« AnteriorContinuar »
του μη διαρραισθέντας εις Αιδου μολεϊν.
κ.τ.λ. Which may thus be literally translated :
Man's miserable lot
Denied that mercy, I afforded man! A perpetual and dreadful punishment-for chained to a rock by fetters which may not be burnt, the mighty heart of Prometheus is ever gnawed by a voracious vulture, without the possibility of his finding relief in death!
It was to follow up this tale that Shelley devoted the full powers of his creative mind. Unknown to himself, but not unfelt, an allegory, which it will be our pains to illustrate, has developed itself under his pen. The first act of the “Prometheus Unbound” opens magnificently, thus:
ACT І. (SCENE-A ravine of icy rocks in the Indian Caucasus— Prometheus is discovered
bound — Panthea and lone are seated at his feet-During the scene, morning slowly breaks.)
And yet to me welcome is day and night,
Hung mute and moveless o'er yon hush'd abyss,
What was that curse? What was that awful whisper which a pros. trate prisoner could fling with all its untold terror on his shrinking oppressor ? The mountains to whom Prometheus addresses himself dare not answer—the elements shrink from its repetition-Earth herself, in the recollection of what she has lost, and of what she suffers in the martyrdom of her benevolent protector, shudders, and for a while is silent.
But the fallen hero (and let it be remarked, that in personifying Earth Shelley imitates the example of Æschylus, in his character of Oceanus,) again addresses her :
The curse is at length repeated; but so terrible is its nature, that even the persecuted Titan relents. The following is in Shelley's best style :
We have gone thus far into the drama, to show the terrible punishment of the Titan. We shall presently see the fortitude with which he sustains it. Calm and unflinching in all his solitary tortures, with an eye still fixed on the beautiful, and a bosom, whose emotions are for ever pure and benevolent- watched and tended by two lovely spirits, the types of Constancy and Fidelity,-have we not a beautiful image of the Genius of Liberty itself, chained in adamantine links, and ever persecuted by a vulturous oppression, yet unvanquished in its enduring and patient immortality. Here then is the true allegory of Prometheus: it is a picture under ideal characters, of Freedom overborne for awhile by Tyranny, with all the elements of nature weeping and wailing for her fall.
But the measure of the Titan's sufferings is not yet full. Mercury, the messenger of Jove, approaches, conducting the Furies, who have prepared themselves with tenfold tortures : Shelley has nobly improved on Æschylus, who drew Mercury as a pampered and insulting minion.
Bend down thy soul in pray’r,
Let others flatter crime where it sits thron'd
Yet pause and plunge
I would not quit
Call up the fiends! The hour of torture has now reached the Titan: all that it is frightful to conceive, and terrible to suffer; all of external and internal terror, which preys so bitterly as well on body as on mind, are now heaped on the immortal philanthropist. It is such sufferings as these that Liberty in a state of enthralment has to undergo. To chain the body is nothing, unless the mind be chained with it, and it is only by addressing the mind through the darkened medium of external terrors, that the triumph over Liberty is to be consummated. In this trial an exalted imagination exerts its purest influence. The prisoner, who bodies shapes and scenes out of his dungeon's dark obscurity, has gone far to make captivity endurable. Relying on the gentle impulses of imagination, and peopling his solitude with a thousand forms of Love and Pity, he may calmly resign himself to his fate. Shelley gave a full developement to this selfsustaining power, when he makes purer Spirits throng from the “ world. surrounding æther,” to console the Titan after the Furies' departure. Look at the two following pictures ; for fierce, fiend-like hatred on one side, and tender, spiritualized melancholy, which is not, however, without a certain under-current of consolation, on the other ; they are unrivalled.
It is torn!
The pale stars of the morn
Joy! joy! jog!
The tender hopes, which in their hearts, the best and gentlest bear." We must really pause here. We have said that of all modern poets, Shelley was best adapted to replace the lost drama of Æschylus, but we are not blind to the faults of the drama he has given us. As far, indeed, as our quotations have gone, it is grand, well-sustained, even, to a certain degree, sublime, but when the tortures of Jove have wasted them. selves, an hour of calm melancholy precedes the advent of the hero, Hercules, who is to rescue Freedom from its chains; instead of condemning and simplifying, Shelley has drawn his “Prometheus unbound" to a tedious length, introducing a monstrous shadow, called Demogorgon, and soaring farther than reason or truth can follow into the regions of phantasy. Yet are there other parts of real beauty in the Prometheus of Shelley,--as a drama, and in this remark we also include his “ Hellas,' whose subject and style is nearly similar, it is a failure ; but, as a wild, unconnected, ideal poem, developing, with a master's hand, the most precious stores of the English language, it will be read by posterity, ages hence, with wonder and admiration.
Of Shelley's remaining poems, (we shall approach his minor ones presently,) there is great merit in his “ Julian and Maddalo,” an ideal conversation between himself and Lord Byron; and in his “ Rosalind and Helen,” a modern eclogue, as he terms it, both of which we recommend to our readers, as containing touches of true feeling.
We have reserved the gem of our review, (Shelley's “ Episychidion,"
however, or “ Address to Lady Emilia V- ,” visionary though it be, must not be forgotten) viz. “ Adonais,” to the last. This latter poem is a chef d'auvre, to be read by every one, who has a soul for those sweet fancies which form the “half-deity” of man's mixed creation, without intense emotion. It is truly delightful to have now approached the open ground of our criticism. Leaving behind its errors, and failings, its mysteries, and its shadows, we may now contemplate Shelley's imagination in its purest ætheriality; and, can we but invoke one throb of sympathy in his behalf, or, to use his own words,“ plead successfully against oblivion for his fame,” our labour will not have been in vain.
The “ Adonais” is an Elegy, as its author is pleased to term it, ou the death of John Keats, whose fate is but too well known. With what propriety might not this Elegy have been prefaced by those overpowering lines of Virgil :
Heu miserande puer! si quà fata aspera rumpas
Munere:"at whose hearing the bereaved Octavia fell fainting to the earth. Listen, however, with what a burst of true affection “Adonais” begins :-
Forget the Past, bis fate and fame shall be
The nursling of her widowhood, who grew
And fed with true lore-tears instead of dew! What exquisite pathos! What depth, and tenderness, and classic chastity of feeling ! 'But who cropped that flower? Was it the winds of heaven, whose unenvied, though duteous task, wasted the lilies' odours before corruption had marked it for its own-before age had sapped its delicate petals—before misfortune had snapped its stem :—thereby bequeathing its freshness to air, and its sweetness to the ambient beauty of nature-a death it is true, but a life in death—a spiritual transfusion into the vast Spirit of all! Oh, no!-oh, no! It was not the winds of heaven: the swift-destroying north--the more gentle west, the spicy south, or even the “leaden”* autumnal breeze, but man, miserable man-who
* Plumbeus Auster!