Posts filed under ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley’

To Edward Williams

Percy Bysshe Shelley



The serpent is shut out from Paradise.
The wounded deer must seek the herb no more
In which its heart-cure lies:
The widowed dove must cease to haunt a bower
Like that from which its mate with feigned sighs
Fled in the April hour.
I too must seldom seek again
Near happy friends a mitigated pain.


Of hatred I am proud,—with scorn content;
Indifference, that once hurt me, now is grown
Itself indifferent;
But, not to speak of love, pity alone
Can break a spirit already more than bent.
The miserable one
Turns the mind’s poison into food,—
Its medicine is tears,—its evil good.


Therefore, if now I see you seldomer,
Dear friends, dear FRIEND! know that I only fly
Your looks, because they stir
Griefs that should sleep, and hopes that cannot die:
The very comfort that they minister
I scarce can bear, yet I,
So deeply is the arrow gone,
Should quickly perish if it were withdrawn.


When I return to my cold home, you ask
Why I am not as I have ever been.
YOU spoil me for the task
Of acting a forced part in life’s dull scene,—
Of wearing on my brow the idle mask
Of author, great or mean,
In the world’s carnival. I sought
Peace thus, and but in you I found it not.


Full half an hour, to-day, I tried my lot
With various flowers, and every one still said,
‘She loves me—loves me not.’
And if this meant a vision long since fled—
If it meant fortune, fame, or peace of thought—
If it meant,—but I dread
To speak what you may know too well:
Still there was truth in the sad oracle.


The crane o’er seas and forests seeks her home;
No bird so wild but has its quiet nest,
When it no more would roam;
The sleepless billows on the ocean’s breast
Break like a bursting heart, and die in foam,
And thus at length find rest:
Doubtless there is a place of peace
Where MY weak heart and all its throbs will cease.


I asked her, yesterday, if she believed
That I had resolution. One who HAD
Would ne’er have thus relieved
His heart with words,—but what his judgement bade
Would do, and leave the scorner unrelieved.
These verses are too sad
To send to you, but that I know,
Happy yourself, you feel another’s woe.

Some poems you just can’t get out of your head. They become a part of your consciousness, twigs of phrases woven into the magpie’s nest of your brain. Every now and then, a line from such a poem will pop into your head unbidden, and you will spend hours trying to remember where it comes from, or what comes next.

For me, To Edward Williams is one such poem. The first time I read it (at 15, reading Shelley’s Complete Works) I wasn’t too impressed. What was with all the capital lettering? And that bit about ‘she loves me, she loves me not’? Cringe.

But scattered among the chaff of all that is trite and sentimental in this poem are lines of precise and living beauty – and as the years have passed lines like “Indifference, that once hurt me, now is grown / itself indifferent” have come to take on a somewhat prophetic air. Shelley’s talent as a phrase maker is on full display here, though this is, for Shelley, a remarkably conversational, almost intimate poem. Shelley mixes his usual ‘visionary’ rhetoric with the memory of more everyday scenes (“I asked her yesterday if she believed / that I had resolution”), creating a sense of realism; and cliched as some of the images here are, the sadness that speaks through them seems authentic and deeply felt. As Shelley says himself: “These verses are too sad / to send to you, but that I know / Happy yourself, you feel another’s woe”.


Note: As I remember it, the second line of the first stanza should read ‘herd’ rather than ‘herb’. The versions I found online say ‘herb’ though, so I’ve stuck with that for now, even though, contextually, I think ‘herd’ makes more sense.

September 22, 2006 at 12:16 pm 3 comments

Adonais : An Elegy On The Death Of John Keats

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Listen (to the BBC recording)

I weep for Adonais -he is dead!
O, weep for Adonais! though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow, say: “With me
Died Adonais; till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!”

Where wert thou, mighty Mother, when he lay,
When thy Son lay, pierced by the shaft which flies
In darkness? where was lorn Urania
When Adonais died? With veiled eyes,
Mid listening Echoes, in her Paradise
She sate, while one, with soft enamoured breath,
Rekindled all the fading melodies
With which, like flowers that mock the corse beneath,
He had adorned and hid the coming bulk of death.

O, weep for Adonais -he is dead!
Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!
Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep
Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;
For he is gone, where all things wise and fair
Descend; -oh, dream not that the amorous Deep
Will yet restore him to the vital air;
Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair.

Most musical of mourners, weep again!
Lament anew, Urania! -He died,
Who was the Sire of an immortal strain,
Blind, old, and lonely, when his country’s pride,
The priest, the slave, and the liberticide
Trampled and mocked with many a loathed rite
Of lust and blood; he went, unterrified,
Into the gulf of death; but his clear Sprite
Yet reigns o’er earth; the third among the sons of light.

Most musical of mourners, weep anew!
Not all to that bright station dared to climb;
And happier they their happiness who knew,
Whose tapers yet burn through that night of time
In which suns perished; others more sublime,
Struck by the envious wrath of man or god,
Have sunk, extinct in their refulgent prime;
And some yet live, treading the thorny road
Which leads, through toil and hate, to Fame’s serene abode.

But now, thy youngest, dearest one, has perished –
The nursling of thy widowhood, who grew,
Like a pale flower by some sad maiden cherished,
And fed with true-love tears, instead of dew;
Most musical of mourners, weep anew!
Thy extreme hope, the loveliest and the last,
The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew
Died on the promise of the fruit, is waste;
The broken lily lies -the storm is overpast.

…(click here for more)

For more on the poem, check the Literary Encyclopedia.


February 7, 2006 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment