William Watson

(1858-1935 / England)

Shelley's Centenary - Poem by William Watson

Within a narrow span of time,
Three princes of the realm of rhyme,
At height of youth or manhood's prime,
From earth took wing,
To join the fellowship sublime
Who, dead, yet sing.

He, first, his earliest wreath who wove
Of laurel grown in Latmian grove,
Conquered by pain and hapless love
Found calmer home,
Roofed by the heaven that glows above
Eternal Rome.

A fierier soul, its own fierce prey,
And cumbered with more mortal clay,
At Missolonghi flamed away,
And left the air
Reverberating to this day
Its loud despair.

Alike remote from Byron's scorn,
And Keats's magic as of morn
Bursting for ever newly-born
On forests old,
Waking a hoary world forlorn
With touch of gold,

Shelley, the cloud-begot, who grew
Nourished on air and sun and dew,
Into that Essence whence he drew
His life and lyre
Was fittingly resolved anew
Through wave and fire.

'Twas like his rapid soul! 'Twas meet
That he, who brooked not Time's slow feet,
With passage thus abrupt and fleet
Should hurry hence,
Eager the Great Perhaps to greet
With Why? and Whence?

Impatient of the world's fixed way,
He ne'er could suffer God's delay,
But all the future in a day
Would build divine,
And the whole past in ruins lay,
An emptied shrine.

Vain vision! but the glow, the fire,
The passion of benign desire,
The glorious yearning, lift him higher
Than many a soul
That mounts a million paces nigher
Its meaner goal.

And power is his, if naught besides,
In that thin ether where he rides,
Above the roar of human tides
To ascend afar,
Lost in a storm of light that hides
His dizzy car.

Below, the unhastening world toils on,
And here and there are victories won,
Some dragon slain, some justice done,
While, through the skies,
A meteor rushing on the sun,
He flares and dies.

But, as he cleaves yon ether clear
Notes from the unattempted Sphere
He scatters to the enchanted ear
Of earth's dim throng,
Whose dissonance doth more endear
The showering song.

In other shapes than he forecast
The world is moulded: his fierce blast,--
His wild assault upon the Past,--
These things are vain;
Revolt is transient: what _must_ last
Is that pure strain,

Which seems the wandering voices blent
Of every virgin element,--
A sound from ocean caverns sent,--
An airy call
From the pavilioned firmament
O'erdoming all.

And in this world of worldlings, where
Souls rust in apathy, and ne'er
A great emotion shakes the air,
And life flags tame,
And rare is noble impulse, rare
The impassioned aim,

'Tis no mean fortune to have heard
A singer who, if errors blurred
His sight, had yet a spirit stirred
By vast desire,
And ardour fledging the swift word
With plumes of fire.

A creature of impetuous breath,
Our torpor deadlier than death
He knew not; whatsoe'er he saith
Flashes with life:
He spurreth men, he quickeneth
To splendid strife.

And in his gusts of song he brings
Wild odours shaken from strange wings,
And unfamiliar whisperings
From far lips blown,
While all the rapturous heart of things
Throbs through his own,--

His own that from the burning pyre
One who had loved his wind-swept lyre
Out of the sharp teeth of the fire
Unmolten drew,
Beside the sea that in her ire
Smote him and slew.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Poem Edited: Saturday, May 7, 2011


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