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WORK WITHOUT HOPE.
LINES COMPOSED 21ST FEBRUARY, 1827.
All Nature seems at work. Stags leave their lair-
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
I insert this poem on account of the exquisite imaginative picture in the third and fourth lines, and the terseness and melody of the whole. Here we have a specimen of a perfect style,— unsuperfluous, straightforward, suggestive, impulsive, and serene. But how the writer of such verses could talk of "work without hope," I cannot say. What work had he better to do than to write more? and what hope but to write more still, and delight himself and the world? But the truth is, his mind was too active and self-involved to need the diversion of work; and his body, the case that contained it, too sluggish with sedentary living to like it; and so he persuaded himself that if his writings did not sell, they were of no use. Are we to disrespect these self-delusions in such a man? No; but to draw from them salutary cautions for ourselves,-his inferiors.
AMONG the many reasons which his friends had to deplore the premature death of this splendid poet and noble-hearted man, the greatest was his not being able to repeat, to a more attentive public, his own protest, not only against some of his earlier effusions (which he did in the newspapers), but against all which he had written in a wailing and angry, instead of an invariably calm, loving, and therefore thoroughly helping spirit. His works, in justice to himself, require either to be winnowed from what he disliked, or to be read with the remembrance of that dislike. He had sensibility almost unique, seemingly fitter for a planet of a different sort, or in more final condition, than ours: he has said of himself,-so delicate was his organization,—that he could
The weight of the superincumbent hour;"
and the impatience which he vented for some years against that rough working towards good, called evil, and which he carried out into conduct too hasty, subjected one of the most naturally pious of men to charges which hurt his name, and thwarted his philanthropy. Had he lived, he would have done away all mistake on these points, and made everybody know him for what he was, a man idolized by his friends,—studious, temperate, of the gentlest life and conversation, and willing to have died to do the world a service. For my part, I never can mention his name without a transport of love and gratitude. I rejoice to have partaken of his cares, and to be both suffering and benefiting from him at this moment; and whenever I think of a future state, and of the great and good Spirit that must
pervade it, one of the first faces I humbly hope to see there, is that of the kind and impassioned man, whose intercourse conferred on me the title of the Friend of Shelley.
The finest poetry of Shelley is so mixed up with moral and political speculation, that I found it impossible to give more than the following extracts, in accordance with the purely poetical design of the present volume. Of the poetry of reflection and tragic pathos, he has abundance; but even such fanciful productions as the Sensitive Plant and the Witch of Atlas are full of metaphysics, and would require a commentary of explanation. The short pieces and passages, however, before us, are so beautiful, that they may well stand as the representatives of the whole powers of his mind in the region of pure poetry. In sweetness (and not even there in passages) the Ode to the Skylark is inferior only to Coleridge,—in rapturous passion to no man. It is like the bird it sings,-enthusiastic, enchanting, profuse, continuous, and alone,-small, but filling the heavens. One of the triumphs of poetry is to associate its remembrance with the beauties of nature. There are probably no lovers of Homer and Shakspeare, who, when looking at the moon, do not often call to mind the descriptions in the eighth book of the Iliad and the fifth act of the Merchant of Venice. The nightingale (in England) may be said to have belonged exclusively to Milton (see page 178), till a dying young poet of our own day partook of the honor by the production of his exquisite Ode: and notwithstanding Shakspeare's lark singing "at heaven's gate," the longer effusion of Shelley will be identified with thoughts of the bird hereafter, in the minds of all who are susceptible of its beauty. What a pity he did not live to produce a hundred such; or to mingle briefer lyrics, as beautiful as Shakspeare's, with tragedies which Shakspeare himself might have welcomed! for assuredly, had he lived, he would have been the greatest dramatic writer since the days of Elizabeth, if indeed he has not abundantly proved himself such in his tragedy of the Cenci. Unfortunately, in his indignation against every conceivable form of oppression, he took a subject for that play too much resembling one which Shakspeare had taken in his youth, and still more unsuitable to the stage; otherwise, besides grandeur and terror
there are things in it lovely as heart can worship; and the author showed himself able to draw both men and women, whose names would have been "familiar in our mouths as household words." The utmost might of gentleness, and of the sweet habitudes of domestic affection, was never more balmily impressed through the tears of the reader, than in the unique and divine close of that dreadful tragedy. Its loveliness, being that of the highest reason, is superior to the madness of all the crime that has preceded it, and leaves nature in a state of reconcilement with her ordinary course. The daughter, who is going forth with her mother to execution, utters these final words :—
Give yourself no unnecessary pain,
My dear Lord Cardinal. Here, mother, tie
The force of simplicity and moral sweetness cannot go further than this. But in general, if Coleridge is the sweetest of our poets, Shelley is at once the most ethereal and most gorgeous; the one who has clothed his thoughts in draperies of the most evanescent and most magnificent words and imagery. Not Milton himself is more learned in Grecisms, or nicer in etymological propriety; and nobody, throughout, has a style so Orphic and primæval. His poetry is as full of mountains, seas, and skies, of light, and darkness, and the seasons, and all the elements of our being, as if Nature herself had written it, with the creation and its hopes newly cast around her; not, it must be confessed, without too indiscriminate a mixture of great and small, and a want of sufficient shade,‚—a certain chaotic brilliancy, "dark with excess of light." Shelley (in the verses to a Lady with a Guitar) might well call himself Ariel. All the more enjoying part of his poetry is Ariel,-the "delicate" yet powerful "spirit," jealous of restraint, yet able to serve; living in the elements and the flowers; treading the "ooze of the salt deep," and running "on the sharp wind of the north;" feeling for creatures
unlike himself; "flaming amazement" on them too, and singing exquisitest songs. Alas! and he suffered for years, as Ariel did in the cloven pine: but now he is out of it, and serving the purposes of Beneficence with a calmness befitting his knowledge and his love.
TO A SKYLARK.
Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart,
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.1
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire!
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing, still dost soar: and soaring, ever singest.
In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,
O'er which clouds are brightening,
Thou dost float and run;
Like an embodied joy, whose race has just begun
The pale purple even
Melts round thy flight;
In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight.
Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear,
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.