« AnteriorContinuar »
great poems are written, will find in this great spectacle. Hitherto we have listenone neither meaning nor feeling within ed, and sometimes found the sweetness their reach, though they may find many cloying, and the melody monotonous. delightful lines and sweet cadences. It is But here, once, and once only, a gift of as a piece of music only, that we feel our- another description evolves itself, and the selves capable of considering it; and mu- poet draws his curtain proudly and bids us sic, as we are all aware, is by no means The first act, up to the moment when obliged to have any soul of articulate sig- the Earth introduces her choristers to connification. It is amusing and comforting sole the sufferer, is thoroughly fine and noto ourselves to find that even Mr. Rossetti ble. The story is too well-known to want shares our sense of confusion, and gets rid re-telling. Prometheus bound upon his of this work in the fewest possible words, rock, with a vulture gnawing his heart, dewith vague and grand applauses, which do fies the power of the tyrant god Jupiter; not mean much. We follow his example and, secure of the arrival of a time when with a certain relief. Henceforward Shel. his oppressor shall be hurled from his ley, growing into something like maturity, throne, waits with awful patience, enduring began to perceive that a meaning which every torture till his deliverance comes. could be grasped by the common mind Nothing could well be more splendid of was an advantage; and we may at once its kind than the opening scene. proceed to his two most notable poems, without following the rigid course of chronology,
Monarch of Gods and Demons, and all SpiritsThe “ Prometheus" seems to have been But One-who throng those bright and rolling the first in time, as it is the greatest in pow- Which thou and I alone of living things er. It was written in Ronie, chiefly in the Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this earth gigantic ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, in Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou that sweet spring of Italy, which is the Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise, very spring-time of the poets, full of inspi- With fear and self-contempt and barren hope. ration, amid all the wild new life of flowe- Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate, ry vegetation, and the old stubborn gran- Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn, deur of those unformed yet imperishable Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours, relics of the past. The scene was one And moments aye divided by keen pangs, which might have suited some old tale of Till they seemed years, torture and solitude, Rome herself, in those days when she was Scorn and despair,--these are mine empire: mistress of the world. But Shelley's genius More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O mighty God! was not historical, and with a growing fas
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame cination he had been contemplating this Of thine ill tyranny, and hung
not here vast subject, already limned upon his can- Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain, vas for him by the great artists of Greece.
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb, It is, as we have already said, the very cli- Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me, alas! pain, pain ever, forever! max and highest point of his philosophythe incarnation of heroic resistance, the No change, no pause, no hope ! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt? highest human principle of which Shelley I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun, had any conception. It is impossible to Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm, deny to this wonderful production the title Heaven's ever-changing shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony? of a great poem. It is one of the most vivid pictures ever done in words—a ghost
Ah me, alas! pain, pain ever, forever! ly, terrible tableau, illumined with pale The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Of their moon-freezing crystals; the bright chains lights which are not of this world, and sur
Eat with their burning cold into my bones. rounded by a vast colorless horizon, against Heaven's winged hound polluting from thy lips which a few great figures rise awful in the His beak in poison not his own, tears up majestic twilight-Prometheus himself in My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering deathless suffering and courage, the solemn The ghastly people of the realm of dream, form of Earth, and the white spirits which Mocking me; and the earthquake-fiends are stand about consoling or explaining. The charged music of his verse, which up to this time has To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds been his great charm, becomes at once sec
When the rocks split and close again behind :
While from their loud abysses howling throng ondary when we are brought in face of this The genii of the storm, urging the rage
Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail. fine. He has asked to hear once more bis And yet to me welcome is day and night,
own curse, and has been answered from Whether one breaks the hoar-frost of the morn,
the mountains and winds and waters that Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs · The leaden-colored east; for then they lead none of them dare repeat those terrible The wingless, crawling Hours, one among words.
whomAs some dark Priest hales the reluctant victim Shall drag thee, cruel king, to kiss the blood
I am the Earth, From these pale feet, which then might trample Thy mother; she within whose stony veins thee,
To the last fibre of the loftiest tree, If they disdained not such a prostrate slave. Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air, Disdain! Ah, no! I pity thee. What ruin Will hunt thee undefended through the wide When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
Joy ran, as blood within a living frame, Heaven !
Of glory arise, a spirit of keen joy! How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror,
And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust, Not exultation, for I hate no more,
And our Almighty Tyrant with fierce dread As then ere misery made me wise. The curse
Grew pale—until his thunder chained thee here. Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye moun
Then-see those million worlds which burn and tains,
roll Whose many-voicèd echoes, through the mists
Around us—their inhabitants beheld Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell!
My sphered light wave in wide Heaven; the sea Ye icy springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost,
Was lifted by strange tempests, and new fire Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept From earthquake-risted mountains of bright snow, Shuddering through India! Thou serenest Air,
Shook its portentous hair beneath heaven's frown; Through which the sun walks burning without Lightning and inundation vexed the plains ; beams!
Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads And ye swift whirlwinds, who on poised wings
Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled; Hung mute and moveless o'er yon hushed abyss, When Plague had fallen on man, and beast, and As thunder, louder than your own, made rock
worm, The orbéd world! If then my words had power, And Famine; and black blight on herb and tree; Though I am changed so that aught evil wish
And in the corn, and vines, and meadow-grass, Is dead within; although no memory be
Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds, Of what is hate-let them not lose it now !
Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry What was that curse? for ye all heard me speak. With grief; and the thin air, my breath, was
This wonderful reverie has an exaltation stained and grandeur in it worthy of the represen
With the contagion of a mother's hate tative of humanity. The involuntary cry, Thy curse, the which, if thou rememberest not,
Breathed on her child's destroyer ; ay, I heard “Ah me, alas! pain ever, forever!” which Yet my innumerable seas and streams, bursts from his lips by times, as it were Mountains, and caves, and winds, and yon wide against his will, gives'a reality to the suf
air, fering and the patience, and thrills the Preserve, a treasured spell. We meditate
And the inarticulate people of the dead, reader with that high pang of participation in secret joy and hope those dreadful words, which is the loftiest form of sympathy. But dare not speak them. There is nothing in this of the pretentious and petty flurry of rebellion. The Divine Rebel is calm in the greatness of his pas- All else who live and suffer take from thee
Venerable mother! sion and agony-calm, too, in his intense Some comfort; flowers, and fruits, and happy certainty of the change which is coming. sounds, The poet, no doubt, would have been deep- And love, though fleeting : these may not be
mine. ly astonished had he been told that this at
But mine own words, I pray, deny me not. titude, of which he so fully feels the supreme grandeur, is the very attitude of that Faith against which he rails with so much They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust, fury. For, potent and subtle as his per
The Magus Zoroaster, my dear child,
Met his own image walking in the garden. ceptions were,
of vision was very That apparition, sole of men, he saw. limited, and more warped by prejudice For know there are two worlds of life and death : than it is easy to express.
But it is this One that which thou beholdest; but the other deepening and widening of the sphere The shadows of all forms that think and live
Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit around him, this glimpse of the profound- Till death unite them, and they part no more;i er spiritual emotions, which give power to Dreams and the light imaginings of men, his greatest conception. The following And all that faith creates or love desires, high colloquy between the Earth and her There thou art, and dost hang a writhing shade.
Terrible, strange, sublime or beauteous shapes. suffering son and representative is equally 'Mid whirlwind-peopled mountains; all the gods
Are there, and all the powers of nameless his philosophy, is one of his truest titles to worlds
the great name of poet. Vast, sceptred phantoms; heroes, men, and
of the drama of the “ Cenci” we are beasts; And Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom;
disposed to form a very different opinion. And he, the Supreme Tyrant, on his throne We admit, however, that we express this Of burning gold. Son, one of these shall utter
with a certain trembling; for even Mr. The curse which all remember. Call at will Thine own ghost, or the ghost of Jupiter,
Rossetti, in this mild age, in a book pubHades or Typhon, or what mightier Gods lished only a year ago, stigmatizes one of From all-prolific evil, since thy ruin
its unfavorable critics as “a vile and loathHave sprung, and trampled on my prostrate sons. Ask, and they must reply: so the revenge
some ruffian,” and another as a “vomit of of the Supreme may sweep through vacant creation,” epithets which alarm a peaceable shades,
critic. And we are aware that the great As rainy wind through the abandoned gate number of “the best judges” are against Of a fallen palace.
Nevertheless, we can not alter our
opinion. Setting aside the subject and
Mother, let not aught actual incident, which, to our thinking, are Of that which may be evil pass again
too horrible and revolting for the purposes My lips, or those of aught resembling me. of tragedy, it seems to us that the poet fails Phantom of Jupiter, arise, appear !
altogether in his conception of his Beatrice. We confess that our interest in the poem What he intends is to make her an imperfails when we come to Asia and Panthea, sonation of maidenly nobleness, purity, forand seek out Demogorgon on his ebon titude, and strength; such a woman as throne with his attendant Hours—just as would die sooner than meet dishonor, yet our interest always fails when, after the in- would endure almost all things for the fame tense strain of a tragedy, we are brought of her house and the safety of those she back into the more or less banal and weari- loves. She is one of those whom pollution some ways by which every thing is to be would kill, yet whom love would sustain mended, and perpetual joy and content to and elevate to the last height of sacrifice. be established in the earth. Neither Shel- All this is expressed in the noble and spirley nor any other poet can give interest to ited address she makes to the astonished these vague glories or to the vain phantas- company assembled to rejoice with him in magoria of universal happiness, which al- honor of a great good fortune, to whom ways bears a fatal resemblance to a trans- her horrible father has just announced, formation-scene in a pantomime. The with much chuckling and self-congratulagrandeur of the “Prometheus” is concen- tion, the death of his two sons.
As they trated in the opening of the poem. It is are dispersing in horror, Beatrice thus a great tableau, as we have said, fixed bursts forth : against a pale gleaming sky, with weird “I do entreat you, go not, noble guests ; songs breathing about it, and a host of What although tyranny and impious hate shadowy undefined figures hovering Stand sheltered by a father's hoary hair ?
What if 'tis he who clothed us in these limbs around, but always the great victim in the Who tortures them and triumphs ? What if we, centre of the scene, and the great consoler, The desolate and dead, were his own flesh, patient as himself, the old majestic Earth- His children and his wife, whom he is bound Mother, watching by him. “Ah me, alas! To love and shelter? Shall we therefore find
No refuge in this merciless wide world ? pain ever, forever;" but no sinking of Oh, think what deep wrongs must have blotted heart, no failure of courage, no change in the heroic patience and determination to First love, then reverence in a child's prone endure to the end. How out of all his cho
mind, ruses and semi-choruses, out of his flowery I have borne much, and kissed the sacred hand
Till it thus vanquish shame and fear. Oh think! and wordy Revolts of Islam, and all the That crushed us to the earth, and thought its sweet and petulant maunderings of his stroke youth, Shelley should have dragged him- Was, perhaps, some paternal chastisement;
Have excused much ; doubted; and when no self up to the height of this great concep- doubt tion, it is very difficult to tell. But that Remained, have sought by patience, love, and he did reach once to this sublime height, to soften him ; and when this could not be, and had a glimpse, however brief, of some
I have knelt down, through the long sleepless thing at once more profound and more
nights, lofty than had been hitherto dreamt of in And lifted up to God, the Father of all, NEW SERIES.–VOL. XVI., No. 1.
Passionate prayers : and when these were not upon whom she imposes her lie with a
heard I have still borne ; until I meet you here,
splendid assurance which is totally unlike Princes and kinsmen, at this hideous feast,
our first conception of her character. The Given for my brothers' deaths. Two yet re
scene is fine, so far as the poetry is conmain
cerned. His wife remains and I-whom, if you save not, “ Beatrice.-0 thou tremblest on the giddy You may soon share such merriment again
verge As fathers make over their children's graves."
Of life and death, pause ere thou answerest me;
So mayst thou answer God with less dismay. The girl who ventures to make this speech What evil have we done thee ? 1, alas ! in her pitiless father's presence is strung to Have lived but on this earth a few sad years; a high pitch of tragic determination before and so my lot was ordered that a father
First turned the moments of awakening lise she makes such an appeal, and it is possible To drops each poisoning youth's sweet hope; and that the horror of the crowning outrage to then which she is soon after subjected might Stabbed with one blow my everlasting soul,
And have driven her mad for the moment. But
my untainted fame, and even that peace even her madness ought to have been the But the wound was not mortal; so my hate
Which sleeps within the core of the heart's heart; madness of strength, and not the confused Became the only worship I could lift and hopeless babbling of weakness. Though To our great Father, who in pity and love the fact is continually kept before us that Armed thee, as thou dost say, to cut him off;
And thus his wrong becomes my accusation ! her wrong is too hideous to be told, she And art thou the accuser? If thou hop'st nevertheless indicates its nature with such Mercy in heaven, show justice upon earth : distinctness to her former lover that mis- Worse than a bloody hand is a hard heart.
If thou hast done murders, made thy life's path take is scarcely possible—which is surely a
Over the trampled laws of God and man, poor reading of the distraught soul. After Rush not before thy Judge, and say, ' My Maker, the outrage she consents to her father's I have done this, and more ; for there was one murder, and even plans its circumstances, Who was most pure and innocent on earth, but rather from a desire to escape the fu- And, because she endured what never any,
Guilty or innocent, endured before, ture than from any tragic consciousness Because her wrongs could not be told nor thought, that the future had come to an end for Because thy hand at length did rescue her, her. The passionate sense that further I with my words killed her and all her kin.' life is impossible, which moved the Lucre- Think, I adjure thes, what it is to slay
The reverence living in the minds of men tia of an older story, has no place in this Toward our ancient house and stainless fame! pale Beatrice. No solemn priesthood of Think what it is to strangle infant Pity, vengeance comes upon the outraged wo- Cradled in the belief of guileless looks
Till it become a crime to suffer. Think man, as it might have done with the What 'tis to blot with infamy and blood noblest effect and truth to nature. It may All that which shows like innocence, and isbe said, indeed, on this point, that Shelley Hear me, great God !- I swear most innocent; had the bonds of historical fact to restrain
So that the world lose all discrimination
Between the sly, fierce, wild regard of guilt, him ; but fact and truth are two things, And that which now compels thee to reply and a great dramatic poet could not be so To what I ask; Am I, or am I not, bound by the actual. The Beatrice of the A parricide ? first act would have taken the guilt upon
Marzio.-Thou art not.
What is this? herself and saved her family; but Shelley's
Marzio.-I here declare those whom I did acBeatrice is not equal to that great height. In the torture-scene her failure is still more Are innocent. 'Tis I alone am guilty. apparent. All that she thinks of is escape:
Judge.Drag him away to torments ; let them
be whereas any true conception of a lofty Subtle and long drawn out, to tear the folds character so circumstanced would make of the heart's inmost cell. Unbind him not the very thought of escape impossible. Till he confess. Every high sentiment requires that such a
Marzio.--Torture me as ye will : victim should seek and insist upon that from my last breath.
A keener pain has wrung a higher truth
She is most innocent. death which is her only refuge. But Bea Bloodhounds, not men, glut yourselves well with trice fights for life and deliverance to the me ! very last. She is eloquent and casuistical, I will not give you that fine piece of nature
To rend and ruin.' and all but wins her cause by her appeal to the feelings of Camillo, and by the still This special pleader, however false and more striking appeal she makes to the ter- eloquent, is not the ideal Beatrice. The rors of the poor wretch Marzio the bravo, callousness with which she sacrifices this
poor wretch, and compels him to die with lectual charm added which is beyond the a lie on his lips, produces, on the whole, reach of music. The ear and the heart an effect totally different from that which are touched alike with a soft rapture when the poet intended. And his failure is of it is thus the poet sings. All other conthe same character as was his success. It siderations, all thought of his philosophies, is the involuntary, perhaps unconscious, or opinions, or faults, or weaknesses, float mingling of noble moral qualities with away from us at the first note of that inthe immortal resistance of Prometheus ineffable wild sweetness. “The Skylark," which makes that figure sublime. It is “The Cloud," (which, however, is less the negation of moral qualities which perfect,) a great part of “The Sensitive brings Beatrice down from all the advan- Plant,” the “ Lines Written in Dejection," tages of her tragic position. Her lie is a those among the Euganean Hills, and worse death-warrant than any signed by many more-some of which, like the wildthe Pope; and we watch her exit from flowers and stars, have not even the disthe world and the stage without any emo- tinction of a name—are the true charter tion, simply because the poet has chosen of Shelley's immortality. By their means to prefer his old bigot-dogma of resistance we can track the poet's path as we can at all hazards and at any cost, to the far track the course of an unseen brook by higher principle of personal truth and the greenness around it. These scattered honor. The failure is great in point of blossoms map his wandering way, and enart, in our opinion; it is a willful throw- dear to us, in spite of ourselves, the most ing away of a very noble tragic opportu- wayward soul that ever carried a minnity; and what perhaps affects the mind as strel's harp across the world. deeply, there seems a certain treachery in Shelley had great deficiencies. His imit to the dead--treason to that piteous agination was not of a human order, and face, half child, half woman, to those pa- had little perception of the wealth of nothetic eyes which have wept all the tears ble sentiment and passion which may of which they are capable, and gaze at us dwell in human-kind. In this respect his forever from Guido's canvas with that vision was most limited. He recognized tearless appeal of exhaustion which rends little more in human nature than a certain the heart
. Few faces are so well known savage capacity for rebellion, and a wild in the world as that worn, sweet, tragic passion of love love which could be child-countenance of Beatrice. It is the manifested but in one way—and does not poet who has done this sad soul the last seem to have had any eye for individual and crowning wrong.
character, or the subtleties of personal difSpace forbids us to discuss in detail all ference. His two great qualities even are Shelley's important productions. There is by no means necessarily human. The not one of them, perhaps, in which there grand type of the one-Prometheus—is a is not something beautiful to be found; demi-god; and the utterly unrestrained but we turn with relief and delight from luxuriance of the other seems better adapt“ Rosalind and Helen,” “ Julian and Mad- ed for something either above or below dalo,” and other pretentious composi- humanity—the irresponsible Ariel or the tions, to those exquisite minor poems and equally irresponsible four-footed creatures scraps of verse which are above criticism, of the woods and wilds—than for men alike exquisite in music and perfect in and women. He has not left behind him sentiment. Fortunately, for one person one single conception of human character who reads the “ Cenci," there are a thou- which it is worth the world's while to presand to whom the “Skylark”is a pure and serve; neither can we find amid his poems ever-fresh delight; and perhaps the repu- any real attempt to fathom the mysteries tation of the poet might be more safely, of nature, or put meaning into her darksweetly, and purely founded upon so He has one wild panacea for every much of him as is to be found in Mr. Pal- thing, and a vague yet incendiary creed grave's excellent collection, " The Golden by which to make the impossible actual ;Treasury,” than in all the more ambitious but his mind lacks even the conditions volumes that bear his name. These love- which make insight possible, his power of ly verses are above censure, and almost sympathy being restricted by the same inbeyond criticism. They have all the capacity which limits his understanding. beauty of music, with a still loftier intel- Men are an inarticulate dull wonder to him.