Percy Shelley: Poems

Alastor: Or, The Spirit Of Solitude: Preface

[Composed at Bishopsgate Heath, near Windsor Park, 1815 (autumn);]

published, as the title-piece of a slender volume containing other

poems (see "Biographical List", by Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, London,

1816 (March). Reprinted--the first edition being sold out--amongst the

"Posthumous Poems", 1824. Sources of the text are (1) the editio

princeps, 1816; (2) "Posthumous Poems", 1824; (3) "Poetical Works",

1839, editions 1st and 2nd. For (2) and (3) Mrs. Shelley is



The poem entitled "Alastor" may be considered as allegorical of one of

the most interesting situations of the human mind. It represents a

youth of uncorrupted feelings and adventurous genius led forth by an

imagination inflamed and purified through familiarity with all that is

excellent and majestic, to the contemplation of the universe. He

drinks deep of the fountains of knowledge, and is still insatiate. The

magnificence and beauty of the external world sinks profoundly into

the frame of his conceptions, and affords to their modifications at

variety not to be exhausted. so long as it is possible for his desires

to point towards objects thus infinite and unmeasured, he is joyous,

and tranquil, and self-possessed. But the period arrives when these

objects cease to suffice. His mind is at length suddenly awakened and

thirsts for intercourse with an intelligence similar to itself. He

images to himself the Being whom he loves. Conversant with

speculations of the sublimest and most perfect natures, the vision in

which he embodies his own imaginations unites all of wonderful, or

wise, or beautiful, which the poet, the philosopher, or the lover

could depicture. The intellectual faculties, the imagination, the

functions of sense, have their respective requisitions on the sympathy

of corresponding powers in other human beings. The Poet is represented

as uniting these requisitions, and attaching them to a single image.

He seeks in vain for a prototype of his conception. Blasted by his

disappointment, he descends to an untimely grave.

The picture is not barren of instruction to actual men. The Poet's

self-centred seclusion was avenged by the furies of an irresistible

passion pursuing him to speedy ruin. But that Power which strikes the

luminaries of the world with sudden darkness and extinction, by

awakening them to too exquisite a perception of its influences, dooms

to a slow and poisonous decay those manner spirits that dare to abjure

its dominion. Their destiny is more abject and inglorious as their

delinquency is more contemptible and pernicious. They who, deluded by

no generous error, instigated by no sacred thirst of doubtful

knowledge, duped by no illustrious superstition, loving nothing on

this earth, and cherishing no hopes beyond, yet keep aloof from

sympathies with their kind, rejoicing neither in human joy nor

mourning with human grief; these, and such as they, have their

apportioned curse. They languish, because none feel with them their

common nature. They are morally dead. They are neither friends, nor

lovers, nor fathers, nor citizens of the world, nor benefactors of

their country. Among those who attempt to exist without human

sympathy, the pure and tender-hearted perish through the intensity and

passion of their search after its communities, when the vacancy of

their spirit suddenly makes itself felt. All else, selfish, blind, and

torpid, are those unforeseeing multitudes who constitute, together

with their own, the lasting misery and loneliness of the world. Those

who love not their fellow-beings live unfruitful lives, and prepare

for their old age a miserable grave.

'The good die first,

And those whose hearts are dry as summer dust,

Burn to the socket!'

December 14, 1815.