Percy Shelley: Poems

Prince Athanase: Part 2


Prince Athanase had one beloved friend, _125

An old, old man, with hair of silver white,

And lips where heavenly smiles would hang and blend

With his wise words; and eyes whose arrowy light

Shone like the reflex of a thousand minds.

He was the last whom superstition's blight _130

Had spared in Greece--the blight that cramps and blinds,--

And in his olive bower at Oenoe

Had sate from earliest youth. Like one who finds

A fertile island in the barren sea,

One mariner who has survived his mates _135

Many a drear month in a great ship--so he

With soul-sustaining songs, and sweet debates

Of ancient lore, there fed his lonely being:--

'The mind becomes that which it contemplates,'--

And thus Zonoras, by for ever seeing _140

Their bright creations, grew like wisest men;

And when he heard the crash of nations fleeing

A bloodier power than ruled thy ruins then,

O sacred Hellas! many weary years

He wandered, till the path of Laian's glen _145

Was grass-grown--and the unremembered tears

Were dry in Laian for their honoured chief,

Who fell in Byzant, pierced by Moslem spears:--

And as the lady looked with faithful grief

From her high lattice o'er the rugged path, _150

Where she once saw that horseman toil, with brief

And blighting hope, who with the news of death

Struck body and soul as with a mortal blight,

She saw between the chestnuts, far beneath,

An old man toiling up, a weary wight; _155

And soon within her hospitable hall

She saw his white hairs glittering in the light

Of the wood fire, and round his shoulders fall;

And his wan visage and his withered mien,

Yet calm and gentle and majestical. _160

And Athanase, her child, who must have been

Then three years old, sate opposite and gazed

In patient silence.


Such was Zonoras; and as daylight finds

One amaranth glittering on the path of frost, _165

When autumn nights have nipped all weaker kinds,

Thus through his age, dark, cold, and tempest-tossed,

Shone truth upon Zonoras; and he filled

From fountains pure, nigh overgrown and lost,

The spirit of Prince Athanase, a child, _170

With soul-sustaining songs of ancient lore

And philosophic wisdom, clear and mild.

And sweet and subtle talk they evermore,

The pupil and the master, shared; until,

Sharing that undiminishable store, _175

The youth, as shadows on a grassy hill

Outrun the winds that chase them, soon outran

His teacher, and did teach with native skill

Strange truths and new to that experienced man;

Still they were friends, as few have ever been _180

Who mark the extremes of life's discordant span.

So in the caverns of the forest green,

Or on the rocks of echoing ocean hoar,

Zonoras and Prince Athanase were seen

By summer woodmen; and when winter's roar _185

Sounded o'er earth and sea its blast of war,

The Balearic fisher, driven from shore,

Hanging upon the peaked wave afar,

Then saw their lamp from Laian's turret gleam,

Piercing the stormy darkness, like a star _190

Which pours beyond the sea one steadfast beam,

Whilst all the constellations of the sky

Seemed reeling through the storm...They did but seem--

For, lo! the wintry clouds are all gone by,

And bright Arcturus through yon pines is glowing, _195

And far o'er southern waves, immovably

Belted Orion hangs--warm light is flowing

From the young moon into the sunset's chasm.--

'O, summer eve! with power divine, bestowing

'On thine own bird the sweet enthusiasm _200

Which overflows in notes of liquid gladness,

Filling the sky like light! How many a spasm

'Of fevered brains, oppressed with grief and madness,

Were lulled by thee, delightful nightingale,--

And these soft waves, murmuring a gentle sadness,-- _205

'And the far sighings of yon piny dale

Made vocal by some wind we feel not here.--

I bear alone what nothing may avail

'To lighten--a strange load!'--No human ear

Heard this lament; but o'er the visage wan _210

Of Athanase, a ruffling atmosphere

Of dark emotion, a swift shadow, ran,

Like wind upon some forest-bosomed lake,

Glassy and dark.--And that divine old man

Beheld his mystic friend's whole being shake, _215

Even where its inmost depths were gloomiest--

And with a calm and measured voice he spake,

And, with a soft and equal pressure, pressed

That cold lean hand:--'Dost thou remember yet

When the curved moon then lingering in the west _220

'Paused, in yon waves her mighty horns to wet,

How in those beams we walked, half resting on the sea?

'Tis just one year--sure thou dost not forget--

'Then Plato's words of light in thee and me

Lingered like moonlight in the moonless east, _225

For we had just then read--thy memory

'Is faithful now--the story of the feast;

And Agathon and Diotima seemed

From death and dark forgetfulness released...'


And when the old man saw that on the green

Leaves of his opening ... a blight had lighted _230

He said: 'My friend, one grief alone can wean

A gentle mind from all that once delighted:--

Thou lovest, and thy secret heart is laden

With feelings which should not be unrequited.' _235

And Athanase ... then smiled, as one o'erladen

With iron chains might smile to talk (?) of bands

Twined round her lover's neck by some blithe maiden,

And said...


'Twas at the season when the Earth upsprings _240

From slumber, as a sphered angel's child,

Shadowing its eyes with green and golden wings,

Stands up before its mother bright and mild,

Of whose soft voice the air expectant seems--

So stood before the sun, which shone and smiled _245

To see it rise thus joyous from its dreams,

The fresh and radiant Earth. The hoary grove

Waxed green--and flowers burst forth like starry beams;--

The grass in the warm sun did start and move,

And sea-buds burst under the waves serene:-- _250

How many a one, though none be near to love,

Loves then the shade of his own soul, half seen

In any mirror--or the spring's young minions,

The winged leaves amid the copses green;--

How many a spirit then puts on the pinions _255

Of fancy, and outstrips the lagging blast,

And his own steps--and over wide dominions

Sweeps in his dream-drawn chariot, far and fast,

More fleet than storms--the wide world shrinks below,

When winter and despondency are past. _260


'Twas at this season that Prince Athanase

Passed the white Alps--those eagle-baffling mountains

Slept in their shrouds of snow;--beside the ways

The waterfalls were voiceless--for their fountains

Were changed to mines of sunless crystal now, _265

Or by the curdling winds--like brazen wings

Which clanged along the mountain's marble brow--

Warped into adamantine fretwork, hung

And filled with frozen light the chasms below.

Vexed by the blast, the great pines groaned and swung _270

Under their load of [snow]--



Such as the eagle sees, when he dives down

From the gray deserts of wide air, [beheld] _275

[Prince] Athanase; and o'er his mien (?) was thrown

The shadow of that scene, field after field,

Purple and dim and wide...


Thou art the wine whose drunkenness is all

We can desire, O Love! and happy souls, _280

Ere from thy vine the leaves of autumn fall,

Catch thee, and feed from their o'erflowing bowls

Thousands who thirst for thine ambrosial dew;--

Thou art the radiance which where ocean rolls

Investeth it; and when the heavens are blue _285

Thou fillest them; and when the earth is fair

The shadow of thy moving wings imbue

Its deserts and its mountains, till they wear

Beauty like some light robe;--thou ever soarest

Among the towers of men, and as soft air _290

In spring, which moves the unawakened forest,

Clothing with leaves its branches bare and bleak,

Thou floatest among men; and aye implorest

That which from thee they should implore:--the weak

Alone kneel to thee, offering up the hearts _295

The strong have broken--yet where shall any seek

A garment whom thou clothest not? the darts

Of the keen winter storm, barbed with frost,

Which, from the everlasting snow that parts

The Alps from Heaven, pierce some traveller lost _300

In the wide waved interminable snow



Yes, often when the eyes are cold and dry,

And the lips calm, the Spirit weeps within

Tears bitterer than the blood of agony _305

Trembling in drops on the discoloured skin

Of those who love their kind and therefore perish

In ghastly torture--a sweet medicine

Of peace and sleep are tears, and quietly

Them soothe from whose uplifted eyes they fall _310



Her hair was brown, her sphered eyes were brown,

And in their dark and liquid moisture swam,

Like the dim orb of the eclipsed moon;

Yet when the spirit flashed beneath, there came _315

The light from them, as when tears of delight

Double the western planet's serene flame.


_19 strange edition 1839; deep edition 1824.

_74 feed an Bodleian manuscript; feed on editions 1824, 1839.

_124 [1. The Author was pursuing a fuller development of the ideal]

character of Athanase, when it struck him that in an attempt at

extreme refinement and analysis, his conceptions might be betrayed

into the assuming a morbid character. The reader will judge whether he

is a loser or gainer by this diffidence. [Shelley's Note.]

Footnote diffidence cj. Rossetti (1878); difference editions 1824,


_154 beneath editions 1824, 1839; between Bodleian manuscript.

_165 One Bodleian manuscript edition 1839; An edition 1824.

_167 Thus thro' Bodleian manuscript (?) edition 1839; Thus had edition 1824.

_173 talk they edition 1824, Bodleian manuscript; talk now edition 1839.

_175 that edition 1839; the edition 1824.

_182 So edition 1839; And edition 1824.

_183 Or on Bodleian manuscript; Or by editions 1824, 1839.

_199 eve Bodleian manuscript edition 1839; night edition 1824.

_212 emotion, a swift editions 1824, 1839;

emotion with swift Bodleian manuscript.

_250 under edition 1824, Bodleian manuscript; beneath edition 1839.

_256 outstrips editions 1824, 1839; outrides Bodleian manuscript.

_259 Exulting, while the wide Bodleian manuscript.

_262 mountains editions 1824, 1839; crags Bodleian manuscript.

_264 fountains editions 1824, 1839; springs Bodleian manuscript.

_269 chasms Bodleian manuscript; chasm editions 1824, 1839.

_283 thine Bodleian manuscript; thy editions 1824, 1839.

_285 Investeth Bodleian manuscript; Investest editions 1824, 1839.

_289 light Bodleian manuscript; bright editions 1824, 1839.