Percy Shelley: Poems

Epipsychidion: Preface



L'anima amante si slancia fuori del creato, e si crea nell' infinito un

Mondo tutto per essa, diverso assai da questo oscuro e pauroso baratro.


["Epipsychidion" was composed at Pisa, January, February, 1821, and]

published without the author's name, in the following summer, by C. &

J. Ollier, London. The poem was included by Mrs. Shelley in the

"Poetical Works", 1839, both editions. Amongst the Shelley manuscripts

in the Bodleian is a first draft of "Epipsychidion", 'consisting of

three versions, more or less complete, of the "Preface

[Advertisement]", a version in ink and pencil, much cancelled, of the

last eighty lines of the poem, and some additional lines which did not

appear in print' ("Examination of the Shelley manuscripts in the

Bodleian Library, by C.D. Locock". Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1903, page

3). This draft, the writing of which is 'extraordinarily confused and

illegible,' has been carefully deciphered and printed by Mr. Locock in

the volume named above. Our text follows that of the editio princeps,



The Writer of the following lines died at Florence, as he was

preparing for a voyage to one of the wildest of the Sporades, which he

had bought, and where he had fitted up the ruins of an old building,

and where it was his hope to have realised a scheme of life, suited

perhaps to that happier and better world of which he is now an

inhabitant, but hardly practicable in this. His life was singular;

less on account of the romantic vicissitudes which diversified it,

than the ideal tinge which it received from his own character and

feelings. The present Poem, like the "Vita Nuova" of Dante, is

sufficiently intelligible to a certain class of readers without a

matter-of-fact history of the circumstances to which it relates and to

a certain other class it must ever remain incomprehensible, from a

defect of a common organ of perception for the ideas of which it

treats. Not but that gran vergogna sarebbe a colui, che rimasse cosa

sotto veste di figura, o di colore rettorico: e domandato non sapesse

denudare le sue parole da cotal veste, in guisa che avessero verace


The present poem appears to have been intended by the Writer as the

dedication to some longer one. The stanza on the opposite page [1] is

almost a literal translation from Dante's famous Canzone

Voi, ch' intendendo, il terzo ciel movete, etc.

The presumptuous application of the concluding lines to his own

composition will raise a smile at the expense of my unfortunate

friend: be it a smile not of contempt, but pity. S.

[1] i.e. the nine lines which follow, beginning, 'My Song, I fear,'


My Song, I fear that thou wilt find but few

Who fitly shalt conceive thy reasoning,

Of such hard matter dost thou entertain;

Whence, if by misadventure, chance should bring

Thee to base company (as chance may do), _5

Quite unaware of what thou dost contain,

I prithee, comfort thy sweet self again,

My last delight! tell them that they are dull,

And bid them own that thou art beautiful.


The following Poem was found amongst other papers in the Portfolio of

a young Englishman with whom the Editor had contracted an intimacy at

Florence, brief indeed, but sufficiently long to render the

Catastrophe by which it terminated one of the most painful events of

his life.--

The literary merit of the Poem in question may not be considerable;

but worse verses are printed every day, &

He was an accomplished & amiable person but his error was, thuntos on

un thunta phronein,--his fate is an additional proof that 'The tree of

Knowledge is not that of Life.'--He had framed to himself certain

opinions, founded no doubt upon the truth of things, but built up to a

Babel height; they fell by their own weight, & the thoughts that were

his architects, became unintelligible one to the other, as men upon

whom confusion of tongues has fallen.

[These] verses seem to have been written as a sort of dedication of

some work to have been presented to the person whom they address: but

his papers afford no trace of such a work--The circumstances to which

[they] the poem allude, may easily be understood by those to whom

[the] spirit of the poem itself is [un]intelligible: a detail of

facts, sufficiently romantic in [themselves but] their combinations

The melancholy [task] charge of consigning the body of my poor friend

to the grave, was committed to me by his desolated family. I caused

him to be buried in a spot selected by himself, & on the h


[Epips] T. E. V. Epipsych

Lines addressed to

the Noble Lady

[Emilia] [E. V.]


[The following Poem was found in the PF. of a young Englishman, who]

died on his passage from Leghorn to the Levant. He had bought one of

the Sporades He was accompanied by a lady [who might have been]

supposed to be his wife, & an effeminate looking youth, to whom he

shewed an [attachment] so [singular] excessive an attachment as to

give rise to the suspicion, that she was a woman--At his death this

suspicion was confirmed;...object speedily found a refuge both from

the taunts of the brute multitude, and from the...of her grief in the

same grave that contained her lover.--He had bought one of the

Sporades, & fitted up a Saracenic castle which accident had preserved

in some repair with simple elegance, & it was his intention to

dedicate the remainder of his life to undisturbed intercourse with his


These verses apparently were intended as a dedication of a longer poem

or series of poems


The writer of these lines died at Florence in [January 1820] while he

was preparing * * for one wildest of the of the Sporades, where he

bought & fitted up the ruins of some old building--His life was

singular, less on account of the romantic vicissitudes which

diversified it, than the ideal tinge which they received from his own

character & feelings--

The verses were apparently intended by the writer to accompany some

longer poem or collection of poems, of which there* [are no remnants

in his] * * * remains [in his] portfolio.--

The editor is induced to

The present poem, like the vita Nova of Dante, is sufficiently

intelligible to a certain class of readers without a matter of fact

history of the circumstances to which it relate, & to a certain other

class, it must & ought ever to remain incomprehensible--It was

evidently intended to be prefixed to a longer poem or series of

poems--but among his papers there are no traces of such a collection.


Here, my dear friend, is a new book for you;

I have already dedicated two

To other friends, one female and one male,--

What you are, is a thing that I must veil;

What can this be to those who praise or rail? _5

I never was attached to that great sect

Whose doctrine is that each one should select

Out of the world a mistress or a friend,

And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend

To cold oblivion--though 'tis in the code _10

Of modern morals, and the beaten road

Which those poor slaves with weary footsteps tread

Who travel to their home among the dead

By the broad highway of the world--and so

With one sad friend, and many a jealous foe, _15

The dreariest and the longest journey go.

Free love has this, different from gold and clay,

That to divide is not to take away.

Like ocean, which the general north wind breaks

Into ten thousand waves, and each one makes _20

A mirror of the moon--like some great glass,

Which did distort whatever form might pass,

Dashed into fragments by a playful child,

Which then reflects its eyes and forehead mild;

Giving for one, which it could ne'er express, _25

A thousand images of loveliness.

If I were one whom the loud world held wise,

I should disdain to quote authorities

In commendation of this kind of love:--

Why there is first the God in heaven above, _30

Who wrote a book called Nature, 'tis to be

Reviewed, I hear, in the next Quarterly;

And Socrates, the Jesus Christ of Greece,

And Jesus Christ Himself, did never cease

To urge all living things to love each other, _35

And to forgive their mutual faults, and smother

The Devil of disunion in their souls.


I love you!--Listen, O embodied Ray

Of the great Brightness; I must pass away

While you remain, and these light words must be _40

Tokens by which you may remember me.

Start not--the thing you are is unbetrayed,

If you are human, and if but the shade

Of some sublimer spirit...


And as to friend or mistress, 'tis a form; _45

Perhaps I wish you were one. Some declare

You a familiar spirit, as you are;

Others with a ... more inhuman

Hint that, though not my wife, you are a woman;

What is the colour of your eyes and hair? _50

Why, if you were a lady, it were fair

The world should know--but, as I am afraid,

The Quarterly would bait you if betrayed;

And if, as it will be sport to see them stumble

Over all sorts of scandals. hear them mumble _55

Their litany of curses--some guess right,

And others swear you're a Hermaphrodite;

Like that sweet marble monster of both sexes,

Which looks so sweet and gentle that it vexes

The very soul that the soul is gone _60

Which lifted from her limbs the veil of stone.


It is a sweet thing, friendship, a dear balm,

A happy and auspicious bird of calm,

Which rides o'er life's ever tumultuous Ocean;

A God that broods o'er chaos in commotion; _65

A flower which fresh as Lapland roses are,

Lifts its bold head into the world's frore air,

And blooms most radiantly when others die,

Health, hope, and youth, and brief prosperity;

And with the light and odour of its bloom, _70

Shining within the dun eon and the tomb;

Whose coming is as light and music are

'Mid dissonance and gloom--a star

Which moves not 'mid the moving heavens alone--

A smile among dark frowns--a gentle tone _75

Among rude voices, a beloved light,

A solitude, a refuge, a delight.

If I had but a friend! Why, I have three

Even by my own confession; there may be

Some more, for what I know, for 'tis my mind _80

To call my friends all who are wise and kind,-

And these, Heaven knows, at best are very few;

But none can ever be more dear than you.

Why should they be? My muse has lost her wings,

Or like a dying swan who soars and sings, _85

I should describe you in heroic style,

But as it is, are you not void of guile?

A lovely soul, formed to be blessed and bless:

A well of sealed and secret happiness;

A lute which those whom Love has taught to play _90

Make music on to cheer the roughest day,

And enchant sadness till it sleeps?...


To the oblivion whither I and thou,

All loving and all lovely, hasten now

With steps, ah, too unequal! may we meet _95

In one Elysium or one winding-sheet!

If any should be curious to discover

Whether to you I am a friend or lover,

Let them read Shakespeare's sonnets, taking thence

A whetstone for their dull intelligence _100

That tears and will not cut, or let them guess

How Diotima, the wise prophetess,

Instructed the instructor, and why he

Rebuked the infant spirit of melody

On Agathon's sweet lips, which as he spoke _105

Was as the lovely star when morn has broke

The roof of darkness, in the golden dawn,

Half-hidden, and yet beautiful.

I'll pawn

My hopes of Heaven-you know what they are worth --

That the presumptuous pedagogues of Earth, _110

If they could tell the riddle offered here

Would scorn to be, or being to appear

What now they seem and are--but let them chide,

They have few pleasures in the world beside;

Perhaps we should be dull were we not chidden, _115

Paradise fruits are sweetest when forbidden.

Folly can season Wisdom, Hatred Love.


Farewell, if it can be to say farewell

To those who


I will not, as most dedicators do, _120

Assure myself and all the world and you,

That you are faultless--would to God they were

Who taunt me with your love! I then should wear

These heavy chains of life with a light spirit,

And would to God I were, or even as near it _125

As you, dear heart. Alas! what are we? Clouds

Driven by the wind in warring multitudes,

Which rain into the bosom of the earth,

And rise again, and in our death and birth,

And through our restless life, take as from heaven _130

Hues which are not our own, but which are given,

And then withdrawn, and with inconstant glance

Flash from the spirit to the countenance.

There is a Power, a Love, a Joy, a God

Which makes in mortal hearts its brief abode, _135

A Pythian exhalation, which inspires

Love, only love--a wind which o'er the wires

Of the soul's giant harp

There is a mood which language faints beneath;

You feel it striding, as Almighty Death _140

His bloodless steed...


And what is that most brief and bright delight

Which rushes through the touch and through the sight,

And stands before the spirit's inmost throne,

A naked Seraph? None hath ever known. _145

Its birth is darkness, and its growth desire;

Untameable and fleet and fierce as fire,

Not to be touched but to be felt alone,

It fills the world with glory-and is gone.


It floats with rainbow pinions o'er the stream _150

Of life, which flows, like a ... dream

Into the light of morning, to the grave

As to an ocean...


What is that joy which serene infancy

Perceives not, as the hours content them by, _155

Each in a chain of blossoms, yet enjoys

The shapes of this new world, in giant toys

Wrought by the busy ... ever new?

Remembrance borrows Fancy's glass, to show

These forms more ... sincere _160

Than now they are, than then, perhaps, they were.

When everything familiar seemed to be

Wonderful, and the immortality

Of this great world, which all things must inherit,

Was felt as one with the awakening spirit, _165

Unconscious of itself, and of the strange

Distinctions which in its proceeding change

It feels and knows, and mourns as if each were

A desolation...


Were it not a sweet refuge, Emily, _170

For all those exiles from the dull insane

Who vex this pleasant world with pride and pain,

For all that band of sister-spirits known

To one another by a voiceless tone?


If day should part us night will mend division _175

And if sleep parts us--we will meet in vision

And if life parts us--we will mix in death

Yielding our mite [?] of unreluctant breath

Death cannot part us--we must meet again

In all in nothing in delight in pain: _180

How, why or when or where--it matters not

So that we share an undivided lot...


And we will move possessing and possessed

Wherever beauty on the earth's bare [?] breast

Lies like the shadow of thy soul--till we _185

Become one being with the world we see...


_52-_53 afraid The cj. A.C. Bradley.

_54 And as cj. Rossetti, A.C. Bradley.

_61 stone... cj. A.C. Bradley.

_155 them]trip or troop cj. A.C. Bradley.

_157 in]as cj. A.C. Bradley.