Percy Shelley: Poems

The Witch Of Atlas: To Mary

[Composed at the Baths of San Giuliano, near Pisa, August 14-16, 1820;]

published in Posthumous Poems, edition Mrs. Shelley, 1824. The

dedication To Mas-y first appeared in the Poetical Works, 1839, 1st

edition Sources of the text are (1) the editio princeps, 1824; (2)

editions 1839 (which agree, and, save in two instances, follow edition

1824); (3) an early and incomplete manuscript in Shelley's handwriting

(now at the Bodleian, here, as throughout, cited as B.), carefully

collated by Mr. C.D. Locock, who printed the results in his

Examination of the Shelley manuscripts, etc., Oxford, Clarendon Press,

1903; (4) a later, yet intermediate, transcript by Mrs. Shelley, the

variations of which are noted by Mr. H. Buxton Forman. The original

text is modified in many places by variants from the manuscripts, but

the readings of edition 1824 are, in every instance, given in the






How, my dear Mary,--are you critic-bitten

(For vipers kill, though dead) by some review,

That you condemn these verses I have written,

Because they tell no story, false or true?

What, though no mice are caught by a young kitten, _5

May it not leap and play as grown cats do,

Till its claws come? Prithee, for this one time,

Content thee with a visionary rhyme.


What hand would crush the silken-winged fly,

The youngest of inconstant April's minions, _10

Because it cannot climb the purest sky,

Where the swan sings, amid the sun's dominions?

Not thine. Thou knowest 'tis its doom to die,

When Day shall hide within her twilight pinions

The lucent eyes, and the eternal smile, _15

Serene as thine, which lent it life awhile.


To thy fair feet a winged Vision came,

Whose date should have been longer than a day,

And o'er thy head did beat its wings for fame,

And in thy sight its fading plumes display; _20

The watery bow burned in the evening flame.

But the shower fell, the swift Sun went his way--

And that is dead.--O, let me not believe

That anything of mine is fit to live!


Wordsworth informs us he was nineteen years _25

Considering and retouching Peter Bell;

Watering his laurels with the killing tears

Of slow, dull care, so that their roots to Hell

Might pierce, and their wide branches blot the spheres

Of Heaven, with dewy leaves and flowers; this well _30

May be, for Heaven and Earth conspire to foil

The over-busy gardener's blundering toil.


My Witch indeed is not so sweet a creature

As Ruth or Lucy, whom his graceful praise

Clothes for our grandsons--but she matches Peter, _35

Though he took nineteen years, and she three days

In dressing. Light the vest of flowing metre

She wears; he, proud as dandy with his stays,

Has hung upon his wiry limbs a dress

Like King Lear's 'looped and windowed raggedness.' _40


If you strip Peter, you will see a fellow

Scorched by Hell's hyperequatorial climate

Into a kind of a sulphureous yellow:

A lean mark, hardly fit to fling a rhyme at;

In shape a Scaramouch, in hue Othello. _45

If you unveil my Witch, no priest nor primate

Can shrive you of that sin,--if sin there be

In love, when it becomes idolatry.