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Letter To Maria Gisborne
The spider spreads her webs, whether she be In poet's tower, cellar, or barn, or tree; The silk-worm in the dark green mulberry leaves His winding sheet and cradle ever weaves; So I, a thing whom moralists call worm, Sit spinning still round this decaying form, From the fine threads of rare and subtle thought- No net of words in garish colours wrought To catch the idle buzzers of the day- But a soft cell, where when that fades away, Memory may clothe in wings my living name And feed it with the asphodels of fame, Which in those hearts which must remember me Grow, making love an immortality. Whoever should behold me now, I wist, Would think I were a mighty mechanist, Bent with sublime Archimedean art To breathe a soul into the iron heart Of some machine portentous, or strange gin, Which by the force of figured spells might win Its way over the sea, and sport therein; For round the walls are hung dread engines, such As Vulcan never wrought for Jove to clutch Ixion or the Titan:-or the quick Wit of that man of God, St. Dominic, To convince Atheist, Turk, or Heretic, Or those in philanthropic council met, Who thought to pay some interest for the debt They owed to Jesus Christ for their salvation, By giving a faint foretaste of damnation To Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, and the rest Who made our land an island of the blest, When lamp-like Spain, who now relumes her fire On Freedom's hearth, grew dim with Empire:- With thumbscrews, wheels, with tooth and spike and jag, Which fishers found under the utmost crag Of Cornwall and the storm-encompassed isles, Where to the sky the rude sea rarely smiles Unless in treacherous wrath, as on the morn When the exulting elements in scorn, Satiated with destroyed destruction, lay Sleeping in beauty on their mangled prey, As panthers sleep;-and other strange and dread Magical forms the brick floor overspread,- Proteus transformed to metal did not make More figures, or more strange; nor did he take Such shapes of unintelligible brass, Or heap himself in such a horrid mass Of tin and iron not to be understood; And forms of unimaginable wood, To puzzle Tubal Cain and all his brood: Great screws, and cones, and wheels, and groovèd blocks, The elements of what will stand the shocks Of wave and wind and time.-Upon the table More knacks and quips there be than I am able To catalogize in this verse of mine:- A pretty bowl of wood-not full of wine, But quicksilver; that dew which the gnomes drink When at their subterranean toil they swink, Pledging the demons of the earthquake, who Reply to them in lava-cry halloo! And call out to the cities o'er their head,- Roofs, towers, and shrines, the dying and the dead, Crash through the chinks of earth-and then all quaff Another rouse, and hold their sides and laugh. This quicksilver no gnome has drunk-within The walnut bowl it lies, veinèd and thin, In colour like the wake of light that stains The Tuscan deep, when from the moist moon rains The inmost shower of its white fire-the breeze Is still-blue Heaven smiles over the pale seas. And in this bowl of quicksilver-for I Yield to the impulse of an infancy Outlasting manhood-I have made to float A rude idealism of a paper boat:- A hollow screw with cogs-Henry will know The thing I mean and laugh at me,-if so He fears not I should do more mischief.-Next Lie bills and calculations much perplexed, With steam-boats, frigates, and machinery quaint Traced over them in blue and yellow paint. Then comes a range of mathematical Instruments, for plans nautical and statical; A heap of rosin, a queer broken glass With ink in it;-a china cup that was What it will never be again, I think,- A thing from which sweet lips were wont to drink The liquor doctors rail at-and which I Will quaff in spite of them-and when we die We'll toss up who died first of drinking tea, And cry out,-'Heads or tails?' where'er we be. Near that a dusty paint-box, some odd hooks, A half-burnt match, an ivory block, three books, Where conic sections, spherics, logarithms, To great Laplace, from Saunderson and Sims, Lie heaped in their harmonious disarray Of figures,-disentangle them who may. Baron de Tott's Memoirs beside them lie, And some odd volumes of old chemistry. Near those a most inexplicable thing, With lead in the middle-I'm conjecturing How to make Henry understand; but no- I'll leave, as Spenser says, with many mo, This secret in the pregnant womb of time, Too vast a matter for so weak a rhyme. And here like some weird Archimage sit I, Plotting dark spells, and devilish enginery, The self-impelling steam-wheels of the mind Which pump up oaths from clergymen, and grind The gentle spirit of our meek reviews Into a powdery foam of salt abuse, Ruffling the ocean of their self-content;- I sit-and smile or sigh as is my bent, But not for them-Libeccio rushes round With an inconstant and an idle sound, I heed him more than them-the thunder-smoke Is gathering on the mountains, like a cloak Folded athwart their shoulders broad and bare; The ripe corn under the undulating air Undulates like an ocean;-and the vines Are trembling wide in all their trellised lines- The murmur of the awakening sea doth fill The empty pauses of the blast;-the hill Looks hoary through the white electric rain, And from the glens beyond, in sullen strain, The interrupted thunder howls; above One chasm of Heaven smiles, like the eye of Love On the unquiet world;-while such things are, How could one worth your friendship heed the war Of worms? the shriek of the world's carrion jays, Their censure, or their wonder, or their praise? You are not here! the quaint witch Memory sees, In vacant chairs, your absent images, And points where once you sat, and now should be But are not.-I demand if ever we Shall meet as then we met;-and she replies, Veiling in awe her second-sighted eyes; 'I know the past alone-but summon home My sister Hope,-she speaks of all to come.' But I, an old diviner, who knew well Every false verse of that sweet oracle, Turned to the sad enchantress once again, And sought a respite from my gentle pain, In citing every passage o'er and o'er Of our communion-how on the sea-shore We watched the ocean and the sky together, Under the roof of blue Italian weather; How I ran home through last year's thunder-storm, And felt the transverse lightning linger warm Upon my cheek-and how we often made Feasts for each other, where good will outweighed The frugal luxury of our country cheer, As well it might, were it less firm and clear Than ours must ever be;-and how we spun A shroud of talk to hide us from the sun Of this familiar life, which seems to be But is not:-or is but quaint mockery Of all we would believe, and sadly blame The jarring and inexplicable frame Of this wrong world:-and then anatomize The purposes and thoughts of men whose eyes Were closed in distant years;-or widely guess The issue of the earth's great business, When we shall be as we no longer are- Like babbling gossips safe, who hear the war Of winds, and sigh, but tremble not;-or how You listened to some interrupted flow Of visionary rhyme,-in joy and pain Struck from the inmost fountains of my brain, With little skill perhaps;-or how we sought Those deepest wells of passion or of thought Wrought by wise poets in the waste of years, Staining their sacred waters with our tears; Quenching a thirst ever to be renewed! Or how I, wisest lady! then endued The language of a land which now is free, And, winged with thoughts of truth and majesty, Flits round the tyrant's sceptre like a cloud, And bursts the peopled prisons, and cries aloud, 'My name is Legion!'-that majestic tongue Which Calderon over the desert flung Of ages and of nations; and which found An echo in our hearts, and with the sound Startled oblivion;-thou wert then to me As is a nurse-when inarticulately A child would talk as its grown parents do. If living winds the rapid clouds pursue, If hawks chase doves through the aethereal way, Huntsmen the innocent deer, and beasts their prey, Why should not we rouse with the spirit's blast Out of the forest of the pathless past These recollected pleasures? You are now In London, that great sea, whose ebb and flow At once is deaf and loud, and on the shore Vomits its wrecks, and still howls on for more. Yet in its depth what treasures! You will see That which was Godwin,-greater none than he Though fallen-and fallen on evil times-to stand Among the spirits of our age and land, Before the dread tribunal of to come The foremost,-while Rebuke cowers pale and dumb. You will see Coleridge-he who sits obscure In the exceeding lustre and the pure Intense irradiation of a mind, Which, with its own internal lightning blind, Flags wearily through darkness and despair- A cloud-encircled meteor of the air, A hooded eagle among blinking owls.- You will see Hunt-one of those happy souls Which are the salt of the earth, and without whom This world would smell like what it is-a tomb; Who is, what others seem; his room no doubt Is still adorned with many a cast from Shout, With graceful flowers tastefully placed about; And coronals of bay from ribbons hung, And brighter wreaths in neat disorder flung; The gifts of the most learned among some dozens Of female friends, sisters-in-law, and cousins. And there is he with his eternal puns, Which beat the dullest brain for smiles, like duns Thundering for money at a poet's door; Alas! it is no use to say, 'I'm poor!' Or oft in graver mood, when he will look Things wiser than were ever read in book, Except in Shakespeare's wisest tenderness.- You will see Hogg,-and I cannot express His virtues,-though I know that they are great, Because he locks, then barricades the gate Within which they inhabit;-of his wit And wisdom, you'll cry out when you are bit. He is a pearl within an oyster shell, One of the richest of the deep;-and there Is English Peacock, with his mountain Fair, Turned into a Flamingo;-that shy bird That gleams i' the Indian air-have you not heard When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo, His best friends hear no more of him?-but you Will see him, and will like him too, I hope, With the milk-white Snowdonian Antelope Matched with this cameleopard-his fine wit Makes such a wound, the knife is lost in it; A strain too learnèd for a shallow age, Too wise for selfish bigots; let his page, Which charms the chosen spirits of the time, Fold itself up for the serener clime Of years to come, and find its recompense In that just expectation.-Wit and sense, Virtue and human knowledge; all that might Make this dull world a business of delight, Are all combined in Horace Smith.-And these, With some exceptions, which I need not tease Your patience by descanting on,-are all You and I know in London. I recall My thoughts, and bid you look upon the night. As water does a sponge, so the moonlight Fills the void, hollow, universal air- What see you?-unpavilioned Heaven is fair, Whether the moon, into her chamber gone, Leaves midnight to the golden stars, or wan Climbs with diminished beams the azure steep; Or whether clouds sail o'er the inverse deep, Piloted by the many-wandering blast, And the rare stars rush through them dim and fast:- All this is beautiful in every land.- But what see you beside?-a shabby stand Of Hackney coaches-a brick house or wall Fencing some lonely court, white with the scrawl Of our unhappy politics;-or worse- A wretched woman reeling by, whose curse Mixed with the watchman's, partner of her trade, You must accept in place of serenade- Or yellow-haired Pollonia murmuring To Henry, some unutterable thing. I see a chaos of green leaves and fruit Built round dark caverns, even to the root Of the living stems that feed them-in whose bowers There sleep in their dark dew the folded flowers; Beyond, the surface of the unsickled corn Trembles not in the slumbering air, and borne In circles quaint, and ever-changing dance, Like wingèd stars the fire-flies flash and glance, Pale in the open moonshine, but each one Under the dark trees seems a little sun, A meteor tamed; a fixed star gone astray From the silver regions of the milky way;- Afar the Contadino's song is heard, Rude, but made sweet by distance-and a bird Which cannot be the Nightingale, and yet I know none else that sings so sweet as it At this late hour;-and then all is still- Now-Italy or London, which you will! Next winter you must pass with me; I'll have My house by that time turned into a grave Of dead despondence and low-thoughted care, And all the dreams which our tormentors are; Oh! that Hunt, Hogg, Peacock, and Smith were there, With everything belonging to them fair!- We will have books, Spanish, Italian, Greek; And ask one week to make another week As like his father, as I'm unlike mine, Which is not his fault, as you may divine. Though we eat little flesh and drink no wine, Yet let's be merry: we'll have tea and toast; Custards for supper, and an endless host Of syllabubs and jellies and mince-pies, And other such lady-like luxuries,- Feasting on which we will philosophize! And we'll have fires out of the Grand Duke's wood, To thaw the six weeks' winter in our blood. And then we'll talk;-what shall we talk about? Oh! there are themes enough for many a bout Of thought-entangled descant;-as to nerves- With cones and parallelograms and curves I've sworn to strangle them if once they dare To bother me-when you are with me there. And they shall never more sip laudanum, From Helicon or Himeros;-well, come, And in despite of God and of the devil, We'll make our friendly philosophic revel Outlast the leafless time; till buds and flowers Warn the obscure inevitable hours, Sweet meeting by sad parting to renew;- 'To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new.'
Percy Bysshe Shelley's other poems:
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