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The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
These are the spells by which to reas
An empire o'er the disentangled doom.
To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent';
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.1 Sept. 1818-1819. 1820.
1 The prominent feature of Shelley's theory of the destiny of the human species was that evil is not inherent in the system of the creation, but an accident that might be expelled. This also forms a portion of Christianity: God made earth and man perfect, till he, by his fall,
"Brought death into the world and all our woe."
Shelley believed that mankind had only to will that there should be no evil, and there would be none. It is not my part in these Notes to notice the arguments that have been urged against this opinion, but to mention the fact that he entertained it, and was indeed attached to it with fervent enthusiasm. That man could be so perfectionized as to be able to expel evil from his own nature, and from the greater part of the creation, was the cardinal point of his system. And the subject he loved best to dwell on was the image of One warring with the Evil Principle, oppressed not only by it, but by all-even the good, who were deluded into considering evil a necessary portion of humanity; a victim full of fortitude and hope and the spirit of triumph, emanating from a reliance in the ultimate omnipotence of Good. Such he had depicted in his last poem, when he made Laon the enemy and the victim of tyrants. He now took a more idealised image of the same subject. He followed certain classical authorities in figuring Saturn as the good principle, Jupiter the usurp ing evil one, and Prometheus as the regenerator, who, unable to bring mankind back to primitive innocence, used knowledge as a weapon to defeat evil, by leading mankind, beyond the state wherein they are sinless through ignorance, to that in which they are virtuous through wisdom. Jupiter punished the temerity of the Titan by chaining him to a rock of Caucasus, and causing a vulture to devour his still-renewed heart. There was a prophecy afloat in heaven portending the fall of Jove, the secret of averting which was known only to Prometheus; and the god offered freedom from torture on condition of its being communicated to him. According to the
THE SENSITIVE PLANT
A SENSITIVE Plant in a garden grew, And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light,
And closed them beneath the kisses of night.
And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
mythological story, this referred to the offspring of Thetis, who was destined to be greater than his father. Prometheus at last bought pardon for his crime of enriching mankind with his gifts, by revealing the prophecy. Hercules killed the vulture, and set him free; and Thetis was married to Peleus, the father of Achilles.
Shelley adapted the catastrophe of this story to his peculiar views. The son greater than his father, born of the nuptials of Jupiter and Thetis, was to dethrone Evil, and bring back a happier reign than that of Saturn. Prometheus defies the power of his enemy, and endures centuries of torture; till the hour arrives when Jove, blind to the real event, but darkly guessing that some great good to himself will flow, espouses Thetis. At the moment, the Primal Power of the world drives him from his usurped throne, and Strength, in the person of Hercules, liberates Humanity, typified in Prometheus, from the tortures generated by evil done or suffered. Asia, one of the Oceanides, is the wife of Prometheus--she was, according to other my. thological interpretations, the same as Venus and Nature. When the benefactor of mankind is liberated, Nature resumes the beauty of her prime, and is united to her husband, the emblem of the human race, in perfect and happy union In the fourth Act, the Poet gives further scope to his imagination, and idealizes the forms of creation-such as we know them, instead of such as they appeared to the Greeks. Maternal Earth, the mighty parent, is superseded by the Spirit of the Earth, the guide of our planet through the realms of sky; while his fair and weaker companion and attendant, the Spirit of the Moon, receives bliss from the annihilation of Evil in the superior sphere.
Shelley develops more particularly in the lyrics of this drama his abstruse and imaginative theories with regard to the creation. It requires a mind as subtle and penetrating as his own to understand the mystic_meanings scattered throughout the poem. They elude the ordinary reader by their abstraction and deli cacy of distinction, but they are far from vague. It was his design to write prose metaphysical essays on the nature of Man, which would have served to explain much of what is obscure in his poetry; a few scattered fragments of observa tions and remarks alone remain. He considered these philosophical views of Mind and Nature to be instinct with the intensest spirit of poetry.
More popular poets clothe the ideal with familiar and sensible imagery. Shelley loved to idealize the real-to gift the mechanism of the material universe with a sou! and a voice, and to bestow such also on the most delicate and ab stract emotions and thoughts of the mind. Sophocles was his great master in this species of imagery.-(From Mrs. Shelley's note.)
But the Sensitive Plant which could give small fruit
Of the love which it felt from the leaf to the root, Received more than all, it loved more than ever,
Where none wanted but it, could belong to the giver,
For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;
Radiance and odor are not its dower; It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full,
It desires what it has not, the beautiful! The light winds which from unsustaining wings,
Shed the music of many murmurings; The beams which dart from many a star
Of the flowers whose hues they bear afar;
The pluméd insects swift and free,
The unseen clouds of the dew, which lie Like fire in the flowers till the sun rides high,
Then wander like spirits among the spheres, Each cloud faint with the fragrance it bears;
The quivering vapors of dim noontide, Which like a sea o'er the warm earth glide, In which every sound, and odor, and beam, Move, as reeds in a single stream;
Each and all like ministering angels
For the Sensitive Plant sweet joy to bear, Whilst the lagging hours of the day went by
Like windless clouds o'er a tender sky.
And when evening descended from heaven above, And the Earth was all rest, and the air was all love,
And delight, tho' less bright, was far more deep, And the day's veil fell from the world of sleep,
The water-blooms under the rivulet Fell from the stalks on which they were set;
And the eddies drove them here and there,
As the winds did those of the upper air. Then the rain came down, and the broken stalks,
Were bent and tangled across the walks; And the leafless network of parasite bowers
Massed into ruin; and all sweet flowers. Between the time of the wind and the snow, All loathliest weeds began to grow, Whose coarse leaves were splashed with many a speck, Like the water-snake's belly and the toad's back.
And thistles, and nettles, and darnels rank,
And the dock, and henbane, and hemlock dank,
Stretched out its long and hollow shank, And stifled the air till the dead wind stank.
And plants, at whose names the verse feels loath,
Filled the place with a monstrous under growth, Prickly, and pulpous, and blistering, and blue,
Livid, and starred with a lurid dew,
And agarics, and fungi, with mildew and mould
Started like mist from the wet ground cold;
Pale, fleshy, as if the decaying dead
With a spirit of growth had been animated!
Spawn, weeds, and filth, a leprous scum, Made the running rivulet thick and dumb
And at its outlet flags huge as stakes Dammed it up with roots knotted like water snakes.
And hour by hour, when the air was still,
The vapors arose which have strength to kill:
At morn they were seen, at noon they were felt,
night they were darkness no star could melt.