Зображення сторінки


BORN, 1792,—DIED, 1822.


Among the many reasons which his friends had to deplore the premature death of this splendid poet and noble-hearted man, the greatest was his not being able to repeat, to a more attentive public, his own protest, not only against some of his earlier effusions (which he did in the newspapers), but against all which he had written in a wailing and angry, instead of an invariably calm, loving, and therefore thoroughly helping spirit. His works, in justice to himself, require either to be winnowed from what he disliked, or to be read with the remembrance of that dislike. He had sensibiliiy almost unique, seemingly fitter for a planet of a different sort, or in more final condition, than ours : he has said of himself,—so delicate was his organization,—that he could

“ Hardly bear the weight of the superincumbent hour;" and the impatience which he vented for some years against that rough working towards good, called evil, and which he carried out into conduct too hasty, subjected one of the most naturally pious of men to charges which hurt his name, and thwarted his philanthropy. Had he lived, he would have done away all mistake on these points, and made everybody know him for what he was,-a man idolized by his friends,-studious, temperate, of the gentlest life and conversation, and willing to have died to do the world a service. For my part, I never can mention his name without a transport of love and gratitude. I rejoice to have partaken of his cares, and to be both suffering and benefiting from him at this moment; and whenever I think of a future state, and of the great and good Spirit that must

pervade it, one of the first faces I humbly hope to see there, is that of the kind and impassioned man, whose intercourse conferred on me the title of the Friend of Shelley.

The finest poetry of Shelley is so mixed up with moral and political speculation, that I found it impossible to give more than the following extracts, in accordance with the purely poetical de. sign of the present volume. Of the poetry of reflection and tragic pathos, he has abundance; but even such fanciful productions as the Sensitive Plant and the Witch of Atlas are full of metaphysics, and would require a commentary of explanation. The short pieces and passages, however, before us, are so beau. tiful, that they may well stand as the representatives of the whole powers of his mind in the region of pure poetry. In sweetness (and not even there in passages) the Ode to the Skylark is infe. rior only to Coleridge,-in rapturous passion to no man. It is like the bird it sings,-enthusiastic, enchanting, profuse, contin. uous, and alone,-small, but filling the heavens. One of the triumphs of poetry is to associate its remembrance with the beauties of nature. There are probably no lovers of Homer and Shakspeare, who, when looking at the moon, do not often call to mind the descriptions in the eighth book of the Iliad and the fifth act of the Merchant of Venice. The nightingale (in England) may be said to have belonged exclusively to Milton (see page 178), till a dying young poet of our own day partook of the honor by the production of his exquisite Ode: and notwithstand. ing Shakspeare's lark singing “at heaven's gate,” the longer effusion of Shelley will be identified with thoughts of the bird hereafter, in the minds of all who are susceptible of its beauty. What a pity he did not live to produce a hundred such; or to mingle briefer lyrics, as beautiful as Shakspeare's, with tragedies which Shakspeare himself might have welcomed ! for assuredly, had he lived, he would have been the greatest dramatic writer since the days of Elizabeth, if indeed he has not abundantly proved himself such in his tragedy of the Cenci. Unfortunately, in his indignation against every conceivable form of oppression, he took a subject for that play too much resembling one which Shakspeare had taken in his youth, and still more unsuitable to the stage ; otherwise, besides grandeur and terror

there are things in it lovely as heart can worship; and the author showed himself able to draw both men and women, whose names would have been “ familiar in our mouths as household words.” The utmost might of gentleness, and of the sweet habitudes of domestic affection, was never more balmily im. pressed through the tears of the reader, than in the unique and divine close of that dreadful tragedy. Its loveliness, being that of the highest reason, is superior to the madness of all the crime that has preceded it, and leaves nature in a state of reconcilement with her ordinary course. The daughter, who is going forth with her mother to execution, utters these final words :

Give yourself no unnecessary pain,
My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, mother, tie
My girdle for me, and bind up this hair
In any simple knot. Ay, that does well;
And yours, I see is coming down. How often
Have we done this for one another ! now
We shall not do it any more. My Lord,
We are quite ready, Well,-'t is very well.

The force of simplicity and moral sweetness cannot go fur. ther than this. But in general, if Coleridge is the sweetest of our poets, Shelley is at once the most ethereal and most gor. geous; the one who has clothed his thoughts in draperies of the most evanescent and most magnificent words and imagery. Not Milton himself is more learned in Grecisms, or nicer in etymological propriety; and nobody, throughout, has a style so Orphic and primæval. His poetry is as full of mountains, seas, and skies, of light, and darkness, and the seasons, and all the elements of our being, as if Nature herself had written it, with the creation and its hopes newly cast around her; not, it must be confessed, without too indiscriminate a mixture of great and small, and a want of sufficient shade,-a certain chaotic brilliancy, “ dark with excess of light.” Shelley (in the verses to a Lady with a Guitar) might well call himself Ariel. All the more enjoying part of his poetry is Ariel,--the “ delicate" yet powerful “spirit,” jealous of restraint, yet able to serve; living in the ele. ments and the flowers; treading the “ ooze of the salt deep,” and running “on the sharp wind of the north;" feeling for creatures

unlike himself; “flaming amazement” on them too, and singing exquisitest songs. Alas! and he suffered for years, as Ariel did in the cloven pine : but now he is out of it, and serving the purposes of Beneficence with a calmness befitting his knowledge and his love.


Hail to thee, biithe spirit !

Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart,
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. 1

Higher still and higher

From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire!

The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing, still dost soar : and soaring, ever singest

In the golden lightning

Of the sunken sun,
O’er which clouds are brightening,

Thou dost float and run ;
Like an embodied joy, whose race has just begun

The pale purple even

Melts round thy flight;
Like a star of heaven

In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight.

Keen as are the arrows

Of that silver sphere
Whose intense lamp narrows

In the write dawn clear,
Until we hardly, see, we feel that it is there.

All the earth and air

With thy voice is loud
As, when night is bare,

From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.


What thou art we know not.

What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not

Drops so bright to see,
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody

Like a poet hidden

In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not

Like a high-born maiden2

In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden

Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower.

Like a glow-worm golden

In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden

Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view.

Like a rose embowered

In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered

Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves


Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,

« НазадПродовжити »