1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Percy Bysshe Shelley

John Chalk Claris, Elegy on Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822) 9-17.



Ye waves! that in your azure calmness kiss,
Or, lashed by tempest, shake the Ausonian shore;
Ye winds! whose gentle breath wakes love to bliss,
Or whose wild rage deafens the thunder's roar;
Thou elemental air! and thou abyss
Of waters! where is he whom we deplore?
Spirits of sea and sky! say, do ye hide,
In fondness or in wrath, our joy, our hope, and pride?

But is he lost? and can it be that death
Has quenched that spirit's most ethereal beam?
Can that most vital thought be held beneath
The sullen deep in unawakening dream?
Could the blind wave, like any common breath,
Stifle that voice which was a living stream
Of Love and Wisdom, whose melodious flow
Was poured on all that is, around, above, below!

Oh for the strains of that soft Grecian reed,
On which Sicilian echoes that had rung
So oft to Bion's lay, refused to feed,
And, sorrowing, round the mountains mutely hung
Sweet is the classic page! but what the need
Of foreign minstrelsies, if he who sung
Lost Lycidas had left his native lyre,
And there be one who now to strike it dares aspire?

Who should aspire but he who once hath breathed
His dirge sublime o'er Ireland's buried pride?
Nor shall the cypress then for genius wreathed
Be now to genius mightier far denied:
This task the friend, the poet hath bequeathed
By wordless intimation, — best supplied
By the swift promptings of the mutual mind
Of those whom loftier thoughts in holiest brotherhood bind.

If yet once more to Aganippe's spring
With unaccustomed foot I, sorrowing, tread,
It is not that my hope be thence to bring
Aught not unworthy the immortal dead;
But, ah! a stranger's hand a flower may fling
Ere kindred grief its costlier gifts hath shed,
And love may claim the privilege to pay
Uncalled, yet unrebuked, such tribute as it may.

Not for ourselves we sorrow, nor for those
Who from his presence drew their life's delight,
Not for the bosom friend who soothed the woes
That warped his young heart with their poisonous blight,
Not for his gentle babes whose orphan brows
Their father's fame shall halo, proudly bright;
Not for ourselves, nor these, alone we mourn,
Such pangs, however keen, could have been better borne.

But who shall launch the lightning of the mind,
Instinct with inspiration, through the dense
Impalling clouds which slaves and tyrants wind
O'er the bewildered world, — their last defence!
Where now the champion for man's suffering kind,
To raise, unscoffing, his subjected sense,
Unveil foul superstition's idiot faith,
And crush the viperous worm which lurks that mask beneath!

For he with intuition's glance looked through
All nature's mysteries; and, kind as wise,
From the green bud that drinks the vernal dew,
To the vast sphere rolling through boundless skies,
From all that lives and moves his spirit drew
The influence of their bland benignities;
And like a new Prometheus brought to men
Lost Hope's abandoned flame; — shall it be quenched again?

No, no, the spark survives in many a heart,
Kindling from that communicated glow,
Which 'tis the bard's proud privilege to impart,
Which many way receive, but few bestow,—
Ye mighty masters of the Muse's art,
To nobler themes bid nobler numbers flow;
The torch transmitted, o'er the nations raise.
And pass to coming hands with undiminished blaze!

So shall that epoch which his soul fore-shared
Roll, hastening, on its irresistible hour,
And find its path not wholly unprepared,
And Love be Law, and Gentleness be Power,
While Wrong, and Force, and Fear, like vultures scared,
Fly, and their place be found on earth no more;
Freedom and Truth, and Peace, and guiltless Joy,
Forming no fabulous Age of Gold without alloy.

Alas, alas! it is a mournful thing
To speak of hope, while bending o'er the bier
Of one so loved, we feel the mortal sting
Of remediless grief; — the bitter tear
That falls, he sees not, — and the sweetest string
That sounds his name he does not, cannot hear;
Unmarked the voice of Friendship as of Fame,
Death sleeps — the living love, hate, praise, and fear, and blame.

Let calumny, which from the poisonous tongue
Of human reptiles o'er the great and good
Is ever thrown, be on his memory flung;
Such as the blackest of the hideous brood
Have poured till round themselves their foulness clung,
A leprous crust, — while he untainted stood!
His glory is an essence, pure and bright,
Which time shall not obscure nor breath malignant blight.

Thou poet's poet! whose sublimer strain
To the extremest verge of human thought
Soared, and the vulgar ken was stretched in vain
To follow, till with baffled powers o'erwrought
They turned their hooded eyes to earth again,
And slandered what themselves had vainly sought;
Effulgent spirit! splendour without peer!
Brief comet of our intellectual hemisphere!

And art thou vanished! and the wondrous frame
Wherein the fervour of thy genius burned,
Like centric sunbeams, with intensest flame,
Dissolved and into common earth returned?
Is all thy being now a bodiless name?
Thy boundless spirit with thy corpse inurned?
Alas, for man, that so divine a ray
Should kindle but to fade, shine but to pass away!

But he hath bowed to Nature and the power
Of stern Necessity, the One supreme,
Which links impartial to its destined hour
All chance and change; and in whose sightless scheme
A falling nation and a fading flower
Are equal, howsoe'er to man they seem:
He hath but yielded, in the obedient awe
Of being, unto that which gives and is its law.

Yet shall it be permitted man to mourn
A light departed — an extinguished star—
A glory gone that never shall return!
And sadly pause and ponder from afar
The secrets of that "dread mysterious bourn"
Which lies between the things which were and are:
So may the stillness of our sorrows reach
Truths which a happier lore is sometimes slow to teach.

For me, — alike unknowing and unknown,
To deck the cenotaph of honouring thought
Where richer flowers shall soon be fitly strewn,
These fresh-culled buds, — such as I could, — I brought.
Glory protect his tomb! and if my own
Be left neglected or be sometimes sought,
May those who scorn be such as would not sigh
For him, and those who seek love half so well as I.