1818
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Stanzas written in Dejection, near Naples.

Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. [Mary Shelley, ed.]

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Five irregular stanzas, including some octosyllabic Spenserians. The use of this stanza in this context is perhaps intended to recall the odes imitating Gray's Hymn to Adversity, or even the Spenserian poems on despair and suicide, with the diminished stanza suggesting a tempered passion: "Yet now despair itself is mild, | Even as the winds and waters are, | I could lie down like a tired child, | And weep away the life of care | Which I have borne and yet must bear" p. 165. Mary Shelley dates the poem "December, 1818." It was through this poem that many readers first encountered Shelley's writing.

New Monthly Magazine: "In his descriptions of flowers, and in the delightful illustrations which he derives from them, he is always most happy. The facilities of versification which Mr. Shelley possessed, have, perhaps, led him to make too many experiments in metre, of which the present volume furnishes some instances. One of his longer poems is written very successfully in the terza rima. The following affecting lines [Stanzas written in Dejection] were composed when 'ill-health, and continual pain preyed upon his powers, and the solitude in which he lived, particularly on his first arrival in Italy, although congenial to his feelings, must frequently have weighted upon his spirits'" 12 (July 1824) 316.

Headnote in The Ariel [Philadelphia]: "Every body knows that this unhappy poet was an atheist. He was the companion of Lord Byron in Italy, and perhaps to his pernicious sentiments we may ascribe much of the noble poet's misanthropy and scepticism. At an early age he published a work under the extravagant and blasphemous title of The Necessity of Atheism, for which he was very properly expelled from the University of Oxford. His whole life was an illustration of the absurdity and evil tendency of his opinions. He was finally drowned, at the age of 29 years, by the upsetting of an open boat near Leghorn. His body was not found until fifteen days after. Lord Byron superintended his obsequies, of which Capt. Medway has given a minute account. The annexed lines were written by him, while residing near Naples, in dejection and ill health. They are really beautiful, and we could wish they had emanated from a better source" 1 (26 January 1828) 156.

David Macbeth Moir: "I think that Shelley had much to do in the indoctrinating of those principles which have mainly guided our poetical aspirants of late years — sadly to their own disadvantage and the public disappointment. Shelley was undoubtedly a man of genius — of very high genius — but of a peculiar and unhealthy kind. It is needless to disguise the fact, and it accounts for all — his mind was diseased: he never knew, even from boyhood, what it was to breathe the atmosphere of healthy life, to have the 'mens sana in corpore sano.' His sensibilities were over acute; his morality was thoroughly morbid; his metaphysical speculations illogical, incongruous, incomprehensible — alike baseless and objectless" Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 232.



The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon's transparent light
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City's voice itself is soft, like Solitude's.

I see the Deep's untrampled floor,
With green and purple seaweed strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,
The lightning of the noon-tide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crown'd—
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure,
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live and call life pleasure;—
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.

Some might lament that I were cold,
As I, when this sweet day is gone,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
Insults with this untimely moan;
They might lament — for I am one
Whom men love not — and yet regret,
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet.

[pp. 164-65]