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but still not so much so as to prevent Shelley from painting, with a firm hand, another character than his own.
It is the first instance of that power of losing himself in the creation of distinct personages which enabled him to write the drama of the Cenci. Julian and Maddalo has unity, and the materials are carefully woven together. The style is subdued to a quiet level, and the imagination, which ran riot in the Revolt of Islam, is curbed to do its work, and only its special work, by the will of the poet. Reading it, we should predict that if again the enthusiasm for man should awaken in Shelley's heart, the work he would do on the subject would be more worthy of his power. It did awaken, and in how different a form it came ! It was no longer hampered by his notion that he must directly attack evil. It rose at once and easily, taking with it all the subjects of the Revolt of Islam, into the region of pure art, and there, in the world of passion and beauty and fire, he wrote the Prometheus Unbound. That poem is the marriage of Shelley's double nature, the fusion for creative work of the lover of man and the poet. He reaches in it that culminating point at which the thinker on man gives his best-loved materials to the artist, and the artist breathes into them life and beauty.
The same vivid interest in humanity was then made special in the Cenci, a tragedy wrought out with so much temperance of imagination, directness of emotion, and closeness of thought, that it is the strangest contrast to the Prometheus. The range of power implied in the production of these two dramas within twelve months, each so great, and so unlike, is rarely to be paralleled among the poets below those of the highest order. It is all the more wonderful when we think that about the same time such poems were also created as the Sensitive Plant, the Skylark, the Cloud, Arethusa, and the Ode to the West Wind. The last alone is enough to place Shelley apart from the other lyrical poets of England. In it, as in the Prometheus, and still more splendidly, all his powers and his poetic subjects are wrought into a whole. The emotion awakened by the approaching storm sets on fire other sleeping emotions in his heart, and the whole of his being bursts into flame around the first emotion. This is the manner of the genesis of all the noblest lyrics. He passes from magnificent union of himself with Nature and magnificent realisation of her storm and peace, to equally great self-description, and then mingles all nature and all himself together, that he may sing of the restoration of mankind. There is no song in the whole of our literature more passionate, more penetrative, more full of the force by which the idea and its form are united into one creation.
This time, during which Shelley's twofold being was married for creative work, did not last long. The two elements always tended to separate, and now the special Shelley element, which fled from man into
the recesses of his own heart, or communed with the ideal Nature which he made for himself out of the apparent world, began to absorb him, and finally drove out the other.
At the beginning of this reaction he was still gay, often bright; and the Letter to Maria Gisborne is one of the rare poems in which Shelley is at peace. An air of home and happiness flows through its familiar and melodious verse. The Witch of Atlas also belongs to this time; a poem in which he sent his imagination out, like a child into a meadow, without any aim save to enjoy itself. Now and again Shelley himself, as it were from a distance, alters or arranges the manner of the sport, as if with some intention, but never so much as to spoil the natural wildness of the Imagination's play. Enough is done to suggest that there may be a meaning in it all, but not enough to tell that meaning. “I mean nothing,” Shelley would have said ; “I did not write the poem. My imagination made it of her own accord.” Nor was he so self-absorbed at first as wholly to neglect the cause of man. The Ode to Liberty, the Ode to Naples, belong to this summer and autumn of 1820.
We pass into the isolated poet with the Sensitive Plant, the companionless flower; and from this time forth the old Shelley, who loved Mankind, is dead. The only exception is the choral drama of Hellas, written in a transient enthusiasm for the cause of Greece. “I try to be what I might have been,”
he says, “but am not successful. It was written without much care, and in one of those few moments of enthusiasm which now seldom visit me, and which make me pay dear for their visits.” Two poems, however, preceded Hellas ; Epipsychidion and Adonais. Both are written by the lonely artist ; nor is there any trace in them of the Shelley who prophesied for Man. Of Epipsychidion I have spoken in the notes of this book. The ideal passion, in which it originated, hid him in the light of thought, far away from humanity, and he never quite got back again.
Adonais, awakened in him not only by his sympathy with Keats, but also by the resemblance of the fate of Keats to his own, is almost as much concerned with Shelley as with its subject. There is nothing in English poetry so steeped in passionate personality as the description of himself in stanzas xxxi-iv. It is almost too close, too unveiled, too intense to have been written. The only other poet-for Byron's selfdescription is written with a view to effect—who has approached the wild self-sorrow of it, is Cowper, and he uses the same simile of the stricken stag. The poem is, as Shelley said, “a highly wrought piece of art.” Its abstract spirituality, and its philosophy, remove it from the ordinary apprehension, and are the cause why it is less read than Alastor. But, in truth, Shelley himself, and the scenery and personages he creates in this abstract realm, are more real in this poem than in others which have to do with the actual world. It suited him to write about a spirit, and he wrote as he were himself a spirit. The Dreams which hover round Adonais, the Splendours and Glooms, Morning with the tears in her hair, Spring wild with grief, Echo singing in the hills, Urania flying to mourn beside the bierShelley has succeeded in giving them all being. While we read, we believe in the reality of this world as we believe in our dreams while we dream. The power of doing this is unique, and is due not only to imagination at its height, but also to keenness of abstract intellect. His grip of these impalpable personages is quite certain. He creates them, and then he sees and hears them. Owing to this the conduct of the poem is clear. The unremitting beauty of the lines so engages attention as at first to forbid an analysis of the arrangement, but when that analysis is made, the pleasure Adonais gives is not disturbed, but doubled. And how passionate it is throughout, more passionate than most of his love poems! It is unceasingly strange, and the strangeness adds, from outside, to the charm of Shelley's poetry, to find him writing with a far greater intensity of feeling about the sorrow of Urania and the Dreams, about the Spirit of Love in the Universe, about Keats in the spiritual world, and about his own wearied and solitary heart, than he ever writes about men or women, about human love, or about the personal suffering of others.