Percy Shelley: Poems

Alastor: Or, The Spirit Of Solitude

Earth, Ocean, Air, beloved brotherhood!

If our great Mother has imbued my soul

With aught of natural piety to feel

Your love, and recompense the boon with mine;

If dewy morn, and odorous noon, and even, _5

With sunset and its gorgeous ministers,

And solemn midnight's tingling silentness;

If autumn's hollow sighs in the sere wood,

And winter robing with pure snow and crowns

Of starry ice the grey grass and bare boughs; _10

If spring's voluptuous pantings when she breathes

Her first sweet kisses, have been dear to me;

If no bright bird, insect, or gentle beast

I consciously have injured, but still loved

And cherished these my kindred; then forgive _15

This boast, beloved brethren, and withdraw

No portion of your wonted favour now!

Mother of this unfathomable world!

Favour my solemn song, for I have loved

Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched _20

Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps,

And my heart ever gazes on the depth

Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed

In charnels and on coffins, where black death

Keeps record of the trophies won from thee, _25

Hoping to still these obstinate questionings

Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost,

Thy messenger, to render up the tale

Of what we are. In lone and silent hours,

When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness, _30

Like an inspired and desperate alchymist

Staking his very life on some dark hope,

Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks

With my most innocent love, until strange tears,

Uniting with those breathless kisses, made _35

Such magic as compels the charmed night

To render up thy charge:...and, though ne'er yet

Thou hast unveiled thy inmost sanctuary,

Enough from incommunicable dream,

And twilight phantasms, and deep noon-day thought, _40

Has shone within me, that serenely now

And moveless, as a long-forgotten lyre

Suspended in the solitary dome

Of some mysterious and deserted fane,

I wait thy breath, Great Parent, that my strain _45

May modulate with murmurs of the air,

And motions of the forests and the sea,

And voice of living beings, and woven hymns

Of night and day, and the deep heart of man.

There was a Poet whose untimely tomb _50

No human hands with pious reverence reared,

But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds

Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid

Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness:--

A lovely youth,--no mourning maiden decked _55

With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,

The lone couch of his everlasting sleep:--

Gentle, and brave, and generous,--no lorn bard

Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh:

He lived, he died, he sung in solitude. _60

Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes,

And virgins, as unknown he passed, have pined

And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes.

The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn,

And Silence, too enamoured of that voice, _65

Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.

By solemn vision, and bright silver dream

His infancy was nurtured. Every sight

And sound from the vast earth and ambient air,

Sent to his heart its choicest impulses. _70

The fountains of divine philosophy

Fled not his thirsting lips, and all of great,

Or good, or lovely, which the sacred past

In truth or fable consecrates, he felt

And knew. When early youth had passed, he left _75

His cold fireside and alienated home

To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands.

Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness

Has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought

With his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men, _80

His rest and food. Nature's most secret steps

He like her shadow has pursued, where'er

The red volcano overcanopies

Its fields of snow and pinnacles of ice

With burning smoke, or where bitumen lakes _85

On black bare pointed islets ever beat

With sluggish surge, or where the secret caves,

Rugged and dark, winding among the springs

Of fire and poison, inaccessible

To avarice or pride, their starry domes _90

Of diamond and of gold expand above

Numberless and immeasurable halls,

Frequent with crystal column, and clear shrines

Of pearl, and thrones radiant with chrysolite.

Nor had that scene of ampler majesty _95

Than gems or gold, the varying roof of heaven

And the green earth lost in his heart its claims

To love and wonder; he would linger long

In lonesome vales, making the wild his home,

Until the doves and squirrels would partake _100

From his innocuous hand his bloodless food,

Lured by the gentle meaning of his looks,

And the wild antelope, that starts whene'er

The dry leaf rustles in the brake, suspend

Her timid steps, to gaze upon a form

More graceful than her own. _105

His wandering step,

Obedient to high thoughts, has visited

The awful ruins of the days of old:

Athens, and Tyre, and Balbec, and the waste

Where stood Jerusalem, the fallen towers _110

Of Babylon, the eternal pyramids,

Memphis and Thebes, and whatsoe'er of strange,

Sculptured on alabaster obelisk,

Or jasper tomb, or mutilated sphynx,

Dark Aethiopia in her desert hills _115

Conceals. Among the ruined temples there,

Stupendous columns, and wild images

Of more than man, where marble daemons watch

The Zodiac's brazen mystery, and dead men

Hang their mute thoughts on the mute walls around, _120

He lingered, poring on memorials

Of the world's youth: through the long burning day

Gazed on those speechless shapes; nor, when the moon

Filled the mysterious halls with floating shades

Suspended he that task, but ever gazed _125

And gazed, till meaning on his vacant mind

Flashed like strong inspiration, and he saw

The thrilling secrets of the birth of time.

Meanwhile an Arab maiden brought his food,

Her daily portion, from her father's tent, _130

And spread her matting for his couch, and stole

From duties and repose to tend his steps,

Enamoured, yet not daring for deep awe

To speak her love:--and watched his nightly sleep,

Sleepless herself, to gaze upon his lips _135

Parted in slumber, whence the regular breath

Of innocent dreams arose; then, when red morn

Made paler the pale moon, to her cold home

Wildered, and wan, and panting, she returned.

The Poet, wandering on, through Arabie, _140

And Persia, and the wild Carmanian waste,

And o'er the aerial mountains which pour down

Indus and Oxus from their icy caves,

In joy and exultation held his way;

Till in the vale of Cashmire, far within _145

Its loneliest dell, where odorous plants entwine

Beneath the hollow rocks a natural bower,

Beside a sparkling rivulet he stretched

His languid limbs. A vision on his sleep

There came, a dream of hopes that never yet _150

Had flushed his cheek. He dreamed a veiled maid

Sate near him, talking in low solemn tones.

Her voice was like the voice of his own soul

Heard in the calm of thought; its music long,

Like woven sounds of streams and breezes, held _155

His inmost sense suspended in its web

Of many-coloured woof and shifting hues.

Knowledge and truth and virtue were her theme,

And lofty hopes of divine liberty,

Thoughts the most dear to him, and poesy, _160

Herself a poet. Soon the solemn mood

Of her pure mind kindled through all her frame

A permeating fire; wild numbers then

She raised, with voice stifled in tremulous sobs

Subdued by its own pathos; her fair hands _165

Were bare alone, sweeping from some strange harp

Strange symphony, and in their branching veins

The eloquent blood told an ineffable tale.

The beating of her heart was heard to fill

The pauses of her music, and her breath _170

Tumultuously accorded with those fits

Of intermitted song. Sudden she rose,

As if her heart impatiently endured

Its bursting burthen: at the sound he turned,

And saw by the warm light of their own life _175

Her glowing limbs beneath the sinuous veil

Of woven wind, her outspread arms now bare,

Her dark locks floating in the breath of night,

Her beamy bending eyes, her parted lips

Outstretched, and pale, and quivering eagerly. _180

His strong heart sunk and sickened with excess

Of love. He reared his shuddering limbs and quelled

His gasping breath, and spread his arms to meet

Her panting bosom:...she drew back a while,

Then, yielding to the irresistible joy, _185

With frantic gesture and short breathless cry

Folded his frame in her dissolving arms.

Now blackness veiled his dizzy eyes, and night

Involved and swallowed up the vision; sleep,

Like a dark flood suspended in its course, _190

Rolled back its impulse on his vacant brain.

Roused by the shock he started from his trance--

The cold white light of morning, the blue moon

Low in the west, the clear and garish hills,

The distinct valley and the vacant woods, _195

Spread round him where he stood. Whither have fled

The hues of heaven that canopied his bower

Of yesternight? The sounds that soothed his sleep,

The mystery and the majesty of Earth,

The joy, the exultation? His wan eyes _200

Gaze on the empty scene as vacantly

As ocean's moon looks on the moon in heaven.

The spirit of sweet human love has sent

A vision to the sleep of him who spurned

Her choicest gifts. He eagerly pursues _205

Beyond the realms of dream that fleeting shade;

He overleaps the bounds. Alas! Alas!

Were limbs, and breath, and being intertwined

Thus treacherously? Lost, lost, for ever lost

In the wide pathless desert of dim sleep, _210

That beautiful shape! Does the dark gate of death

Conduct to thy mysterious paradise,

O Sleep? Does the bright arch of rainbow clouds

And pendent mountains seen in the calm lake,

Lead only to a black and watery depth, _215

While death's blue vault, with loathliest vapours hung,

Where every shade which the foul grave exhales

Hides its dead eye from the detested day,

Conducts, O Sleep, to thy delightful realms?

This doubt with sudden tide flowed on his heart; _220

The insatiate hope which it awakened, stung

His brain even like despair.

While daylight held

The sky, the Poet kept mute conference

With his still soul. At night the passion came,

Like the fierce fiend of a distempered dream, _225

And shook him from his rest, and led him forth

Into the darkness.--As an eagle, grasped

In folds of the green serpent, feels her breast

Burn with the poison, and precipitates

Through night and day, tempest, and calm, and cloud, _230

Frantic with dizzying anguish, her blind flight

O'er the wide aery wilderness: thus driven

By the bright shadow of that lovely dream,

Beneath the cold glare of the desolate night,

Through tangled swamps and deep precipitous dells, _235

Startling with careless step the moonlight snake,

He fled. Red morning dawned upon his flight,

Shedding the mockery of its vital hues

Upon his cheek of death. He wandered on

Till vast Aornos seen from Petra's steep _240

Hung o'er the low horizon like a cloud;

Through Balk, and where the desolated tombs

Of Parthian kings scatter to every wind

Their wasting dust, wildly he wandered on,

Day after day a weary waste of hours, _245

Bearing within his life the brooding care

That ever fed on its decaying flame.

And now his limbs were lean; his scattered hair,

Sered by the autumn of strange suffering

Sung dirges in the wind; his listless hand _250

Hung like dead bone within its withered skin;

Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone

As in a furnace burning secretly

From his dark eyes alone. The cottagers,

Who ministered with human charity _255

His human wants, beheld with wondering awe

Their fleeting visitant. The mountaineer,

Encountering on some dizzy precipice

That spectral form, deemed that the Spirit of wind

With lightning eyes, and eager breath, and feet _260

Disturbing not the drifted snow, had paused

In its career: the infant would conceal

His troubled visage in his mother's robe

In terror at the glare of those wild eyes,

To remember their strange light in many a dream _265

Of after-times; but youthful maidens, taught

By nature, would interpret half the woe

That wasted him, would call him with false names

Brother and friend, would press his pallid hand

At parting, and watch, dim through tears, the path _270

Of his departure from their father's door.

At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore

He paused, a wide and melancholy waste

Of putrid marshes. A strong impulse urged

His steps to the sea-shore. A swan was there, _275

Beside a sluggish stream among the reeds.

It rose as he approached, and, with strong wings

Scaling the upward sky, bent its bright course

High over the immeasurable main.

His eyes pursued its flight:--'Thou hast a home, _280

Beautiful bird; thou voyagest to thine home,

Where thy sweet mate will twine her downy neck

With thine, and welcome thy return with eyes

Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy.

And what am I that I should linger here, _285

With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes,

Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned

To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers

In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven

That echoes not my thoughts?' A gloomy smile _290

Of desperate hope wrinkled his quivering lips.

For sleep, he knew, kept most relentlessly

Its precious charge, and silent death exposed,

Faithless perhaps as sleep, a shadowy lure,

With doubtful smile mocking its own strange charms. _295

Startled by his own thoughts he looked around.

There was no fair fiend near him, not a sight

Or sound of awe but in his own deep mind.

A little shallop floating near the shore

Caught the impatient wandering of his gaze. _300

It had been long abandoned, for its sides

Gaped wide with many a rift, and its frail joints

Swayed with the undulations of the tide.

A restless impulse urged him to embark

And meet lone Death on the drear ocean's waste; _305

For well he knew that mighty Shadow loves

The slimy caverns of the populous deep.

The day was fair and sunny; sea and sky

Drank its inspiring radiance, and the wind

Swept strongly from the shore, blackening the waves. _310

Following his eager soul, the wanderer

Leaped in the boat, he spread his cloak aloft

On the bare mast, and took his lonely seat,

And felt the boat speed o'er the tranquil sea

Like a torn cloud before the hurricane. _315

As one that in a silver vision floats

Obedient to the sweep of odorous winds

Upon resplendent clouds, so rapidly

Along the dark and ruffled waters fled

The straining boat.--A whirlwind swept it on, _320

With fierce gusts and precipitating force,

Through the white ridges of the chafed sea.

The waves arose. Higher and higher still

Their fierce necks writhed beneath the tempest's scourge

Like serpents struggling in a vulture's grasp. _325

Calm and rejoicing in the fearful war

Of wave ruining on wave, and blast on blast

Descending, and black flood on whirlpool driven

With dark obliterating course, he sate:

As if their genii were the ministers _330

Appointed to conduct him to the light

Of those beloved eyes, the Poet sate,

Holding the steady helm. Evening came on,

The beams of sunset hung their rainbow hues

High 'mid the shifting domes of sheeted spray _335

That canopied his path o'er the waste deep;

Twilight, ascending slowly from the east,

Entwined in duskier wreaths her braided locks

O'er the fair front and radiant eyes of day;

Night followed, clad with stars. On every side _340

More horribly the multitudinous streams

Of ocean's mountainous waste to mutual war

Rushed in dark tumult thundering, as to mock

The calm and spangled sky. The little boat

Still fled before the storm; still fled, like foam _345

Down the steep cataract of a wintry river;

Now pausing on the edge of the riven wave;

Now leaving far behind the bursting mass

That fell, convulsing ocean: safely fled--

As if that frail and wasted human form, _350

Had been an elemental god.

At midnight

The moon arose; and lo! the ethereal cliffs

Of Caucasus, whose icy summits shone

Among the stars like sunlight, and around

Whose caverned base the whirlpools and the waves _355

Bursting and eddying irresistibly

Rage and resound forever.--Who shall save?--

The boat fled on,--the boiling torrent drove,--

The crags closed round with black and jagged arms,

The shattered mountain overhung the sea, _360

And faster still, beyond all human speed,

Suspended on the sweep of the smooth wave,

The little boat was driven. A cavern there

Yawned, and amid its slant and winding depths

Ingulfed the rushing sea. The boat fled on _365

With unrelaxing speed.--'Vision and Love!'

The Poet cried aloud, 'I have beheld

The path of thy departure. Sleep and death

Shall not divide us long.'

The boat pursued

The windings of the cavern. Daylight shone _370

At length upon that gloomy river's flow;

Now, where the fiercest war among the waves

Is calm, on the unfathomable stream

The boat moved slowly. Where the mountain, riven,

Exposed those black depths to the azure sky, _375

Ere yet the flood's enormous volume fell

Even to the base of Caucasus, with sound

That shook the everlasting rocks, the mass

Filled with one whirlpool all that ample chasm:

Stair above stair the eddying waters rose, _380

Circling immeasurably fast, and laved

With alternating dash the gnarled roots

Of mighty trees, that stretched their giant arms

In darkness over it. I' the midst was left,

Reflecting, yet distorting every cloud, _385

A pool of treacherous and tremendous calm.

Seized by the sway of the ascending stream,

With dizzy swiftness, round, and round, and round,

Ridge after ridge the straining boat arose,

Till on the verge of the extremest curve, _390

Where, through an opening of the rocky bank,

The waters overflow, and a smooth spot

Of glassy quiet mid those battling tides

Is left, the boat paused shuddering.--Shall it sink

Down the abyss? Shall the reverting stress _395

Of that resistless gulf embosom it?

Now shall it fall?--A wandering stream of wind,

Breathed from the west, has caught the expanded sail,

And, lo! with gentle motion, between banks

Of mossy slope, and on a placid stream, _400

Beneath a woven grove it sails, and, hark!

The ghastly torrent mingles its far roar,

With the breeze murmuring in the musical woods.

Where the embowering trees recede, and leave

A little space of green expanse, the cove _405

Is closed by meeting banks, whose yellow flowers

For ever gaze on their own drooping eyes,

Reflected in the crystal calm. The wave

Of the boat's motion marred their pensive task,

Which naught but vagrant bird, or wanton wind, _410

Or falling spear-grass, or their own decay

Had e'er disturbed before. The Poet longed

To deck with their bright hues his withered hair,

But on his heart its solitude returned,

And he forbore. Not the strong impulse hid _415

In those flushed cheeks, bent eyes, and shadowy frame

Had yet performed its ministry: it hung

Upon his life, as lightning in a cloud

Gleams, hovering ere it vanish, ere the floods

Of night close over it.

The noonday sun _420

Now shone upon the forest, one vast mass

Of mingling shade, whose brown magnificence

A narrow vale embosoms. There, huge caves,

Scooped in the dark base of their aery rocks,

Mocking its moans, respond and roar for ever. _425

The meeting boughs and implicated leaves

Wove twilight o'er the Poet's path, as led

By love, or dream, or god, or mightier Death,

He sought in Nature's dearest haunt some bank,

Her cradle, and his sepulchre. More dark _430

And dark the shades accumulate. The oak,

Expanding its immense and knotty arms,

Embraces the light beech. The pyramids

Of the tall cedar overarching frame

Most solemn domes within, and far below, _435

Like clouds suspended in an emerald sky,

The ash and the acacia floating hang

Tremulous and pale. Like restless serpents, clothed

In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,

Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around _440

The grey trunks, and, as gamesome infants' eyes,

With gentle meanings, and most innocent wiles,

Fold their beams round the hearts of those that love,

These twine their tendrils with the wedded boughs

Uniting their close union; the woven leaves _445

Make net-work of the dark blue light of day,

And the night's noontide clearness, mutable

As shapes in the weird clouds. Soft mossy lawns

Beneath these canopies extend their swells,

Fragrant with perfumed herbs, and eyed with blooms _450

Minute yet beautiful. One darkest glen

Sends from its woods of musk-rose, twined with jasmine,

A soul-dissolving odour to invite

To some more lovely mystery. Through the dell,

Silence and Twilight here, twin-sisters, keep _455

Their noonday watch, and sail among the shades,

Like vaporous shapes half-seen; beyond, a well,

Dark, gleaming, and of most translucent wave,

Images all the woven boughs above,

And each depending leaf, and every speck _460

Of azure sky, darting between their chasms;

Nor aught else in the liquid mirror laves

Its portraiture, but some inconstant star

Between one foliaged lattice twinkling fair,

Or painted bird, sleeping beneath the moon, _465

Or gorgeous insect floating motionless,

Unconscious of the day, ere yet his wings

Have spread their glories to the gaze of noon.

Hither the Poet came. His eyes beheld

Their own wan light through the reflected lines _470

Of his thin hair, distinct in the dark depth

Of that still fountain; as the human heart,

Gazing in dreams over the gloomy grave,

Sees its own treacherous likeness there. He heard

The motion of the leaves, the grass that sprung _475

Startled and glanced and trembled even to feel

An unaccustomed presence, and the sound

Of the sweet brook that from the secret springs

Of that dark fountain rose. A Spirit seemed

To stand beside him--clothed in no bright robes _480

Of shadowy silver or enshrining light,

Borrowed from aught the visible world affords

Of grace, or majesty, or mystery;--

But, undulating woods, and silent well,

And leaping rivulet, and evening gloom _485

Now deepening the dark shades, for speech assuming,

Held commune with him, as if he and it

Were all that was,--only...when his regard

Was raised by intense pensiveness,...two eyes,

Two starry eyes, hung in the gloom of thought, _490

And seemed with their serene and azure smiles

To beckon him.

Obedient to the light

That shone within his soul, he went, pursuing

The windings of the dell.--The rivulet,

Wanton and wild, through many a green ravine _495

Beneath the forest flowed. Sometimes it fell

Among the moss with hollow harmony

Dark and profound. Now on the polished stones

It danced; like childhood laughing as it went:

Then, through the plain in tranquil wanderings crept, _500

Reflecting every herb and drooping bud

That overhung its quietness.--'O stream!

Whose source is inaccessibly profound,

Whither do thy mysterious waters tend?

Thou imagest my life. Thy darksome stillness, _505

Thy dazzling waves, thy loud and hollow gulfs,

Thy searchless fountain, and invisible course

Have each their type in me; and the wide sky.

And measureless ocean may declare as soon

What oozy cavern or what wandering cloud _510

Contains thy waters, as the universe

Tell where these living thoughts reside, when stretched

Upon thy flowers my bloodless limbs shall waste

I' the passing wind!'

Beside the grassy shore

Of the small stream he went; he did impress _515

On the green moss his tremulous step, that caught

Strong shuddering from his burning limbs. As one

Roused by some joyous madness from the couch

Of fever, he did move; yet, not like him,

Forgetful of the grave, where, when the flame _520

Of his frail exultation shall be spent,

He must descend. With rapid steps he went

Beneath the shade of trees, beside the flow

Of the wild babbling rivulet; and now

The forest's solemn canopies were changed _525

For the uniform and lightsome evening sky.

Grey rocks did peep from the spare moss, and stemmed

The struggling brook; tall spires of windlestrae

Threw their thin shadows down the rugged slope,

And nought but gnarled roots of ancient pines _530

Branchless and blasted, clenched with grasping roots

The unwilling soil. A gradual change was here,

Yet ghastly. For, as fast years flow away,

The smooth brow gathers, and the hair grows thin

And white, and where irradiate dewy eyes _535

Had shone, gleam stony orbs:--so from his steps

Bright flowers departed, and the beautiful shade

Of the green groves, with all their odorous winds

And musical motions. Calm, he still pursued

The stream, that with a larger volume now _540

Rolled through the labyrinthine dell; and there

Fretted a path through its descending curves

With its wintry speed. On every side now rose

Rocks, which, in unimaginable forms,

Lifted their black and barren pinnacles _545

In the light of evening, and its precipice

Obscuring the ravine, disclosed above,

Mid toppling stones, black gulfs and yawning caves,

Whose windings gave ten thousand various tongues

To the loud stream. Lo! where the pass expands _550

Its stony jaws, the abrupt mountain breaks,

And seems, with its accumulated crags,

To overhang the world: for wide expand

Beneath the wan stars and descending moon

Islanded seas, blue mountains, mighty streams, _555

Dim tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom

Of leaden-coloured even, and fiery hills

Mingling their flames with twilight, on the verge

Of the remote horizon. The near scene,

In naked and severe simplicity, _560

Made contrast with the universe. A pine,

Rock-rooted, stretched athwart the vacancy

Its swinging boughs, to each inconstant blast

Yielding one only response, at each pause

In most familiar cadence, with the howl _565

The thunder and the hiss of homeless streams

Mingling its solemn song, whilst the broad river

Foaming and hurrying o'er its rugged path,

Fell into that immeasurable void

Scattering its waters to the passing winds. _570

Yet the grey precipice and solemn pine

And torrent were not all;--one silent nook

Was there. Even on the edge of that vast mountain,

Upheld by knotty roots and fallen rocks,

It overlooked in its serenity _575

The dark earth, and the bending vault of stars.

It was a tranquil spot, that seemed to smile

Even in the lap of horror. Ivy clasped

The fissured stones with its entwining arms,

And did embower with leaves for ever green, _580

And berries dark, the smooth and even space

Of its inviolated floor, and here

The children of the autumnal whirlwind bore,

In wanton sport, those bright leaves, whose decay,

Red, yellow, or ethereally pale, _585

Rivals the pride of summer. 'Tis the haunt

Of every gentle wind, whose breath can teach

The wilds to love tranquillity. One step,

One human step alone, has ever broken

The stillness of its solitude:--one voice _590

Alone inspired its echoes;--even that voice

Which hither came, floating among the winds,

And led the loveliest among human forms

To make their wild haunts the depository

Of all the grace and beauty that endued _595

Its motions, render up its majesty,

Scatter its music on the unfeeling storm,

And to the damp leaves and blue cavern mould,

Nurses of rainbow flowers and branching moss,

Commit the colours of that varying cheek, _600

That snowy breast, those dark and drooping eyes.

The dim and horned moon hung low, and poured

A sea of lustre on the horizon's verge

That overflowed its mountains. Yellow mist

Filled the unbounded atmosphere, and drank _605

Wan moonlight even to fulness; not a star

Shone, not a sound was heard; the very winds,

Danger's grim playmates, on that precipice

Slept, clasped in his embrace.--O, storm of death!

Whose sightless speed divides this sullen night: 610

And thou, colossal Skeleton, that, still

Guiding its irresistible career

In thy devastating omnipotence,

Art king of this frail world, from the red field

Of slaughter, from the reeking hospital, _615

The patriot's sacred couch, the snowy bed

Of innocence, the scaffold and the throne,

A mighty voice invokes thee. Ruin calls

His brother Death. A rare and regal prey

He hath prepared, prowling around the world; _620

Glutted with which thou mayst repose, and men

Go to their graves like flowers or creeping worms,

Nor ever more offer at thy dark shrine

The unheeded tribute of a broken heart.

When on the threshold of the green recess _625

The wanderer's footsteps fell, he knew that death

Was on him. Yet a little, ere it fled,

Did he resign his high and holy soul

To images of the majestic past,

That paused within his passive being now, _630

Like winds that bear sweet music, when they breathe

Through some dim latticed chamber. He did place

His pale lean hand upon the rugged trunk

Of the old pine. Upon an ivied stone

Reclined his languid head, his limbs did rest, _635

Diffused and motionless, on the smooth brink

Of that obscurest chasm;--and thus he lay,

Surrendering to their final impulses

The hovering powers of life. Hope and despair,

The torturers, slept; no mortal pain or fear _640

Marred his repose; the influxes of sense,

And his own being unalloyed by pain,

Yet feebler and more feeble, calmly fed

The stream of thought, till he lay breathing there

At peace, and faintly smiling:--his last sight _645

Was the great moon, which o'er the western line

Of the wide world her mighty horn suspended,

With whose dun beams inwoven darkness seemed

To mingle. Now upon the jagged hills

It rests; and still as the divided frame _650

Of the vast meteor sunk, the Poet's blood,

That ever beat in mystic sympathy

With nature's ebb and flow, grew feebler still:

And when two lessening points of light alone

Gleamed through the darkness, the alternate gasp _655

Of his faint respiration scarce did stir

The stagnate night:--till the minutest ray

Was quenched, the pulse yet lingered in his heart.

It paused--it fluttered. But when heaven remained

Utterly black, the murky shades involved _660

An image, silent, cold, and motionless,

As their own voiceless earth and vacant air.

Even as a vapour fed with golden beams

That ministered on sunlight, ere the west

Eclipses it, was now that wondrous frame-- _665

No sense, no motion, no divinity--

A fragile lute, on whose harmonious strings

The breath of heaven did wander--a bright stream

Once fed with many-voiced waves--a dream

Of youth, which night and time have quenched for ever, _670

Still, dark, and dry, and unremembered now.

Oh, for Medea's wondrous alchemy,

Which wheresoe'er it fell made the earth gleam

With bright flowers, and the wintry boughs exhale

From vernal blooms fresh fragrance! O, that God, _675

Profuse of poisons, would concede the chalice

Which but one living man has drained, who now,

Vessel of deathless wrath, a slave that feels

No proud exemption in the blighting curse

He bears, over the world wanders for ever, _680

Lone as incarnate death! O, that the dream

Of dark magician in his visioned cave,

Raking the cinders of a crucible

For life and power, even when his feeble hand

Shakes in its last decay, were the true law _685

Of this so lovely world! But thou art fled,

Like some frail exhalation; which the dawn

Robes in its golden beams,--ah! thou hast fled!

The brave, the gentle and the beautiful,

The child of grace and genius. Heartless things _690

Are done and said i' the world, and many worms

And beasts and men live on, and mighty Earth

From sea and mountain, city and wilderness,

In vesper low or joyous orison,

Lifts still its solemn voice:--but thou art fled-- _695

Thou canst no longer know or love the shapes

Of this phantasmal scene, who have to thee

Been purest ministers, who are, alas!

Now thou art not. Upon those pallid lips

So sweet even in their silence, on those eyes _700

That image sleep in death, upon that form

Yet safe from the worm's outrage, let no tear

Be shed--not even in thought. Nor, when those hues

Are gone, and those divinest lineaments,

Worn by the senseless wind, shall live alone _705

In the frail pauses of this simple strain,

Let not high verse, mourning the memory

Of that which is no more, or painting's woe

Or sculpture, speak in feeble imagery

Their own cold powers. Art and eloquence, _710

And all the shows o' the world are frail and vain

To weep a loss that turns their lights to shade.

It is a woe "too deep for tears," when all

Is reft at once, when some surpassing Spirit,

Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves _715

Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,

The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;

But pale despair and cold tranquillity,

Nature's vast frame, the web of human things,

Birth and the grave, that are not as they were. _720


_219 Conduct edition 1816. See "Editor's Notes".

_530 roots edition 1816: query stumps or trunks. See "Editor's Notes".


"Alastor" is written in a very different tone from "Queen Mab". In the

latter, Shelley poured out all the cherished speculations of his

youth--all the irrepressible emotions of sympathy, censure, and hope,

to which the present suffering, and what he considers the proper

destiny of his fellow-creatures, gave birth. "Alastor", on the

contrary, contains an individual interest only. A very few years, with

their attendant events, had checked the ardour of Shelley's hopes,

though he still thought them well-grounded, and that to advance their

fulfilment was the noblest task man could achieve.

This is neither the time nor place to speak of the misfortunes that

chequered his life. It will be sufficient to say that, in all he did,

he at the time of doing it believed himself justified to his own

conscience; while the various ills of poverty and loss of friends

brought home to him the sad realities of life. Physical suffering had

also considerable influence in causing him to turn his eyes inward;

inclining him rather to brood over the thoughts and emotions of his

own soul than to glance abroad, and to make, as in "Queen Mab", the

whole universe the object and subject of his song. In the Spring of

1815, an eminent physician pronounced that he was dying rapidly of a

consumption; abscesses were formed on his lungs, and he suffered acute

spasms. Suddenly a complete change took place; and though through life

he was a martyr to pain and debility, every symptom of pulmonary

disease vanished. His nerves, which nature had formed sensitive to an

unexampled degree, were rendered still more susceptible by the state

of his health.

As soon as the peace of 1814 had opened the Continent, he went abroad.

He visited some of the more magnificent scenes of Switzerland, and

returned to England from Lucerne, by the Reuss and the Rhine. This

river-navigation enchanted him. In his favourite poem of "Thalaba",

his imagination had been excited by a description of such a voyage. In

the summer of 1815, after a tour along the southern coast of

Devonshire and a visit to Clifton, he rented a house on Bishopgate

Heath, on the borders of Windsor Forest, where he enjoyed several

months of comparative health and tranquil happiness. The later summer

months were warm and dry. Accompanied by a few friends, he visited the

source of the Thames, making a voyage in a wherry from Windsor to

Crichlade. His beautiful stanzas in the churchyard of Lechlade were

written on that occasion. "Alastor" was composed on his return. He

spent his days under the oak-shades of Windsor Great Park; and the

magnificent woodland was a fitting study to inspire the various

descriptions of forest scenery we find in the poem.

None of Shelley's poems is more characteristic than this. The solemn

spirit that reigns throughout, the worship of the majesty of nature,

the broodings of a poet's heart in solitude--the mingling of the

exulting joy which the various aspects of the visible universe

inspires with the sad and struggling pangs which human passion

imparts--give a touching interest to the whole. The death which he had

often contemplated during the last months as certain and near he here

represented in such colours as had, in his lonely musings, soothed his

soul to peace. The versification sustains the solemn spirit which

breathes throughout: it is peculiarly melodious. The poem ought rather

to be considered didactic than narrative: it was the outpouring of his

own emotions, embodied in the purest form he could conceive, painted

in the ideal hues which his brilliant imagination inspired, and

softened by the recent anticipation of death.