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'I cry your mercy—pity—love!—aye, love!'
Percy Bysshe Shelley
The modest number of sonnets Percy Bysshe Shelley composed during his
brief literary career reflect remarkable stylistic diversity, justifying Wordsworth's assessment of him as "one of the best artists of us all" in terms of
"workmanship of style." Shelley's sonnets reflect, too, many of his strongest
political and philosophical views, from the pained dismay he expresses at
Wordsworth's increased conservativism in "To Wordsworth," to the apocalyptic litany he chants in condemnation of George Ill's debilitated government
in "England in 1819." His passionate and unconventional views led to controversy during his lifetime. Shelley spent the final years of his life in Europe,
where he produced such important works as Prometheus Unbound (1820),
"Ode to the West Wind" (1820), and Epipsychidion (1821).
330. To Wordsworth
Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know
That things depart which never may return:
Childhood and youth, friendship and love's first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss is mine
Which thou too feel'st, yet I alone deplore.
Thou wert as a lone star, whose light did shine
On some frail bark in winter's midnight roar:
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honored poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty,—
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.
331. Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte
I hated thee, fallen tyrant! I did groan
To think that a most unambitious slave,
Like thou, shouldst dance and revel on the grave
Of Liberty. Thou mightst have built thy throne
Where it had stood even now: thou didst prefer
A frail and bloody pomp which time has swept
In fragments towards oblivion. Massacre,
For this I prayed, would on thy sleep have crept,
Treason and Slavery, Rapine, Fear, and Lust,
And stifled thee, their minister. I know
Too late, since thou and France are in the dust,
That virtue owns a more eternal foe
A CENTURY OF SONNETS
Than force or fraud: old Custom, legal Crime,
And bloody Faith the foulest birth of time.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
333. Ode to the West Wind
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O, thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odors plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!
Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
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Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapors, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O, hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O, hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A Wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O, uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven
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As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make my thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O, Wind,
If Winter conies, can Spring be far behind?
334. Political Greatness
Nor happiness, nor majesty, nor fame,
Nor peace, nor strength, nor skill in arms or arts,
Shepherd those herds whom tyranny makes tame;
Verse echoes not one beating of their hearts,
History is but the shadow of their shame,
Art veils her glass, or from the pageant starts
As to oblivion their blind millions fleet,
Staining that Heaven with obscene imagery
Of their own likeness. What are numbers knit
By force or custom? Man who man would be,
Must rule the empire of himself; in it
Must be supreme, establishing his throne
On vanquished will, quelling the anarchy
Of hopes and fears, being himself alone.
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335. 'Lift not the painted veil'
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colors idly spread:—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin destinies; who ever weave
The shadows, which the world calls substance, there.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendor among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
336. England in 1819
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,—
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn—mud from a muddy spring,—
Rulers, who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,—
A people starved and stabbed in the unfilled field,—
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,—
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A Senate—Time's worst statute unrepealed,—
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.
Jane Alice Sargant
Jane Alice Sargant wrote novels and plays as well as Sonnets and Other Poems,
a 120-page volume published by subscription by Hatchard in 1817. A second edition quickly followed. In 1821 Sargant brought out Extracts from the
Pilgrimage of St. Caroline: With Notes, by an Englishwoman, published by the
London firm W. Wright.
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337. 'Lo, on her dying couch, the sufferer lies'
'Lo, on her dying couch, the sufferer lies,
While meager poverty stands shivering by,
And pallid want, with nearly-closed eye,
And conscious guilt, that heaves unbidden sighs!
Fast down her cheeks fall penitential tears,
To Heaven she turns, and now she meekly prays;
Her breast alternate throbs with hopes and fears,
Which now depress, and now sweet comfort raise.
Go, base deceiver, view the dreadful scene—
Go, view the victim that thine arts betrayed;
Who, but for thee, had blest with virtue been;
Who, but for thee, had ne'er from honor strayed.
And keen remorse shall wake a pang of woe,
That only crimes like thine can ever know.
338. 'How gladly would I lay my aching head'
How gladly would I lay my aching head,
Beneath these stately chestnuts' deepened shade,
Where the bright morning sun-beams ne'er have played
Nor smiled as though in scorn upon the dead!
Methinks I here could peacefully repose,
While these majestic boughs should o'er me wave;
And find at last a solace to my woes,
Within an humble, but a welcome grave.
No stone be o'er me seen with praises vain,
And useless pomp to lure the careless eye;
The spot be known but to the village swain,
Whose uncorrupted heart may breathe a sigh;
And though no tear his ruddy cheek bedew,
He yet my lowly bed with flowers may strew.
Well known for his integrity and compassion for the laboring class, Thomas
Doubleday was active in Whig politics as well as literature. Once he was accused of but never prosecuted for sedition. His Sixty-Five Sonnets (1818) was
a popular success. He also wrote political and economic tracts, dramas, and a
biography of Sir Robert Peele.
339. 'Poppies, that scattered o'er this arid plain'
Poppies, that scattered o'er this arid plain,
Display the barrenness ye cannot cure,