"If Winter Comes"

October 18, 2014

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
Vol. 41, pp. 829-835 of The Harvard Classics

From the title of a recently popular novel, we know that one prominent fiction writer of to-day was inspired by the verses of Shelley. Many others have also felt the stirring vigor of his poetry. What is your reaction?

To a Skylark

    HAIL to thee, blithe Spirit!
      Bird thou never wert,
    That from heaven, or near it,
      Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art

    Higher still and higher
      From the earth thou springest
    Like a cloud of fire;
      The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

    In the golden lightning
      Of the sunken sun
    O’er which clouds are brightening,
      Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

    The pale purple even
      Melts around thy flight;
    Like a star of heaven
      In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight:

    Keen as are the arrows
      Of that silver sphere,
    Whose intense lamp narrows
      In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.

    All the earth and air
      With thy voice is loud,
    As, when night is bare,
      From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflow’d.

    What thou art we know not;
      What is most like thee?
    From rainbow clouds there flow not
      Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

    Like a poet hidden
      In the light of thought,
    Singing hymns unbidden,
      Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

    Like a high-born maiden
      In a palace tower,
    Soothing her love-laden
      Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

    Like a glow-worm golden
      In a dell of dew,
    Scattering unbeholden
      Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

    Like a rose embower’d
      In its own green leaves,
    By warm winds deflower’d,
      Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves.

    Sound of vernal showers
      On the twinkling grass,
    Rain-awaken’d flowers,
      All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

    Teach us, sprite or bird,
      What sweet thoughts are thine:
    I have never heard
      Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

    Chorus hymeneal
      Or triumphal chaunt
    Match’d with thine, would be all
      But an empty vaunt—
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

    What objects are the fountains
      Of thy happy strain?
    What fields, or waves, or mountains?
      What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

    With thy clear keen joyance
      Languor cannot be:
    Shadow of annoyance
      Never came near thee:
Thou lovest; but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.

    Waking or asleep
      Thou of death must deem
    Things more true and deep
      Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

    We look before and after,
      And pine for what is not:
    Our sincerest laughter
      With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

    Yet if we could scorn
      Hate, and pride, and fear;
    If we were things born
      Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

    Better than all measures
      Of delightful sound,
    Better than all treasures
      That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

    Teach me half the gladness
      That thy brain must know,
    Such harmonious madness
      From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!

Love’s Philosophy

THE FOUNTAINS mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle—
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdain’d its brother:
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

To the Night

SWIFTLY walk over the western wave,
          Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear
Which make thee terrible and dear,—
          Swift be thy flight!

Wrap thy form in a mantle gray
Blind with thine hair the eyes of day,
Kiss her until she be wearied out:
Then wander o’er city and sea and land,
Touching all with thine opiate wand—
          Come, long-sought!

When I arose and saw the dawn,
          I sigh’d for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turn’d to his rest
Lingering like an unloved guest,
          I sigh’d for thee.

Thy brother Death came, and cried
          Wouldst thou me?
Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,
Murmur’d like a noon-tide bee
Shall I nestle near thy side?
Wouldst thou me?—And I replied
          No, not thee!

Death will come when thou art dead,
          Soon, too soon—
Sleep will come when thou art fled;
Of neither would I ask the boon
I ask of thee, belove´d Night—
Swift be thine approaching flight,
          Come soon, soon!

Ode to the West Wind

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 winge´d 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 odours 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,
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, ev’n 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 vapours, 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
Lull’d 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 skyey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision, I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

  Make me thy lyre, ev’n 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 wither’d leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

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