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NOTE ON THE POEMS OF 1820.
BY THE EDITOR.
We spent the latter part of the year 1819 in | charming from her frank and affectionate nature. Florence, where Shelley passed several hours She had the most intense love of knowledge, a daily in the Gallery, and made various notes on delicate and trembling sensibility, and preserved its ancient works of art. His thoughts were a
freshness of mind, after a life of considerable good deal taken up also by the project of a steam adversity. As a favourite friend of my father we boat, undertaken by a friend, an engineer, to ply had sought her with eagerness, and the most open between Leghorn and Marseilles, for which he
and cordial friendship was established between us. supplied a sum of money. This was a sort of
We spent the summer at the baths of San plan to delight Shelley, and he was greatly disap- Giuliano, four miles from Pisa. These baths pointed when it was thrown aside.
were of great use to Shelley in soothing his nervous There was something in Florence that disagreed irritability. We made several excursions in the excessively with his health, and he suffered far neighbourhood. The country around is fertile ; more pain than usual ; so much so that we left
and diversified and rendered picturesque by ranges it sooner than we intended, and removed to Pisa, of near hills and more distant mountains. The where we had some friends, and, above all, where peasantry are a handsome, intelligent race, and we could consult the celebrated Vaccà, as to the there was a gladsome sunny heaven spread over cause of Shelley's sufferings. He, like every other us, that rendered home and every scene we visited medical man, could only guess at that, and gave cheerful and bright. During some of the hottest little hope of immediate relief ; he enjoined him days of August, Shelley made a solitary journey to abstain from all physicians and medicine, and
on foot to the summit of Monte San Pelegrinoto leave his complaint to nature. As he had a mountain of some height, on the top of which vainly consulted medical men of the highest there is a chapel, the object, during certain days repute in England, he was easily persuaded to in the year, of many pilgrimages. The excursion adopt this advice. Pain and ill-health followed delighted him while it lasted, though he exerted him to the end, but the residence at Pisa agreed himself too much, and the effect was considerable with him better than any other, and there in con
lassitude and weakness on his return. During sequence we remained.
the expedition he conceived the idea and wrote,
in the three days immediately succeeding to his In the spring we spent a week or two near Leghorn, borrowing the house of some friends, return, the Witch of Atlas. This poem is pecuwho were absent on a journey to England.—1t liarly characteristic of his tastes—wildly fanciful
, was on a beautiful summer evening, while wan
full of brilliant imagery, and discarding human
interest and passion, to revel in the fantastic ideas dering among the lanes, whose myrtle hedges
that his imagination suggested. were the bowers of the fire-flies, that we heard the carolling of the sky-lark, which inspired one The surpassing excellence of The Cenci had of the most beautiful of his poems. He addressed made me greatly desire that Shelley should the letter to Mrs. Gisborne from this house, which increase his popularity, by adopting subjects that was hers; he had made his study of the workshop would more suit the popular taste, than a poem of her son, who was an engineer. Mrs. Gisborne conceived in the abstract and dreamy spirit of the had been a friend of my father in her younger days.
Witch of Atlas. It was not only that I wished She was a lady of great accomplishments, and him to acquire popularity as redounding to his
fame ; but I believed that he would obtain a the woods ; which celebrated the singing of the greater mastery over his own powers, and greater winds among the pines, the flow of a murmuring happiness in his mind, if public applause crowned stream, and the thousand harmonious sounds his endeavours. The few stanzas that precede which nature creates in her solitudes. These are the poem were addressed to me on my represent- | the materials which form the Witch of Atlas ; it ing these ideas to him. Even now I believe that is a brilliant congregation of ideas, such as his I was in the right. Shelley did not expect sym senses gathered, and his fancy coloured, during pathy and approbation from the public ; but the his rambles in the sunny land he so much want of it took away a portion of the ardour that loved. ought to have sustained him while writing. He
Our stay at the baths of San Giuliano was was thrown on his own resources, and on the shortened by an accident. At the foot of our inspiration of his own soul, and wrote because his garden ran the canal that communicated between mind overflowed, without the hope of being appre- the Serchio and the Arno. The Serchio overciated. I had not the most distant wish that he
flowed its banks, and breaking its bounds, this should truckle in opinion, or submit his lofty aspi- canal also overflowed ; all this part of the country rations for the human race to the low ambition
is below the level of its rivers, and the consequence and pride of the many, but I felt sure, that if his
was, that it was speedily flooded. The rising poems were more addressed to the common feel
waters filled the square of the baths, in the lower ings of men, his proper rank among the writers part of which our house was situated. The canal of the day would be acknowledged ; and that overflowed in the garden behind; the rising waters popularity as a poet would enable his countrymen
on either side at last burst open the doors, and to do justice to his character and virtues ; which, meeting in the house, rose to the height of six in those days, it was the mode to attack with the feet. It was a picturesque sight at night, to see most flagitious calumnies and insulting abuse.
the peasants driving the cattle from the plains That he felt these things deeply cannot be doubted, below, to the hills above the baths. A fire was though he armed himself with the consciousness kept up to guide them across the ford ; and the of acting from a lofty and heroic sense of right. forms of the men and the animals showed in dark The truth burst from his heart sometimes in soli- relief against the red glare of the flame, which tude, and he would write a few unfinished verses
was reflected again in the waters that filled the that showed that he felt the sting; among such I
square. find the following
We then removed to Pisa, and took up our Alas! this is not what I thought life was.
abode there for the winter. The extreme mildI knew that there were crimes and evil men, Misery and hate ; nor did I hope to pass
ness of the climate suited Shelley, and his soliUntouched by suffering, through the rugged glen.
tude was enlivened by an intercourse with several In mine own heart I saw as in a glass
intimate friends. Chance cast us, strangely The hearts of others.
enough, on this quiet, half-unpeopled town ; but I went among my kind, with triple brass
its very peace suited Shelley,—its river, the near Of calm endurance my weak breast I armed, To bear scorn, fear, and hate, a woful mass!
mountains, and not distant sea, added to its
attractions, and were the objects of many delightI believed that all this morbid feeling would ful excursions. We feared the south of Italy vanish, if the chord of sympathy between him and and a hotter climate, on account of our child ; his countrymen were touched.
But my per
our former bereavement inspiring us with terror. suasions were vain, the mind could not be bent We seemed to take root here, and moved little from its natural inclination. Shelley shrunk afterwards ; often, indeed, entertaining projects instinctively from portraying human passion, with for visiting other parts of Italy, but still delaying. its mixture of good and evil, of disappointment But for our fears, on account of our child, I and disquiet. Such opened again the wounds of his believe we should have wandered over the world, own heart, and he loved to shelter himself rather both being passionately fond of travelling. But in the airiest flights of fancy, forgetting love and human life, besides its great unalterable necessities, hate, and regret and lost hope, in such imagina is ruled by a thousand liliputian ties, that shackle tions as borrowed their hues from sunrise or sun at the time, although it is difficult to account afterset, from the yellow moonshine or paly twilight, wards for their influence over our destiny. from the aspect of the far ocean or the shadows of
POEMS WRITTEN IN MDCCCXXI.
VERSES ADDRESSED TO THE NOBLE AND UNFORTUNATE
LADY EMILIA V
NOW IMPRISONED IN THE CONVENT OF
“L'anima amante si slancia furio del creato, e si crea nel infinito un Mondo tutto per essa, diverso assai
da questo oscuro e pauroso baratro."—Her own words.
My Song, I fear that thou wilt find but few
The writer of the following lines died at Florence, as he was preparing for a voyage to one of the wildest of the Sporades, which he had bought, and where he had fitted up the ruins of an old building, and where it was his hope to have realised a scheme of life, suited perhaps to that happier and better world of which he is now an inhabitant, but hardly practicable in this. His life was singular; less on account of the romantic vicissitudes which diversified it, than the ideal tinge which it received from his own character and feelings. The present Poem, like the Vita Nuova of Dante, is sufficiently intelligible to a certain class of readers without a matter-of-fact history of the circumstances to which it relates; and to a certain other class it must
ever remain incomprehensible, from a defect of a common organ of perception for the ideas of which it treats. Not but that, gran vergogna sarebbe a colui, che rimasse cosa sotto veste di figura, o di colore rettorico : e domandato non sapesse denudare le sue parole da cotal veste, in guisa che avessero verace intendimento.
The present poem appears to have been intended by the writer as the dedication to some longer one. The stanza on the above page is almost a literal translation from Dante's famous canzone
Voi ch' intendendo, il terzo ciel movete, &c. The presumptuous application of the concluding lines to his own composition will raise a smile at the expense of my unfortunate friend : be it a smile not of contempt,
SWEET Spirit ! Sister of that orphan one,
Sweet Lamp! my moth-like Muse has burnt its Whose empire is the name thou weepest on,
wings, In my heart's temple I suspend to thee
Or, like a dying swan who soars and sings, These votive wreaths of withered memory.
Young Loveshould teach Time, in his own grey style,
All that thou art. Art thou not void of guile, Poor captive bird ! who, from thy narrow cage, A lovely soul formed to be blest and bless ? Pourest such music, that it might assuage
A well of sealed and secret happiness, The rugged hearts of those who prisoned thee,
Whose waters like blithe light and music are, Were they not deaf to all sweet melody ;
Vanquishing dissonance and gloom? A Star
A smile amid dark frowns ? a gentle tone
A lute, which those whom love has taught to play
A violet-shrouded grave of Woe?-I measure It over-soared this low and worldly shade, The world of fancies, seeking one like thee, Lie shattered ; and thy panting wounded breast
And find-alas ! mine own infirmity. Stains with dear blood its unmaternal nest ! I weep vain tears : blood would less bitter be, She met me, Stranger, upon life's rough way, Yet poured forth gladlier, could it profit thee. And lured me towards sweet Death ; as Night by
Day, Seraph of Heaven ! too gentle to be human, Winter by Spring, or Sorrow by swift Hope, Veiling beneath that radiant form of Woman Led into light, life, peace. An antelope, All that is insupportable in thee
In the suspended impulse of its lightness, Of light, and love, and immortality!
Were less ethereally light : the brightness Sweet Benediction in the eternal Curse !
Of her divinest presence trembles through Veiled glory of this lampless Universe !
Her limbs, as underneath a cloud of dew
Amid the splendour-winged stars, the Moon
Killing the sense with passion: sweet as stops
pray thee that thou blot from this sad song Under the lightnings of the soul—too deep All of its much mortality and wrong,
For the brief fathom-line of thought or sense. With those clear drops, which start like sacred dew The glory of her being, issuing thence, From the twin lights thy sweet soul darkens Stains the dead, blank, cold air with a warm shade through,
Of unentangled intermixture, made Weeping, till sorrow becomes ecstacy:
By Love, of light and motion ; one intense Then smile on it, so that it may not die.
Diffusion, one serene Omnipresence,
Whose flowing outlines mingle in their flowing I never thought before my death to see
Around her cheeks and utmost fingers glowing Youth's vision thus made perfect : Emily,
With the unintermitted blood, which there I love thee; though the world by no thin name Quivers, (as in a fleece of snow-like air Will hide that love, from its unvalued shame. The crimson pulse of living morning quiver,) Would we two had been twins of the same mother! Continuously prolonged, and ending never, Or, that the name my heart lent to another Till they are lost, and in that Beauty furled Could be a sister's bond for her and thee,
Which penetrates and clasps and fills the world; Blending two beams of one eternity!
Scarce visible from extreme loveliness. Yet were one lawful and the other true,
Warm fragrance seems to fall from her light dress, These names, though dear, could paint not, as is due, And her loose hair ; and where some heavy tress How beyond refuge I am thine. Ah me!
The air of her own speed has disentwined, I am not thine: I am a part of thee.
The sweetness seems to satiate the faint wind;
And in the soul a wild odour is felt,
Mind from its object differs most in this :
The baser from the nobler ; the impure
If you divide suffering and dross, you may
If you divide pleasure and love and thought,
Of pleasure may be gained, of sorrow spared :
By which those live, to whom this world of life
Tills for the promise of a later birth
The wilderness of this Elysian earth.
Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft,
Amid the enchanted mountains, and the caves
Of wonder-level dream, whose tremulous floor Spouse! Sister ! Angel! Pilot of the Fate
Paved her light steps ;-on an imagined shore, Whose course has been so starless! O too late Under the grey beak of some promontory Beloved ! O too soon adored, by me!
She met me, robed in such exceeding glory, For in the fields of immortality
That I beheld her not. In solitudes My spirit should at first have worshipped thine, Her voice came to me through the whispering woods, A divine presence in a place divine ;
And from the fountains, and the odours deep Or should have moved beside it on this earth, Of flowers, which, like lips murmuring in their sleep A shadow of that substance, from its birth ; Of the sweet kisses which had lulled them there, But not as now :-- I love thee ; yes, I feel
Breathed but of her to the enamoured air ; That on the fountain of my heart a seal
And from the breezes whether low or loud,
And from the rain of every passing cloud,
Of antique verse and high romance,-in form, Such difference without discord, as can make Sound, colour-in whatever checks that Storm Those sweetest sounds, in which all spirits shake, Which with the shattered present chokes the past; As trembling leaves in a continuous air ?
And in that best philosophy, whose taste
Makes this cold common hell, our life, a doom
I sprang, as one sandalled with plumes of fire,
I fitted, like a dizzy moth, whose flight
Is as a dead leaf's in the owlet light,
A radiant death, a fiery sepulchre,
Past, like a God throned on a winged planet,
Whose burning plumes to tenfold swiftness fan it, True Love in this differs from gold and clay, Into the dreary cone of our life's shade ; That to divide is not to take away.
And as a man with mighty loss dismayed, Love is like understanding, that grows bright, I would have followed, though the grave between Gazing on many truths ; 'tis like thy light, Yawned like a gulf whose spectres are unseen: Imagination ! which, from earth and sky,
When a voice said:—“O'Thou of hearts the weakest, And from the depths of human phantasy,
The phantom is beside thee whom thou seekest.” As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills Then 1_“ Where?” the world's echo answered The Universe with glorious beams, and kills
6 where!” Error, the worm, with many a sun-like arrow And in that silence, and in my despair, Of its reverberated lightning. Narrow
I questioned every tongueless wind that flew The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates, Over my tower of mourning, if it knew The life that wears, the spirit that creates Whither 'twas fled, this soul out of my soul ; One object, and one form, and builds thereby And murmured names and spells which have A sepulchre for its eternity.