With Moonlight patches, or star atoms keen,

Or fragments of the day’s intense serene:—

Working mosaic on their Parian floors.

And, day and night, aloof, from the high towers

And terraces, the Earth and Ocean seem

To sleep in one another’s arms, and dream

Of waves, flowers, clouds, woods, rocks, and all that we

Read in their smiles, and call reality.

This isle and house are mine, and I have vowed

Thee to be lady of the solitude.—

And I have fitted up some chambers there

Looking toward the golden Eastern air,

And level with the living winds, which flow

Like waves above the living waves below.—

I have sent books and music there, and all

Those instruments with which high spirits call

The future from its cradle, and the past

Out of its grave, and make the present last

In thoughts and joys which sleep, but cannot die.

Folded within their own eternity.

Our simple life wants little, and true taste

Hires not the pale drudge Luxury, to waste

The scene it would adorn, and therefore still,

Nature, with all her children, haunts the hill.

The ring-dove, in the embowering ivy, yet

Keeps up her love-lament, and the owls flit

Round the evening tower, and the young stars glance

Between the quick bats in their twilight dance;

The spotted deer bask in the fresh moonlight

Before our gate, and the slow, silent night

Is measured by the pants of their calm sleep.

Be this our home in life, and when years heap

Their withered hours, like leaves, on our decay,

Let us become the overhanging day,

The living soul of this Elysian isle,

Conscious, inseparable, one. Meanwhile

We two will rise, and sit, and walk together,

Under the roof of blue Ionian weather,

And wander in the meadows, or ascend

The mossy mountains, where the blue heavens bend,

With lightest winds, to touch their paramour;

Or linger, where the pebble-paven shore,

Under the quick, faint kisses of the sea

Trembles and sparkles as with ecstasy,—

Possessing and possest by all that is

Within that calm circumference of bliss,

And by each other, till to love and live

Be one:—or, at the noontide hour, arrive

Where some old cavern hoar seems yet to keep

The moonlight of the expired night asleep,

Through which the awakened day can never peep;

A veil for our seclusion, close as Night’s,

Where secure sleep may kill thine innocent lights;

Sleep, the fresh dew of languid love, the rain

Whose drops quench kisses till they burn again.

And we will talk, until thought’s melody

Become too sweet for utterance, and it die

In words, to live again in looks, which dart

With thrilling tone into the voiceless heart,

Harmonising silence without a sound.

Our breath shall intermix, our bosoms bound,

And our veins beat together; and our lips

With other eloquence than words, eclipse

The soul that burns between them, and the wells

Which boil under our being’s inmost cells,

The fountains of our deepest life, shall be

Confused in passion’s golden purity,

As mountain-springs under the Morning Sun.

We shall become the same, we shall be one

Spirit within two frames, oh! wherefore two?

One passion in twin-hearts, which grows and grew,

Till like two meteors of expanding flame,

Those spheres instinct with it become the same,

Touch, mingle, are tranfigured; ever still

Burning, yet ever inconsumable:

In one another’s substance finding food,

Like flames too pure and light and unimbued

To nourish their bright lives with baser prey,

Which point to Heaven and cannot pass away:

One hope within two wills, one will beneath

Two overshadowing minds, one life, one death,

One Heaven, one Hell, one immortality,

And one annihilation. Woe is me!

The wingèd words on which my soul would pierce

Into the heights of Love’s rare Universe,

Are chains of lead around its flight of fire—

I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire!

Weak Verses, go, kneel at your Sovereign’s feet,

And say:—‘We are the masters of thy slave;

What wouldst thou with us and ours and thine?’

Then call your sisters from Oblivion’s cave,

All singing loud: ‘Love’s very pain is sweet,

But its reward is in the world divine

Which, if not here, it builds beyond the grave.’

So shall ye live when I am there. Then haste

Over the hearts of men, until ye meet

Marina, Vanna, Primus, and the rest,

And bid them love each other and be blest;

And leave the troop which errs, and which reproves,

And come and be my guest,—for I am Love’s.