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Thread: Poetry and Imagination.

  1. #16
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    I remember when reading Shakespeare's Sonnets for the first time. It was an English summer at a country pub in Hertfordshire. I sat outside, very much on my own, and drank in both the beauty of the words, and of course my beer. I had thought since then; that despite reading widely, that there would be no repetition of that experience.
    But I have rediscovered it in Shelley’s work. The images he evokes are like mothers' milk to those of a freewheeling, unfettered imagination.

    Take for example a few:

    “Behold with sleepless eyes”

    “Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate”

    “Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured”

    “No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
    I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
    I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
    Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
    Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
    Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?”

    “The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
    Of their moon-freezing crystals;”

    “Heaven's winged hound, polluting from thy lips
    His beak in poison not his own, tears up
    My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
    The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
    Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
    To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
    When the rocks split and close again behind:
    While from their loud abysses howling throng
    The genii of the storm, urging the rage
    Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.”

    It is not the product of a good vocabulary, it is not verbose, and it is hard to put one’s finger on the structure. But then, why even try? There are many more qualified than myself to dissect the work of individual writers. The crux I think lies in seeing the power of mere words; that like blood stained drops from a fathomless chalice, stain the abyss of man’s frailty.

  2. #17
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    Venerable mother!
    All else who live and suffer take from thee
    Some comfort; flowers, and fruits, and happy sounds,
    And love, though fleeting; these may not be mine.
    But mine own words, I pray, deny me not.

    They shall be told. Ere Babylon was dust,
    The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
    Met his own image walking in the garden.
    That apparition, sole of men, he saw.
    For know there are two worlds of life and death:
    One that which thou beholdest; but the other
    Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit
    The shadows of all forms that think and live
    Till death unite them and they part no more;
    Dreams and the light imaginings of men,
    And all that faith creates or love desires,
    Terrible, strange, sublime and beauteous shapes.
    There thou art, and dost hang, a writhing shade,
    'Mid whirlwind-peopled mountains; all the gods
    Are there, and all the powers of nameless worlds,
    Vast, sceptred phantoms; heroes, men, and beasts;
    And Demogorgon, a tremendous gloom;
    And he, the supreme Tyrant, on his throne
    Of burning gold. Son, one of these shall utter
    The curse which all remember. Call at will
    Thine own ghost, or the ghost of Jupiter,
    Hades or Typhon, or what mightier Gods
    From all-prolific Evil, since thy ruin,
    Have sprung, and trampled on my prostrate sons.
    Ask, and they must reply: so the revenge
    Of the Supreme may sweep through vacant shades,
    As rainy wind through the abandoned gate
    Of a fallen palace.

    Mother, let not aught
    Of that which may be evil, pass again
    My lips, or those of aught resembling me.
    Phantasm of Jupiter, arise, appear!

    My wings are folded o'er mine ears:
    My wings are crossed o'er mine eyes:
    Yet through their silver shade appears,
    And through their lulling plumes arise,
    A Shape, a throng of sounds;
    May it be no ill to thee
    O thou of many wounds!
    Near whom, for our sweet sister's sake,
    Ever thus we watch and wake.

    The sound is of whirlwind underground,
    Earthquake, and fire, and mountains cloven;
    The shape is awful like the sound,
    Clothed in dark purple, star-inwoven.
    A sceptre of pale gold
    To stay steps proud, o'er the slow cloud
    His veined hand doth hold.
    Cruel he looks, but calm and strong,
    Like one who does, not suffers wrong.

    Why have the secret powers of this strange world
    Driven me, a frail and empty phantom, hither
    On direst storms? What unaccustomed sounds
    Are hovering on my lips, unlike the voice
    With which our pallid race hold ghastly talk
    In darkness? And, proud sufferer, who art thou?

    Tremendous Image, as thou art must be
    He whom thou shadowest forth. I am his foe,
    The Titan. Speak the words which I would hear,
    Although no thought inform thine empty voice.

    Listen! And though your echoes must be mute,
    Grey mountains, and old woods, and haunted springs,
    Prophetic caves, and isle-surrounding streams,
    Rejoice to hear what yet ye cannot speak.

    A spirit seizes me and speaks within:
    It tears me as fire tears a thunder-cloud.

    See, how he lifts his mighty looks, the Heaven
    Darkens above.

    He speaks! O shelter me!

  3. #18
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    I see the curse on gestures proud and cold,
    And looks of firm defiance, and calm hate,
    And such despair as mocks itself with smiles,
    Written as on a scroll: yet speak! Oh, speak!

    Fiend, I defy thee! with a calm, fixed mind,
    All that thou canst inflict I bid thee do;
    Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Humankind,
    One only being shalt thou not subdue.
    Rain then thy plagues upon me here,
    Ghastly disease, and frenzying fear;
    And let alternate frost and fire
    Eat into me, and be thine ire
    Lightning, and cutting hail, and legioned forms
    Of furies, driving by upon the wounding storms.

    Ay, do thy worst. Thou art omnipotent.
    O'er all things but thyself I gave thee power,
    And my own will. Be thy swift mischiefs sent
    To blast mankind, from yon ethereal tower.
    Let thy malignant spirit move
    In darkness over those I love:
    On me and mine I imprecate
    The utmost torture of thy hate;
    And thus devote to sleepless agony,
    This undeclining head while thou must reign on high.

    But thou, who art the God and Lord: O, thou,
    Who fillest with thy soul this world of woe,
    To whom all things of Earth and Heaven do bow
    In fear and worship: all-prevailing foe!
    I curse thee! let a sufferer's curse
    Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse;
    Till thine Infinity shall be
    A robe of envenomed agony;
    And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain,
    To cling like burning gold round thy dissolving brain.

    Heap on thy soul, by virtue of this Curse,
    Ill deeds, then be thou damned, beholding good;
    Both infinite as is the universe,
    And thou, and thy self-torturing solitude.
    An awful image of calm power
    Though now thou sittest, let the hour
    Come, when thou must appear to be
    That which thou art internally;
    And after many a false and fruitless crime
    Scorn track thy lagging fall through boundless space and time.

  4. #19
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    Shelley seems to have incarnated the spirit of the Revolution. He had no brothers to check his tastes and impulses; was lonely at a private school, but at Eton, where he already defied tyrants, (boys and masters,) he seems to have become popular, despite his eccentricities.

    His studies were desultory, self-directed, and much concerned with efforts to retain or ruin some remnants of belief. His expulsion from university was the rash reply of dons who were tired of being baited; and Shelley, now a martyr, rejoiced in proclaiming the ideas for which he had suffered.

    On ill terms with his father, he married Miss Harriet Westbrook, a very young girl, more from a sense of duty and honour than from love; and in various rural places he lived, wrote, preached his ideas in Ireland, and idealized and quarreled with various friends of both sexes, till he met Mary Godwin, the very young daughter of the philosopher.

    He wrote "Queen Mab" (1813), and "Alastor" (1816), the story of a lonely spirit fleeing from itself through scenes of grandeur and desolation; homeless, like Shelley, and like him unsatisfied. His own wanderings were restless rather than remote; to Geneva, back to Great Marlow; and thence, after marrying Mary Godwin, on the suicide of his injured wife, to various parts of Italy.

    He was deprived of his children by his first marriage; his long romance in Spenserian stanzas, "Laon and Cythna," though expurgated and rechristened "The Revolt of Islam" (1818), attracted little but unfriendly attention, despite its many and extraordinary beauties and radiant visions of storm and rainbow, clouds and winds and fire. With unwonted humour Shelley said that you might as well ask for a leg of mutton in a gin shop as apply to him for studies in human nature. Madness, hung over Shelley like the sword of Damocles.

    In his earlier years he was like an Ćolian harp on which all the winds of the spirit played, making strange music and strange discords. He was even too fluent, Keats told him. Ideas of beauty springing up in his mind, he followed them, followed the cloud, the shower, the meteor, the evanescent loveliness, was borne up by the "wild west wind, the breath of autumn's being," leaving his narrative of human fortunes. He was a born visionary and mystic, beholding things unapparent; believing in experiences that never were actual.

    In his poetic art, this growing power of control is especially manifest in his drama, "The Cenci" (1819), and his swan-song, the matchless "Adonais" (1821), the lament for Keats.

    The polemics of "Prometheus Unbound" against the world as it is, and in favour of suffering and oppressed humanity, lost themselves, the contradictions vanished unreconciled in the music of the immortal lyrics. The escape from a world to reach an undisturbed haven of love and loneliness. Shelley's soul was always seeking its predestined and ideal mate, and then these ideal friends or mistresses, in a moment, became horrors to him.

    In his many immortal lyrics the poetry of Shelley is most accessible to all; in them he is not baffled and foiled by the world as it is. What his powers might have become, for they were maturing rapidly, cannot be guessed. By a death in strange harmony with his genius, portended by omens, and predicted in his own words, he "was borne darkly fearfully afar," being drowned in a brief sudden tempest in the Gulf of Spezzia (19 July, 1822).

    The fire received what the water returned to earth, and his ashes sleep beside those of Keats in "a place so beautiful that it makes one in love with death".

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