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Alfred Austin

(30 May 1835 – 2 June 1913 / Headingley)

Shelley’s Death

What! And it was so! Thou wert then
Death-stricken from behind,
O heart of hearts! and they were men,
That rent thee from mankind!
Greedy hatred chasing love,
As a hawk pursues a dove,
Till the soft feathers float upon the careless wind.

Loathed life! that I might break the chain
Which links my kind with me,
To think that human hands for gain
Should have been turned 'gainst thee,-
Thee that wouldst have given thine all
For the poor, the sick, the thrall,
And weighed thyself as dross, 'gainst their felicity!

We deemed that Nature, jealous grown,
Withdrew the glimpse she gave,
In thy bright genius, of her own,
And, not to slay, but save,
That she timely took back thus
What had been but lent to us,
Shrouding thee in her winds, and lulling 'neath her wave.

For it seemed meet thou shouldst not long
Toss on life's fitful billow,
Nor sleep 'mid mounds of silenced wrong
Under the clay-cold willow:
Rather that thou shouldst recline
Amid waters crystalline,
The sea-shells at thy feet, and sea-weed for thy pillow.

We felt we had no right to keep
What never had been ours;
That thou belongedst to the deep,
And the uncounted hours;
That thou earthly no more wert
Than the rainbow's melting skirt,
The sunset's fading bloom, and midnight's shooting showers.

And, thus resigned, our empty hands
Surrendered thee to thine,
Thinking thee drawn by kindred bands
Under the swirling brine,
Playing there on new-strung shell,
Tuned to Ocean's mystic swell,
Thy lyrical complaints and rhapsodies divine.

But now to hear no sea-nymph fair
Submerged thee with her smile,
And tempests were content to spare
Thee to us yet awhile,
But for ghouls in human mould
Ravaging the seas for gold,-
Oh! this blots out the heavens, and makes mere living vile!

Yet thy brief life presaged such death,
And it was meet that they
Who poisoned, should have quenched, thy breath,
Who slandered thee, should slay;
That thy spirit, long the mark
Of the dagger drawn in dark,
Should by the ruffian's stroke be ravished from the day.

Hush! From the grave where I so oft
Have stood, 'mid ruined Rome,
I seem to hear a whisper soft
Wafted across the foam;
Bidding justest wrath be still,
Good feel lovingly for ill,
As exiles for rough paths that help them to their home.

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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