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Note on Poems of 1818


We often hear of persons disappointed by a first visit to Italy. This
was not Shelley's case. The aspect of its nature, its sunny sky, its
majestic storms, of the luxuriant vegetation of the country, and the
noble marble-built cities, enchanted him. The sight of the works of art
was full enjoyment and wonder. He had not studied pictures or statues
before; he now did so with the eye of taste, that referred not to the
rules of schools, but to those of Nature and truth. The first entrance
to Rome opened to him a scene of remains of antique grandeur that far
surpassed his expectations; and the unspeakable beauty of Naples and
its environs added to the impression he received of the transcendent
and glorious beauty of Italy.

Our winter was spent at Naples. Here he wrote the fragments of
"Marenghi" and "The Woodman and the Nightingale", which he afterwards
threw aside. At this time, Shelley suffered greatly in health. He put
himself under the care of a medical man, who promised great things, and
made him endure severe bodily pain, without any good results. Constant
and poignant physical suffering exhausted him; and though he preserved
the appearance of cheerfulness, and often greatly enjoyed our
wanderings in the environs of Naples, and our excursions on its sunny
sea, yet many hours were passed when his thoughts, shadowed by illness,
became gloomy,--and then he escaped to solitude, and in verses, which
he hid from fear of wounding me, poured forth morbid but too natural
bursts of discontent and sadness. One looks back with unspeakable
regret and gnawing remorse to such periods; fancying that, had one been
more alive to the nature of his feelings, and more attentive to soothe
them, such would not have existed. And yet, enjoying as he appeared to
do every sight or influence of earth or sky, it was difficult to
imagine that any melancholy he showed was aught but the effect of the
constant pain to which he was a martyr.

We lived in utter solitude. And such is often not the nurse of
cheerfulness; for then, at least with those who have been exposed to
adversity, the mind broods over its sorrows too intently; while the
society of the enlightened, the witty, and the wise, enables us to
forget ourselves by making us the sharers of the thoughts of others,
which is a portion of the philosophy of happiness. Shelley never liked
society in numbers,--it harassed and wearied him; but neither did he
like loneliness, and usually, when alone, sheltered himself against
memory and reflection in a book. But, with one or two whom he loved, he
gave way to wild and joyous spirits, or in more serious conversation
expounded his opinions with vivacity and eloquence. If an argument
arose, no man ever argued better. He was clear, logical, and earnest,
in supporting his own views; attentive, patient, and impartial, while
listening to those on the adverse side. Had not a wall of prejudice
been raised at this time between him and his countrymen, how many would
have sought the acquaintance of one whom to know was to love and to
revere! How many of the more enlightened of his contemporaries have
since regretted that they did not seek him! how very few knew his worth
while he lived! and, of those few, several were withheld by timidity or
envy from declaring their sense of it. But no man was ever more
enthusiastically loved--more looked up to, as one superior to his
fellows in intellectual endowments and moral worth, by the few who knew
him well, and had sufficient nobleness of soul to appreciate his
superiority. His excellence is now acknowledged; but, even while
admitted, not duly appreciated. For who, except those who were
acquainted with him, can imagine his unwearied benevolence, his
generosity, his systematic forbearance? And still less is his vast
superiority in intellectual attainments sufficiently understood--his
sagacity, his clear understanding, his learning, his prodigious memory.
All these as displayed in conversation, were known to few while he
lived, and are now silent in the tomb:

'Ahi orbo mondo ingrato!
Gran cagion hai di dever pianger meco;
Che quel ben ch' era in te, perdut' hai seco.'

Percy Bysshe Shelley

    Volume 1

    Volume 2 - Early Poems 1814-1815

    Poems Written in 1816

    Poems Written in 1817

    Poems Written in 1818

    Poems Written in 1819

    Poems Written in 1820

    Poems Written in 1821

    Poems Written in 1822

    Volume 3

    Volume 3 - Juvenilia

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