Albert Pike

(1809-1891 / USA)

Shelley - Poem by Albert Pike

Only a few short years ago, there sat
A youth on one of old Rome's seven hills,
Beneath a ruined temple, and upon
A broken fragment of a marble column.
Around, the stern and silent ruins cast
Their massive shadows, and a tangled maze
Of trees, and flowers, and shrubs, was rich along
The face of the declivity. The sun
Was setting upon Rome; and through the clouds
His glorious spirit revelled, lighting up
Their fluctuating drifts with all his hues
Of placid melancholy, and the deep
Calm beauty of a soft Italian eve.
Below him lay the city:—beautiful!
Dome, palace, spire, all radiant with the glow
And perfect beauty of that hour of peace.
The time accorded with his soul,—that deep,
Abundant fountain of impassioned thought,
Which the world in vain had striven to choke up.
He came from England there, to feed his soul
With inspiration from those mighty ruins,
And to escape the cold, offensive sneer
And hatred of the world. Alas! he erred;
His dark and dreary creed was one that awes
All hearts that worship in our sacred faith.
Yet we should rather pity than condemn
The blind of heart, even as the blind of eye.
His pen, too bold, had warred with our belief:
His name was written on the traveller's page
On St. Bernard; and also, underneath,
With his own hand, the sad word, 'Alheos.'
But he was moral, generous, pure of heart,
Gentle and kind as any innocent child;
And he was persecuted, and so fled.
The world, that should by kindest means have striven
To wean so fine a soul from its mad creed,
Had hunted him, and tortured his kind heart,
With calumny and hatred, as it ever
Hunts those who contravene its cherished faith.
This was not all; but poverty had worn,
Like a cold iron, to his soul. Oh, world!
Thou knowest not how many glorious sons
Of Poetry thy hard, cold heart has left
To faint and languish, with a living death!
He sat and mused, soothing his constant pain
With soft, sweet fancies, of the sunset born.
His melancholy wove its lovely thoughts
Into rich words, brilliantly beautiful,
Colored like one of Titian's master-pieces,
Or Guido's lovely faces. All his sorrows
Couched in his soul, and only tinged his verse
With imperceptible tints. His lovely songs
Were paintings,—masses of rich, glowing words,
Full of sweet feeling, and a 'singular power.
Like his own sky-lark, up at Heaven's gate,
Above the earth and all its meaner things,
He sang, and soared higher than mortal ken.
But at rare times a sudden thought would shoot,
Like a sharp pang of bitter agony,
Through his wronged heart, and dim the vivid fire
Of lofty thoughts and noble aspirations.
Then would he drop his pen. His slender form,
Attenuated, slight, ethereal, shook
With the vibrations of his spirit. Then
The fine, transparent, delicate, boyish face
Became still paler and more spiritual;
And the clear eye, that did relieve that look
Of boyishness, with its soft, brilliant light,
Contracted with a sudden spasm of pain:—
That eye, within whose wondrous depths you saw
The soul itself,—so tender, yet intense,
So bright and keen, and yet so melancholy.
But this went by; and conquering his sorrow,
He wrote again. Is it not very strange
How the strong soul can pour its golden thoughts,
Its musical words and bright imaginings.
In the world's ear, when round it lies the wreck
Of many hopes; when the poor, throbbing heart
Is weary of its struggle, and would fain
Lie down and sleep in that most peaceful couch,
Where ghastly dreams come not,—the quiet grave?
It is a sad, sweet pleasure to the heart
To watch its own decline. It wastes away,
But burns the brighter as it suffers more.
Perhaps to him his poetry, indeed,
Was its own sweet reward. As though we shared
Our secret sorrow with some dear old friend,
We do commune most intimately with
Our ininost heart; and all our deeper thoughts,
Which we could not have spoken, we can write:—
Not to display them to the world, but like
A man who, sitting by his fireside, talks,
Of a sharp winter night, with one who went
To school with him through many a drift of snow,
When they were careless and contented boys.
And he who terms this egotism, knows
No more the nature of a Poet's soul
Than do the stupid beasts that chew the cud.
Not many moons had changed, when SHELLEY sailed
On the calm sea that washes the fair shores
Of sunny Italy. Long hours he lay,
Leaving his boat to wander where it listed,
While all the memories of his past life floated,
Like memories of dreams, before his eyes.

The scene was changed. Clouds, wind, storm, rain, andfire,
Howled angrily along the startled sea;
Blue lightning hissed upon the crested waves;
Winds from the bending forests on the shore
Lashed the mad waters. Still, through all the storm,
He had the same calm, spiritual look,
The same clear, bright, yet melancholy eye,
As when among the ruins of old Rome.
Perhaps there was a sick throb of the heart;—
A wish to win, before he died, more fame,
And some small portion of earth's happiness.

But who shall tell his thoughts? Perhaps he then
Doubted the truth of his dark, cheerless creed,
And shrank in horror from oblivion,
Decomposition, death, annihilation.—
The frail bark foundered, and the waves
Quenched a great light and left the world to mourn.
It is enough to make the poet sick
Of his high art, and scorn the clamorous world,
And life, and fame, that guerdon dearly won
By broken hopes, sad days, and early death,
When he remembers the short, bitter life.
And sad end of poor SHELLEY.

Fare thee well,
Young star of Poetry, now set forever!
Yet, though eclipsed forever to this world,
Still thy light fills the earth's dull atmosphere,
A legacy inestimable. Man
Hath done thee wong, wronging himself the more,
By cold neglect, and small appreciation
Of thy divinest songs. The day will come
When justice will be done thee. Adonais,
The bound Prometheus, will become great lamps
Lit on the edges of thick darkness, blazing
Over broad lands and out on weltering seas,
Like glorious suns that midnight change to noon:
Great beacons on the fringes of the sea,
Speaking the glories of the hoary Past
To future ages, far in the womb of Time,
And flashing inspiration on that sea,.
And all the earnest souls that journey there.
Then none of all the muse's younger sons
Will rival thee, except that glorious one,
Who burned thy corpse on Italy's fair shores.
But what is fame to thee? Small recompense
For persecution, obloquy, and wrong;
For poverty and shattered hopes, and life
Embittered till it was no pain to die!

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Poem Submitted: Monday, February 24, 2014

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