Percy Shelley: Poems

Peter Bell The Third: Part 5



Among the guests who often stayed

Till the Devil's petits-soupers,

A man there came, fair as a maid, _375

And Peter noted what he said,

Standing behind his master's chair.


He was a mighty poet--and

A subtle-souled psychologist;

All things he seemed to understand, _380

Of old or new--of sea or land--

But his own mind--which was a mist.


This was a man who might have turned

Hell into Heaven--and so in gladness

A Heaven unto himself have earned; _385

But he in shadows undiscerned

Trusted.--and damned himself to madness.


He spoke of poetry, and how

'Divine it was--a light--a love--

A spirit which like wind doth blow _390

As it listeth, to and fro;

A dew rained down from God above;


'A power which comes and goes like dream,

And which none can ever trace--

Heaven's light on earth--Truth's brightest beam.' _395

And when he ceased there lay the gleam

Of those words upon his face.


Now Peter, when he heard such talk,

Would, heedless of a broken pate,

Stand like a man asleep, or balk _400

Some wishing guest of knife or fork,

Or drop and break his master's plate.


At night he oft would start and wake

Like a lover, and began

In a wild measure songs to make _405

On moor, and glen, and rocky lake,

And on the heart of man--


And on the universal sky--

And the wide earth's bosom green,--

And the sweet, strange mystery _410

Of what beyond these things may lie,

And yet remain unseen.


For in his thought he visited

The spots in which, ere dead and damned,

He his wayward life had led; _415

Yet knew not whence the thoughts were fed

Which thus his fancy crammed.


And these obscure remembrances

Stirred such harmony in Peter,

That, whensoever he should please, _420

He could speak of rocks and trees

In poetic metre.


For though it was without a sense

Of memory, yet he remembered well

Many a ditch and quick-set fence; _425

Of lakes he had intelligence,

He knew something of heath and fell.


He had also dim recollections

Of pedlars tramping on their rounds;

Milk-pans and pails; and odd collections _430

Of saws, and proverbs; and reflections

Old parsons make in burying-grounds.


But Peter's verse was clear, and came

Announcing from the frozen hearth

Of a cold age, that none might tame _435

The soul of that diviner flame

It augured to the Earth:


Like gentle rains, on the dry plains,

Making that green which late was gray,

Or like the sudden moon, that stains _440

Some gloomy chamber's window-panes

With a broad light like day.


For language was in Peter's hand

Like clay while he was yet a potter;

And he made songs for all the land, _445

Sweet both to feel and understand,

As pipkins late to mountain Cotter.


And Mr. --, the bookseller,

Gave twenty pounds for some;--then scorning

A footman's yellow coat to wear, _450

Peter, too proud of heart, I fear,

Instantly gave the Devil warning.


Whereat the Devil took offence,

And swore in his soul a great oath then,

'That for his damned impertinence _455

He'd bring him to a proper sense

Of what was due to gentlemen!'