Percy Shelley: Poems

Julian And Maddalo

I rode one evening with Count Maddalo

Upon the bank of land which breaks the flow

Of Adria towards Venice: a bare strand

Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand,

Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds, _5

Such as from earth's embrace the salt ooze breeds,

Is this; an uninhabited sea-side,

Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried,

Abandons; and no other object breaks

The waste, but one dwarf tree and some few stakes _10

Broken and unrepaired, and the tide makes

A narrow space of level sand thereon,

Where 'twas our wont to ride while day went down.

This ride was my delight. I love all waste

And solitary places; where we taste _15

The pleasure of believing what we see

Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be:

And such was this wide ocean, and this shore

More barren than its billows; and yet more

Than all, with a remembered friend I love _20

To ride as then I rode;--for the winds drove

The living spray along the sunny air

Into our faces; the blue heavens were bare,

Stripped to their depths by the awakening north;

And, from the waves, sound like delight broke forth _25

Harmonising with solitude, and sent

Into our hearts aereal merriment.

So, as we rode, we talked; and the swift thought,

Winging itself with laughter, lingered not,

But flew from brain to brain,--such glee was ours, _30

Charged with light memories of remembered hours,

None slow enough for sadness: till we came

Homeward, which always makes the spirit tame.

This day had been cheerful but cold, and now

The sun was sinking, and the wind also. _35

Our talk grew somewhat serious, as may be

Talk interrupted with such raillery

As mocks itself, because it cannot scorn

The thoughts it would extinguish: --'twas forlorn,

Yet pleasing, such as once, so poets tell, _40

The devils held within the dales of Hell

Concerning God, freewill and destiny:

Of all that earth has been or yet may be,

All that vain men imagine or believe,

Or hope can paint or suffering may achieve, _45

We descanted; and I (for ever still

Is it not wise to make the best of ill?)

Argued against despondency, but pride

Made my companion take the darker side.

The sense that he was greater than his kind _50

Had struck, methinks, his eagle spirit blind

By gazing on its own exceeding light.

Meanwhile the sun paused ere it should alight,

Over the horizon of the mountains;--Oh,

How beautiful is sunset, when the glow _55

Of Heaven descends upon a land like thee,

Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!

Thy mountains, seas and vineyards, and the towers

Of cities they encircle!--it was ours

To stand on thee, beholding it: and then, _60

Just where we had dismounted, the Count's men

Were waiting for us with the gondola.--

As those who pause on some delightful way

Though bent on pleasant pilgrimage, we stood

Looking upon the evening, and the flood _65

Which lay between the city and the shore,

Paved with the image of the sky...the hoar

And aery Alps towards the North appeared

Through mist, an heaven-sustaining bulwark reared

Between the East and West; and half the sky _70

Was roofed with clouds of rich emblazonry

Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew

Down the steep West into a wondrous hue

Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent

Where the swift sun yet paused in his descent _75

Among the many-folded hills: they were

Those famous Euganean hills, which bear,

As seen from Lido thro' the harbour piles,

The likeness of a clump of peaked isles--

And then--as if the Earth and Sea had been _80

Dissolved into one lake of fire, were seen

Those mountains towering as from waves of flame

Around the vaporous sun, from which there came

The inmost purple spirit of light, and made

Their very peaks transparent. 'Ere it fade,' _85

Said my companion, 'I will show you soon

A better station'--so, o'er the lagune

We glided; and from that funereal bark

I leaned, and saw the city, and could mark

How from their many isles, in evening's gleam, _90

Its temples and its palaces did seem

Like fabrics of enchantment piled to Heaven.

I was about to speak, when--'We are even

Now at the point I meant,' said Maddalo,

And bade the gondolieri cease to row. _95

'Look, Julian, on the west, and listen well

If you hear not a deep and heavy bell.'

I looked, and saw between us and the sun

A building on an island; such a one

As age to age might add, for uses vile, _100

A windowless, deformed and dreary pile;

And on the top an open tower, where hung

A bell, which in the radiance swayed and swung;

We could just hear its hoarse and iron tongue:

The broad sun sunk behind it, and it tolled _105

In strong and black relief.--'What we behold

Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,'

Said Maddalo, 'and ever at this hour

Those who may cross the water, hear that bell

Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell, _110

To vespers.'--'As much skill as need to pray

In thanks or hope for their dark lot have they

To their stern maker,' I replied. 'O ho!

You talk as in years past,' said Maddalo.

''Tis strange men change not. You were ever still _115

Among Christ's flock a perilous infidel,

A wolf for the meek lambs--if you can't swim

Beware of Providence.' I looked on him,

But the gay smile had faded in his eye.

'And such,'--he cried, 'is our mortality, _120

And this must be the emblem and the sign

Of what should be eternal and divine!--

And like that black and dreary bell, the soul,

Hung in a heaven-illumined tower, must toll

Our thoughts and our desires to meet below _125

Round the rent heart and pray--as madmen do

For what? they know not,--till the night of death

As sunset that strange vision, severeth

Our memory from itself, and us from all

We sought and yet were baffled.' I recall _130

The sense of what he said, although I mar

The force of his expressions. The broad star

Of day meanwhile had sunk behind the hill,

And the black bell became invisible,

And the red tower looked gray, and all between _135

The churches, ships and palaces were seen

Huddled in gloom;--into the purple sea

The orange hues of heaven sunk silently.

We hardly spoke, and soon the gondola

Conveyed me to my lodging by the way. _140

The following morn was rainy, cold, and dim:

Ere Maddalo arose, I called on him,

And whilst I waited with his child I played;

A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made;

A serious, subtle, wild, yet gentle being, _145

Graceful without design and unforeseeing,

With eyes--Oh speak not of her eyes!--which seem

Twin mirrors of Italian Heaven, yet gleam

With such deep meaning, as we never see

But in the human countenance: with me _150

She was a special favourite: I had nursed

Her fine and feeble limbs when she came first

To this bleak world; and she yet seemed to know

On second sight her ancient playfellow,

Less changed than she was by six months or so; _155

For after her first shyness was worn out

We sate there, rolling billiard balls about,

When the Count entered. Salutations past--

'The word you spoke last night might well have cast

A darkness on my spirit--if man be _160

The passive thing you say, I should not see

Much harm in the religions and old saws

(Tho' I may never own such leaden laws)

Which break a teachless nature to the yoke:

Mine is another faith.'--thus much I spoke _165

And noting he replied not, added: 'See

This lovely child, blithe, innocent and free;

She spends a happy time with little care,

While we to such sick thoughts subjected are

As came on you last night. It is our will _170

That thus enchains us to permitted ill--

We might be otherwise--we might be all

We dream of happy, high, majestical.

Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek,

But in our mind? and if we were not weak _175

Should we be less in deed than in desire?'

'Ay, if we were not weak--and we aspire

How vainly to be strong!' said Maddalo:

'You talk Utopia.' 'It remains to know,'

I then rejoined, 'and those who try may find _180

How strong the chains are which our spirit bind;

Brittle perchance as straw...We are assured

Much may be conquered, much may be endured,

Of what degrades and crushes us. We know

That we have power over ourselves to do _185

And suffer--what, we know not till we try;

But something nobler than to live and die--

So taught those kings of old philosophy

Who reigned, before Religion made men blind;

And those who suffer with their suffering kind _190

Yet feel their faith, religion.' 'My dear friend,'

Said Maddalo, 'my judgement will not bend

To your opinion, though I think you might

Make such a system refutation-tight

As far as words go. I knew one like you _195

Who to this city came some months ago,

With whom I argued in this sort, and he

Is now gone mad,--and so he answered me,--

Poor fellow! but if you would like to go,

We'll visit him, and his wild talk will show _200

How vain are such aspiring theories.'

'I hope to prove the induction otherwise,

And that a want of that true theory, still,

Which seeks a "soul of goodness" in things ill

Or in himself or others, has thus bowed _205

His being--there are some by nature proud,

Who patient in all else demand but this--

To love and be beloved with gentleness;

And being scorned, what wonder if they die

Some living death? this is not destiny _210

But man's own wilful ill.'

As thus I spoke

Servants announced the gondola, and we

Through the fast-falling rain and high-wrought sea

Sailed to the island where the madhouse stands.

We disembarked. The clap of tortured hands, _215

Fierce yells and howlings and lamentings keen,

And laughter where complaint had merrier been,

Moans, shrieks, and curses, and blaspheming prayers

Accosted us. We climbed the oozy stairs

Into an old courtyard. I heard on high, _220

Then, fragments of most touching melody,

But looking up saw not the singer there--

Through the black bars in the tempestuous air

I saw, like weeds on a wrecked palace growing,

Long tangled locks flung wildly forth, and flowing, _225

Of those who on a sudden were beguiled

Into strange silence, and looked forth and smiled

Hearing sweet sounds. Then I: 'Methinks there were

A cure of these with patience and kind care,

If music can thus move...but what is he _230

Whom we seek here?' 'Of his sad history

I know but this,' said Maddalo: 'he came

To Venice a dejected man, and fame

Said he was wealthy, or he had been so;

Some thought the loss of fortune wrought him woe; _235

But he was ever talking in such sort

As you do--far more sadly--he seemed hurt,

Even as a man with his peculiar wrong,

To hear but of the oppression of the strong,

Or those absurd deceits (I think with you _240

In some respects, you know) which carry through

The excellent impostors of this earth

When they outface detection--he had worth,

Poor fellow! but a humorist in his way'--

'Alas, what drove him mad?' 'I cannot say: _245

A lady came with him from France, and when

She left him and returned, he wandered then

About yon lonely isles of desert sand

Till he grew wild--he had no cash or land

Remaining,--the police had brought him here-- _250

Some fancy took him and he would not bear

Removal; so I fitted up for him

Those rooms beside the sea, to please his whim,

And sent him busts and books and urns for flowers,

Which had adorned his life in happier hours, _255

And instruments of music--you may guess

A stranger could do little more or less

For one so gentle and unfortunate:

And those are his sweet strains which charm the weight

From madmen's chains, and make this Hell appear _260

A heaven of sacred silence, hushed to hear.'--

'Nay, this was kind of you--he had no claim,

As the world says'--'None--but the very same

Which I on all mankind were I as he

Fallen to such deep reverse;--his melody _265

Is interrupted--now we hear the din

Of madmen, shriek on shriek, again begin;

Let us now visit him; after this strain

He ever communes with himself again,

And sees nor hears not any.' Having said _270

These words, we called the keeper, and he led

To an apartment opening on the sea--

There the poor wretch was sitting mournfully

Near a piano, his pale fingers twined

One with the other, and the ooze and wind _275

Rushed through an open casement, and did sway

His hair, and starred it with the brackish spray;

His head was leaning on a music book,

And he was muttering, and his lean limbs shook;

His lips were pressed against a folded leaf _280

In hue too beautiful for health, and grief

Smiled in their motions as they lay apart--

As one who wrought from his own fervid heart

The eloquence of passion, soon he raised

His sad meek face and eyes lustrous and glazed _285

And spoke--sometimes as one who wrote, and thought

His words might move some heart that heeded not,

If sent to distant lands: and then as one

Reproaching deeds never to be undone

With wondering self-compassion; then his speech _290

Was lost in grief, and then his words came each

Unmodulated, cold, expressionless,--

But that from one jarred accent you might guess

It was despair made them so uniform:

And all the while the loud and gusty storm _295

Hissed through the window, and we stood behind

Stealing his accents from the envious wind

Unseen. I yet remember what he said

Distinctly: such impression his words made.

'Month after month,' he cried, 'to bear this load _300

And as a jade urged by the whip and goad

To drag life on, which like a heavy chain

Lengthens behind with many a link of pain!--

And not to speak my grief--O, not to dare

To give a human voice to my despair, _305

But live, and move, and, wretched thing! smile on

As if I never went aside to groan,

And wear this mask of falsehood even to those

Who are most dear--not for my own repose--

Alas! no scorn or pain or hate could be _310

So heavy as that falsehood is to me--

But that I cannot bear more altered faces

Than needs must be, more changed and cold embraces,

More misery, disappointment, and mistrust

To own me for their father...Would the dust _315

Were covered in upon my body now!

That the life ceased to toil within my brow!

And then these thoughts would at the least be fled;

Let us not fear such pain can vex the dead.

'What Power delights to torture us? I know _320

That to myself I do not wholly owe

What now I suffer, though in part I may.

Alas! none strewed sweet flowers upon the way

Where wandering heedlessly, I met pale Pain

My shadow, which will leave me not again-- _325

If I have erred, there was no joy in error,

But pain and insult and unrest and terror;

I have not as some do, bought penitence

With pleasure, and a dark yet sweet offence,

For then,--if love and tenderness and truth _330

Had overlived hope's momentary youth,

My creed should have redeemed me from repenting;

But loathed scorn and outrage unrelenting

Met love excited by far other seeming

Until the end was gained...as one from dreaming _335

Of sweetest peace, I woke, and found my state

Such as it is.--

'O Thou, my spirit's mate

Who, for thou art compassionate and wise,

Wouldst pity me from thy most gentle eyes

If this sad writing thou shouldst ever see-- _340

My secret groans must be unheard by thee,

Thou wouldst weep tears bitter as blood to know

Thy lost friend's incommunicable woe.

'Ye few by whom my nature has been weighed

In friendship, let me not that name degrade _345

By placing on your hearts the secret load

Which crushes mine to dust. There is one road

To peace and that is truth, which follow ye!

Love sometimes leads astray to misery.

Yet think not though subdued--and I may well _350

Say that I am subdued--that the full Hell

Within me would infect the untainted breast

Of sacred nature with its own unrest;

As some perverted beings think to find

In scorn or hate a medicine for the mind _355

Which scorn or hate have wounded--O how vain!

The dagger heals not but may rend again...

Believe that I am ever still the same

In creed as in resolve, and what may tame

My heart, must leave the understanding free, _360

Or all would sink in this keen agony--

Nor dream that I will join the vulgar cry;

Or with my silence sanction tyranny;

Or seek a moment's shelter from my pain

In any madness which the world calls gain, _365

Ambition or revenge or thoughts as stern

As those which make me what I am; or turn

To avarice or misanthropy or lust...

Heap on me soon, O grave, thy welcome dust!

Till then the dungeon may demand its prey, _370

And Poverty and Shame may meet and say--

Halting beside me on the public way--

"That love-devoted youth is ours--let's sit

Beside him--he may live some six months yet."

Or the red scaffold, as our country bends, _375

May ask some willing victim; or ye friends

May fall under some sorrow which this heart

Or hand may share or vanquish or avert;

I am prepared--in truth, with no proud joy--

To do or suffer aught, as when a boy _380

I did devote to justice and to love

My nature, worthless now!...

'I must remove

A veil from my pent mind. 'Tis torn aside!

O, pallid as Death's dedicated bride,

Thou mockery which art sitting by my side, _385

Am I not wan like thee? at the grave's call

I haste, invited to thy wedding-ball

To greet the ghastly paramour, for whom

Thou hast deserted me...and made the tomb

Thy bridal bed...But I beside your feet _390

Will lie and watch ye from my winding-sheet--

Thus...wide awake tho' dead...yet stay, O stay!

Go not so soon--I know not what I say--

Hear but my reasons...I am mad, I fear,

My fancy is o'erwrought...thou art not here... _395

Pale art thou, 'tis most true...but thou art gone,

Thy work is finished...I am left alone!--


'Nay, was it I who wooed thee to this breast

Which, like a serpent, thou envenomest

As in repayment of the warmth it lent? _400

Didst thou not seek me for thine own content?

Did not thy love awaken mine? I thought

That thou wert she who said, "You kiss me not

Ever, I fear you do not love me now"--

In truth I loved even to my overthrow _405

Her, who would fain forget these words: but they

Cling to her mind, and cannot pass away.


'You say that I am proud--that when I speak

My lip is tortured with the wrongs which break

The spirit it expresses...Never one _410

Humbled himself before, as I have done!

Even the instinctive worm on which we tread

Turns, though it wound not--then with prostrate head

Sinks in the dusk and writhes like me--and dies?

No: wears a living death of agonies! _415

As the slow shadows of the pointed grass

Mark the eternal periods, his pangs pass,

Slow, ever-moving,--making moments be

As mine seem--each an immortality!


'That you had never seen me--never heard _420

My voice, and more than all had ne'er endured

The deep pollution of my loathed embrace--

That your eyes ne'er had lied love in my face--

That, like some maniac monk, I had torn out

The nerves of manhood by their bleeding root _425

With mine own quivering fingers, so that ne'er

Our hearts had for a moment mingled there

To disunite in horror--these were not

With thee, like some suppressed and hideous thought

Which flits athwart our musings, but can find _430

No rest within a pure and gentle mind...

Thou sealedst them with many a bare broad word,

And searedst my memory o'er them,--for I heard

And can forget not...they were ministered

One after one, those curses. Mix them up _435

Like self-destroying poisons in one cup,

And they will make one blessing which thou ne'er

Didst imprecate for, on me,--death.


'It were

A cruel punishment for one most cruel,

If such can love, to make that love the fuel _440

Of the mind's hell; hate, scorn, remorse, despair:

But ME--whose heart a stranger's tear might wear

As water-drops the sandy fountain-stone,

Who loved and pitied all things, and could moan

For woes which others hear not, and could see _445

The absent with the glance of phantasy,

And with the poor and trampled sit and weep,

Following the captive to his dungeon deep;

ME--who am as a nerve o'er which do creep

The else unfelt oppressions of this earth, _450

And was to thee the flame upon thy hearth,

When all beside was cold--that thou on me

Shouldst rain these plagues of blistering agony--

Such curses are from lips once eloquent

With love's too partial praise--let none relent _455

Who intend deeds too dreadful for a name

Henceforth, if an example for the same

They seek...for thou on me lookedst so, and so--

And didst speak thus...and thus...I live to show

How much men bear and die not!


'Thou wilt tell _460

With the grimace of hate, how horrible

It was to meet my love when thine grew less;

Thou wilt admire how I could e'er address

Such features to love's work...this taunt, though true,

(For indeed Nature nor in form nor hue _465

Bestowed on me her choicest workmanship)

Shall not be thy defence...for since thy lip

Met mine first, years long past, since thine eye kindled

With soft fire under mine, I have not dwindled

Nor changed in mind or body, or in aught _470

But as love changes what it loveth not

After long years and many trials.

'How vain

Are words! I thought never to speak again,

Not even in secret,--not to mine own heart--

But from my lips the unwilling accents start, _475

And from my pen the words flow as I write,

Dazzling my eyes with scalding tears...my sight

Is dim to see that charactered in vain

On this unfeeling leaf which burns the brain

And eats into it...blotting all things fair _480

And wise and good which time had written there.

'Those who inflict must suffer, for they see

The work of their own hearts, and this must be

Our chastisement or recompense--O child!

I would that thine were like to be more mild _485

For both our wretched sakes...for thine the most

Who feelest already all that thou hast lost

Without the power to wish it thine again;

And as slow years pass, a funereal train

Each with the ghost of some lost hope or friend _490

Following it like its shadow, wilt thou bend

No thought on my dead memory?


'Alas, love!

Fear me not...against thee I would not move

A finger in despite. Do I not live

That thou mayst have less bitter cause to grieve? _495

I give thee tears for scorn and love for hate;

And that thy lot may be less desolate

Than his on whom thou tramplest, I refrain

From that sweet sleep which medicines all pain.

Then, when thou speakest of me, never say _500

"He could forgive not." Here I cast away

All human passions, all revenge, all pride;

I think, speak, act no ill; I do but hide

Under these words, like embers, every spark

Of that which has consumed me--quick and dark _505

The grave is yawning...as its roof shall cover

My limbs with dust and worms under and over

So let Oblivion hide this grief...the air

Closes upon my accents, as despair

Upon my heart--let death upon despair!' _510

He ceased, and overcome leant back awhile,

Then rising, with a melancholy smile

Went to a sofa, and lay down, and slept

A heavy sleep, and in his dreams he wept

And muttered some familiar name, and we _515

Wept without shame in his society.

I think I never was impressed so much;

The man who were not, must have lacked a touch

Of human nature...then we lingered not,

Although our argument was quite forgot, _520

But calling the attendants, went to dine

At Maddalo's; yet neither cheer nor wine

Could give us spirits, for we talked of him

And nothing else, till daylight made stars dim;

And we agreed his was some dreadful ill _525

Wrought on him boldly, yet unspeakable,

By a dear friend; some deadly change in love

Of one vowed deeply which he dreamed not of;

For whose sake he, it seemed, had fixed a blot

Of falsehood on his mind which flourished not _530

But in the light of all-beholding truth;

And having stamped this canker on his youth

She had abandoned him--and how much more

Might be his woe, we guessed not--he had store

Of friends and fortune once, as we could guess _535

From his nice habits and his gentleness;

These were now lost...it were a grief indeed

If he had changed one unsustaining reed

For all that such a man might else adorn.

The colours of his mind seemed yet unworn; _540

For the wild language of his grief was high,

Such as in measure were called poetry;

And I remember one remark which then

Maddalo made. He said: 'Most wretched men

Are cradled into poetry by wrong, _545

They learn in suffering what they teach in song.'

If I had been an unconnected man,

I, from this moment, should have formed some plan

Never to leave sweet Venice,--for to me

It was delight to ride by the lone sea; _550

And then, the town is silent--one may write

Or read in gondolas by day or night,

Having the little brazen lamp alight,

Unseen, uninterrupted; books are there,

Pictures, and casts from all those statues fair _555

Which were twin-born with poetry, and all

We seek in towns, with little to recall

Regrets for the green country. I might sit

In Maddalo's great palace, and his wit

And subtle talk would cheer the winter night _560

And make me know myself, and the firelight

Would flash upon our faces, till the day

Might dawn and make me wonder at my stay:

But I had friends in London too: the chief

Attraction here, was that I sought relief _565

From the deep tenderness that maniac wrought

Within me--'twas perhaps an idle thought--

But I imagined that if day by day

I watched him, and but seldom went away,

And studied all the beatings of his heart _570

With zeal, as men study some stubborn art

For their own good, and could by patience find

An entrance to the caverns of his mind,

I might reclaim him from this dark estate:

In friendships I had been most fortunate-- _575

Yet never saw I one whom I would call

More willingly my friend; and this was all

Accomplished not; such dreams of baseless good

Oft come and go in crowds or solitude

And leave no trace--but what I now designed _580

Made for long years impression on my mind.

The following morning, urged by my affairs,

I left bright Venice.

After many years

And many changes I returned; the name

Of Venice, and its aspect, was the same; _585

But Maddalo was travelling far away

Among the mountains of Armenia.

His dog was dead. His child had now become

A woman; such as it has been my doom

To meet with few,--a wonder of this earth, _590

Where there is little of transcendent worth,

Like one of Shakespeare's women: kindly she,

And, with a manner beyond courtesy,

Received her father's friend; and when I asked

Of the lorn maniac, she her memory tasked, _595

And told as she had heard the mournful tale:

'That the poor sufferer's health began to fail

Two years from my departure, but that then

The lady who had left him, came again.

Her mien had been imperious, but she now _600

Looked meek--perhaps remorse had brought her low.

Her coming made him better, and they stayed

Together at my father's--for I played,

As I remember, with the lady's shawl--

I might be six years old--but after all _605

She left him.'...'Why, her heart must have been tough:

How did it end?' 'And was not this enough?

They met--they parted.'--'Child, is there no more?'

'Something within that interval which bore

The stamp of WHY they parted, HOW they met: _610

Yet if thine aged eyes disdain to wet

Those wrinkled cheeks with youth's remembered tears,

Ask me no more, but let the silent years

Be closed and cered over their memory

As yon mute marble where their corpses lie.' _615

I urged and questioned still, she told me how

All happened--but the cold world shall not know.