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To Percy Shelley, on the Degrading Notions of Deity
A CENTURY OF SONNETS
And all this lovely world, that should engage
Their mutual search for the old golden age,
They seat a phantom, swelled into grim size
Out of their own passions and bigotries,
And then, for fear, proclaim it meek and sage!
And this they call a light and a revealing!
Wise as the clown, who plodding home at night
In autumn, turns at call of fancied elf,
And sees upon the fog, with ghastly feeling,
A giant shadow in its imminent might,
Which his own lanthorn throws up from himself.
291. To the Same
Yet, Percy, not for this, should he whose eye
Sees loveliness, and the unselfish joy
Of justice, turn him, like a peevish boy,
At hindrances and thwartings; and deny
Wisdom's divinest privilege, constancy;
That which most proves him free from the alloy
Of useless earth,—least prone to the decoy
That clamors down weak pinions from the sky.
The Spirit of Beauty, though by solemn quires
Hourly blasphemed, stoops not from its calm end,
And forward breathing love, but ever on
Rolls the round day, and calls the starry fires
To their glad watch. Therefore, high-hearted friend,
Be still with thine own task in unison.
292. To John Keats
'Tis well you think me truly one of those,
Whose sense discerns the loveliness of things;
For surely as I feel the bird that sings
Behind the leaves, or dawn as it up grows,
Or the rich bee rejoicing as he goes,
Or the glad issue of emerging springs,
Or overhead the glide of a dove's wings,
Or turf, or trees, or, midst of all, repose.
And surely as I feel things lovelier still,
The human look, and the harmonious form
Containing woman, and the smile in ill,
And such a heart as Charles's, wise and warm,—
As surely as all this, I see, ev'n now,
Young Keats, a flowering laurel on your brow.
A CENTURY OF SONNETS
293. The Nile
It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,—
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
Our own calm journey on for human sake.
Mary Bryan's highly original, moody, and plaintive poems, published in
Sonnets and Metrical Tales (1815), reflect the financial and emotional difficulties of her life as a widow with six children. In her preface, however, she rejects the piteous mode popularized by Charlotte Smith. Many of her poems
were written to her husband during their separations, although he later forbade her to write. She endured financial disaster, her husband's mental and
physical illness and death, and her own serious health problems. For a decade
after her husband's death, she took charge of the family's printing business.
294. The Maniac
"My own Maria!—Ah my own—my own!"
Withheld my steps in such entreating tone,
I turned—so meek a form I could not fear,
I pressed the extended hand and bathed it with a tear.I stood as I could never leave that place,
Yet would have spoken, would have turned away:—
"My own Maria!"—gazing on my face,
As one long lost to him, did that lorn maniac say.
I could not speak—so lovely was the joy
The maniac showed, 'twere cruel to destroy;
And I had seen him look so lost in woe,
That if I were not his—I could not tell him so.
"My own Maria!"—with such tender grace,
A CENTURY OF SONNETS
Repeated oft—that now the maniac grew
Dear and more dear; till urged to leave the place,
I could not speak—I could not look adieu—
Lest I had seen him in his wild despair,
And hastened to that prisoned maniac's cell,
And left the world to dwell for ever there—
Few in that sordid world I loved so well:
And often since that hour, thou poor unknown,
In memory's tenderest thoughts, I have been all thine own!
295. To My Brother
O, thou art far away from me—dear boy!
So fond affection loves to call thee still;
Recalling hours that oft my bosom thrill,
When in our native haunts thou wert my joy.
Where now in distant climates dost thou stray?
When in the ardor of thy boyish pride,
Thou wert a faithless truant from my side;
Soon thou return'st to chase my fears away.
How have I marked thee oft, with wonder there,
Climb the tall elm, and prayed and prayed again
Thou would'st such dangerous heights forbear,
And gazed, with upraised eyes, that sued in vain:
Gained the proud height—prompt to descend and smile,
And love the very tear thou chid'st the while.
296. To My Brother
Once in our customed walk a wounded bird,
With feeble effort fluttering awhile,
Fell at my feet; unknowing of its hurt,
"Poor thing, 'tis sick," I said, and laid it on
My bosom; it could not rest for pain;
So tenderly I gave it to thy care.—"Look—
Ah it bleeds! we cannot save nor ease it,—
See its torn wing—its shattered panting breast—
It writhes its little limbs with grievous pain;
And now its dim eyes close—quite close—it dies!
Poor pretty bird!—Could he who did this deed,
Have seen thy lingering life in torture thus
Expire, I know he would forbear to kill."—
"Nay, nay, dear Mary! thou hast much to learn."
A CENTURY OF SONNETS
O thou unknown disturber of my rest,
Ceaseless intruder, life-consuming foe;
Proud o'er my fall, and in my sorrow, blest,
Destroyer of a love thou ne'er canst know—
And life with love—O leave me—spare me now—
On that blessed moment while I fondly dwell,
When kind some pitying Genii heard my vow
And as my trembling fingers touched the spell,
Propitious to my wish bestowed the skill
That gave,—O more than wealth, or fame could give;
My Henry gave, by Fate's resistless will,
And snatched from death and made it bliss to live,
To live for him, and at Love's sanctioned shrine
Pledge my devoted heart, and clasp that treasure mine.
O timeless guest!—so soon returned art thou,
Hope's sickly gleam with cruel haste to quench,
To mock the prayer, and scorn the trembling vow,
I feel thy fatal power and vainly bid thee hence.—
Still, still thou com'st in dreadful guise to me,
Howe'er to others fair thy form appear;
Not shapeless things with midnight witchery
Could so appall my soul—so chill my breast, with fear!
—Now fateful is thy look!—thou lead'st me,—where?
O well, thou lead'st me to my destined place,
And bid'st me close my eyes for ever there.
Nor view thee wrapped in Henry's dear embrace:
Yes—proud one, haste thee to the nuptial shrine,
I sleep in death's cold arms—ere Henry sleep in thine.
George Gordon, Lord Byron
The publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812),
a reflective travelogue in Spenserian stanzas, made Lord Byron an overnight
sensation. His divorce and scandalous liaisons forced his exile from England
in 1816. On the continent, he wrote many of his most famous works, including the verse drama Manfred (1817) and the mock epic Don Juan (181924). Byron wrote few sonnets and despised Petrarch, of whom he writes in
Don Juan 3.8, "Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch's wife, / He would have
written sonnets all his life?"