ページの画像
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

braces not a well-proportioned poem, a pleasing or majestic whole, but a tedious and unsymmetrical piece of declamation, interspersed with out-breakings of the most gorgeous and powerful imagination. These, however, are, in a great measure, lost, from not being properly grouped. But for this fault the poem must have ranked high in the descriptive class. The approach of the Fairy, the disembodying of the soul, the voyage through the realms of space, the exhibition of the world's workings, and the return, form a bold and well-proportioned frame-work, with which some of the descriptions harmonize well in splendour and grandeur of conception. We may instance the bold idea of introducing the Wandering Jew as a phantasm of the human mind,—the gloomy gran. deur of the conception is unsurpassed. We prefer, however, laying before our readers the glowing picture of etherial beauty and spiritual voluptuousness with which the poet has presented us in the palace of Mab the Fairy.

If solitude hath ever led thy steps
To the wild ocean's echoing shore,

And thou hast lingered there,

Until the sun's broad orb
Seemed resting on the burnished wave,

Thou must have marked the lines
Of purpi, gold, that motionless

Hung o'er tu, sinking sphere :
Thou must have marked the billowy clouds
Edged with intolerable radiancy,

Towering like rocks of jet
Crowned with a diamond wreath.
And yet there is a moment,

When the sun's highest point
Peeps like a star o'er ocean's western edge,
When those far clouds of feathery gold,

Shaded with deepest purple, gleam

Like islands on a dark blue sea ;
Then has thy fancy soared above the earth,

And furled its wearied wing

Within the Fairy's fane.
Yet not the golden islands
Gleaming in yon flood of light,

Nor the feathery curtains
Stretching o'er the sun's bright couch,
Nor the burnished ocean waves

Paving that gorgeous dome,
So fair, so wonderful a sight
As Mab's etherial palace could afford.
Yet likest evening's vault, that faery Hall!
As Heaven, low resting on the wave, it spread

Its floors of flashing light,
Its vast and azure dome,
Its fertile golden islands

Floating on a silver sea;
Whilst suns their mingling beamings darted
Through clouds of circumambient darkness,

And pearly battlements around
Looked o'er the immense of Heaven.
The magic car no longer moved.

The Fairy and the Spirit
Entered the Hall of Spells :

Those golden clouds
That rolled in glittering billows
Beneath the azure canopy

With the etherial footsteps, trembled not :

The light and crimson mists,
Floating to strains of thrilling melody

Through that unearthly dwelling,
Yielded to every movement of the will.
Upon their passive swell the Spirit leaned,
And, for the varied bliss that pressed around,
Used not the glorious privilege

Of virtue and of wisdom. Equally beautiful, but of a more tangible character, is the poet's description of the golden age which he anticipates. It is of too great length to be extracted here, but what follows may serve as a specimen :

Then, where, through distant ages, long in pride
The palace of the monarch-slave had mocked
Famine's faint groan, and penury's silent tear,
A heap of crumbling ruins stood, and threw
Year after year, their stones upon the field,
Wakening a lonely echo; and the leaves
Of the old thorn, that on the topmost tower
Usurped the royal ensign's grandeur, shook
In the stern storm that swayed the topmost tower,
And whispered strange tales in the whirlwind's ear.
Low through the lone cathedral's roofless aisles
The melancholy winds a death-dirge sung :
It were a sight of awfulness to see
The works of faith and slavery, so vast,
So sumptuous, yet so perishing withal!
Even as the corpse that rests beneath its wall.
A thousand mourners deck the pomp of death
To-day, the breathing marble glows above
To decorate its memory, and tongues
Are busy of its life: to-morrow, worms
In silence and in darkness seize their prey.
Within the massy prison's mouldering courts,
Fearless and free the ruddy children played,
Weaving gay chaplets for their innocent brows
With the green ivy and the red wall-flower,
That mock the dungeon's unavailing gloom ;
The ponderous chains, and gratings of strong iron,
There rusted amid heaps of broken stone
That mingled slowly with their native earth :
There the broad beam of day, which feebly once
Lighted the cheek of lean captivity
With a pale and sickly glare, then freely shone
On the pure smiles of infant playfulness :
No more the shuddering voice of hoarse despair
Pealed through the echoing vaults, but soothing notes
Of ivy-fingered winds and gladsome birds

And merriment were resonant around. “ The Revolt of Islam,” is still more disfigured by its allegorical tendency. Laon and Cythna are not living beings, but mere impersona. tions of certain modes of thought. None of the other characters stand palpably forward ; they are mere names attached to vague abstractions. The machinery of the tale is extravagant and unattractive; as was, indeed, to be expected from one who had wilfully turned from the contemplation of human life to gaze upon an ideal system of his own. Unacquainted with the realities of society, Shelley fails in conveying distinct perceptions of any very great oppression from which his hero and heroine came to relieve their fellows. He lavishes epithets of abuse upon the social state which they laboured to remove, but he conveys to our mind no

3

320024

distinct image of it; and, in poetry, distinct perception, or strong feeling, are every thing. The ameliorated social institutions which they strove to introduce, are pictured with equal faintness. The pillar to the summit of which Laon is chained, and the sub-marine cavern in which Cythna is imprisoned, are stiff school-boy exaggerations.

Amid all these draw-backs, there is much in this poem to repay perusal. The wild conception of the spiritual world to which the poet is conveyed to learn the tale, and the unearthly circumstances under which it is narrated, keep the mind in a state of ghostly awe. The earthly interest hangs suspended in the impalpable medium of what Shakspeare terms the “ metaphysical" world, as this solid globe in the vacuity of space; and this fact is brought home to our consciousness. Then the poet exercises the control of creative imagination over the elements of earth, air, fire and water, forming them into most gorgeous pictures. And although the human interest of the poem, as already noticed, be weak, there creeps notwithstanding over this young world, rising out of the chaos of a yet unformed mind, the gentle warming breeze of a benevolent spirit.

To this kind of composition Shelley reverted, in one of his latest writings; one, indeed, which was left incomplete at his death,—“ The Triumph of Life.” This attempt to give a deeper meaning to the spectacles, the reality of wlich delighted the beginning of the seventeenth century, and a description of which forms one of Spenser's finest passages, is not, in its unfinished state, a fair subject of criticism. We feel tempted, however, to extract the introduction, which is one of those idealized pictures of the beauties of internal nature, in which Shelley surpassed all his contemporaries.

Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
Of glory and of good, the Sun sprang forth
Rejoicing in his splendour, and the mask
Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth
The smokeless altars of the mountain snows
Flamed above crimson clouds, and at the birth
Of light, the Ocean's orison arose,
To which the birds tempered their matin lay.
All flowers in field or forest which unclose
Their trembling eyelids to the kiss of day,
Swinging their censers in the element,
With orient incense lit by the new ray
Burned slow and inconsumably, and sent
Their odorous sighs up to the smiling air;
And, in succession due, did continent,
Isle, ocean,

and all things that in them wear
The form and character of mortal mould,
Rise as the sun their father rose, to bear
Their portion of the toil, which he of old
Took as his own and then imposed on them :
But I, whom thoughts which must remain untold
Had kept as wakeful as the stars that gem
The cone of night, now they were laid asleep
Stretched my faint limbs beneath the hoary stem
Which an old chestnut flung athwart the steep
Of a green Apennine : before me fled
The night; behind me rose the day; the deep
Was at my feet, and Heaven above my head

In this same poem occurs one of the most masterly pictures of the fantastic manner in which images shift in dreams, to be met with, in the whole range of poetry. In reading it, we dream ourselves, and undergo the illusion.

I would have added is all here amiss ?
But a voice answered,“ Life!"-I turned and knew
(Oh, Heaven have mercy on such wretchedness!)
That what I thought was an old root which grew
To strange distortion out of the hill side,
Was, indeed, one of those deluded crew.
And that the grass, which methought hung so wide
And white, was but his thin discoloured hair,
And that the holes it vainly sought to hide
Were, or had been, eyes :-

We come now to a number of Shelley's poems belonging to a class much in favour with the present generation, and which have by some one been termed, rather affectedly “ moods of my own mind." Poems of this kind owe much of their popularity to a not very intellectual feature of the public taste ; the gossiping desire to know as much as possible about the author of the work. This has given rise to a coxcombical, theatrical, and egotistical style of poetry, in which the poet aims at effect, less by picturesque excellence of thought and imagery, than by parading himself in attitudes before his readers. With this silly weakness, “ moods of my own mind” are in generally deeply tainted. This style of poem, has, however, been employed at times, by minds of a wider caliber for embodying chance inspirations, for which they could not find a suitable place in any of their works. Such productions are analogous to the sketches and studies of the artist; and if thrown out by a master, snatch, at times, a grace beyond the reach of laboured art. Such are in general Shelley's effusions of this sort. Even those, in which the per. sonality of the poet figures, are destitute of the sickening egotism attendant upon the similar compositions of others. He was too honest a visionary for this. His day-dreams were in his eyes more important than himself. Thus, in his Alastor, composed about the period of his separation from the first Mrs. Shelley, we have the picture of a mind which feels itself alone in the world; which with eager capacity of love, and an overpowering impulse towards exchange of thoughts, had never yet found a being capable of understanding it, or whose qualities approximated in any degree to those pre-figured by the feverish longings of its desire. To one who reads this poem, without acquaintance with the events of Shelley's life, it presents the appearance of a huge panorama of Titanic forms, “ enfolding sunny spots of greenery.". The pathless ocean, the dark subterraneous whirlpool, the giant twilight crags, load us as with the desart's loneliness : we admire and wonder, but we cannot comprehend. A knowledge of his character and history, by hinting the state in which his mind must have been when he composed this poem, is the key to its real meaning. The reflection of the poet's yearnings, first gives life and unity to this congregation of huge imaginings. It is the picture of his utter loneliness that constitutes its chief melancholy charm. Yet there is a universality in the portrait, a banishing of all petty individual traits, that removes it entirely from the degrading association of those paltry coxcombries to which it stands so nearly allied.

VOL. II.

G

We have called the imagery of this poem Titanic, and the following passage must stand here to vindicate the term.

On every side now rose
Rocks which, in unimaginable forms,
Lifted their black and barren pinnacles
In the light of evening, and its precipice
Obscuring the ravine, disclosed above,
'Mid toppling stones, black gulphs, and yawning caves,
Whose windings gave ten thousand various tongues
To the loud stream. Lo! Where the pass expands
Its stony jaws, the abrupt mountain breaks,
And seems, with its accumulated crags,
To overhang the world : for wide expand
Beneath the wan stars and descending moon
Islanded seas, blue mountains, mighty streams,
Dim tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom
Of leaden-coloured even, and fiery hills
Mingling their flames with twilight, on the verge
Of the remote horizon. The near scene,
In naked and severe simplicity,
Made coutrast with the universe. A pine,
Rock-rooted, stretched athwart the vacancy
Its swinging bows, to each inconstant blast
Yielding one only response at each pause,
In most familiar cadence, with the howk
The thunder and the hiss of homeless streams
Mingling its solemn song, whilst the broad river,
Foaming and hurrying o'er its rugged path,
Fell into that immeasurable void

Scattering its waters to the passing winds. Of the “ sunny spots of greenery,” of which we spoke, the following is an exquisite specimen.

More dark
And dark the shades accumulate the oak,
Expanding its immeasurable arms,
Embraces the light beech. The pyramids
Of the tall cedar overarching, frame
Most solemn domes within ; and far below,
Like clouds suspended in an emerald sky,
The ash and the acacia floating hang
Tremulous and pale. Like restless serpents, clothed
In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,
Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around
The gray trunks, and as gamesome infants' eyes,
With gentle meanings, and most innocent wiles,
Fold their beams round the hearts of those that love,
These twine their tendrils with the wedded boughs,
Uniting their close union ; the woven leaves
Make net-work of the dark blue light of day,
And the night's noontide clearness, mutable
As shapes in the wierd clouds. Soft mossy lawns
Beneath these canopies extend their swells,
Fragrant with perfumed herbs, and eyed with blooms
Minute yet beautiful. One darkest glen
Sends from its woods of musk-rose, twined with jasmiine,
A soul-dissolving odour, to invite
To some more lovely mystery. Through the dell,
Silence and Twilight here, twin-sisters, keep
Their noonday watch, and sail among the shades
Like vaporous shapes half seen; beyond, a well,
Dark, gleaming, and of most translucent wave,
Images all the woven boughs above,
And each depending leaf, and every speck

« 前へ次へ »