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AH, DID YOU ONCE SEE SHELLEY PLAIN,
BUT YOU WERE LIVING BEFORE THAT,
MY STARTING MOVES YOUR LAUGHTER!
I CROSSED A MOOR, WITH A name of its own, AND A CERTAIN USE IN THE WORLD, NO DOUBT, YET A HAND'S-BREADTH OF IT SHINES ALONE
'MID THE BLANK MILES ROUND ABOUT:
FOR THERE I PICKED UP ON THE HEATHER,
SHELLEY, from whose poetry this book of Selections is made, can only, like all other poets, be judged justly, or fitly loved, when everything he wished to be published has been carefully studied. We can no more comprehend him in the right way by reading only his finest poems, supposing we could choose them, than we can receive a true impression of the character of the scenery of a country by visiting a selection of its most beautiful places. Through his weakness we know part of his strength; nor is it only for his power we love him. This necessity of reading all a poet's work, if we wish to know him truly, or to receive from him his special gift of pleasure, is the main objection to Selections; but its weight is lessened when the intention of a book of this kind is not to represent Shelley fully, but to present, in a brief compass, enough of his poetry to induce those who are ignorant of it to read the whole. That is the only valid reason and excuse for Selections from a poet, and it is the object of this book. If the excuse be accepted, we may say that Shelley is more open to selection
than many of the other poets. His whole work is short, and a great deal of it can be included in a small book. It is especially lyrical, and lyrics are the best material for selections. Some, too, of the longer poems, such as Alastor and Adonais, in which we can study his steadier and more ambitious effort, are brief enough to be inserted entire, and they break the lyrics pleasantly, and offer a more varied enjoyment to the reader. There is also one spirit in Shelley's work which fills and brings into unity all his poems. It is the spirit of youth. We are not troubled in reading these Selections, by such a change in the whole nature of the poet as age made in Wordsworth. Owing to this unity of spirit, I have been able to place together, without fear of their jarring with one another, poems written at different periods of Shelley's life on the same or kindred themes. To group such poems together is the method followed in this book, and its fitness seems to be supported by the fact that Shelley, being very fond of his ideas, and also of the forms he gave them, repeated them continually. The impression made by one poem is therefore strengthened by another on the same subject. Shelley is his own best illustrator.
When Selections from any poet appear rapidly, it may be said that he has taken his place, that time and its verdict have distinguished him in his own country. And Shelley is now at home with us, and his praise becomes greater day by day. Some of that