The Retrospect: Cwm Elan, 1812
Published from the Esdaile manuscript book by Dowden, "Life of Shelley", 1887.
A scene, which 'wildered fancy viewed In the soul's coldest solitude, With that same scene when peaceful love Flings rapture's colour o'er the grove, When mountain, meadow, wood and stream With unalloying glory gleam, And to the spirit's ear and eye Are unison and harmony. The moonlight was my dearer day; Then would I wander far away, And, lingering on the wild brook's shore To hear its unremitting roar, Would lose in the ideal flow All sense of overwhelming woe; Or at the noiseless noon of night Would climb some heathy mountain's height, And listen to the mystic sound That stole in fitful gasps around. I joyed to see the streaks of day Above the purple peaks decay, And watch the latest line of light Just mingling with the shades of night; For day with me was time of woe When even tears refused to flow; Then would I stretch my languid frame Beneath the wild woods' gloomiest shade, And try to quench the ceaseless flame That on my withered vitals preyed; Would close mine eyes and dream I were On some remote and friendless plain, And long to leave existence there, If with it I might leave the pain That with a finger cold and lean Wrote madness on my withering mien.
It was not unrequited love That bade my 'wildered spirit rove; 'Twas not the pride disdaining life, That with this mortal world at strife Would yield to the soul's inward sense, Then groan in human impotence, And weep because it is not given To taste on Earth the peace of Heaven. 'Twas not that in the narrow sphere Where Nature fixed my wayward fate There was no friend or kindred dear Formed to become that spirit's mate, Which, searching on tired pinion, found Barren and cold repulse around; Oh, no! yet each one sorrow gave New graces to the narrow grave. For broken vows had early quelled The stainless spirit's vestal flame; Yes! whilst the faithful bosom swelled, Then the envenomed arrow came, And Apathy's unaltering eye Beamed coldness on the misery; And early I had learned to scorn The chains of clay that bound a soul Panting to seize the wings of morn, And where its vital fires were born To soar, and spur the cold control Which the vile slaves of earthly night Would twine around its struggling flight.
Oh, many were the friends whom fame Had linked with the unmeaning name, Whose magic marked among mankind The casket of my unknown mind, Which hidden from the vulgar glare Imbibed no fleeting radiance there. My darksome spirit sought—it found A friendless solitude around. For who that might undaunted stand, The saviour of a sinking land, Would crawl, its ruthless tyrant's slave, And fatten upon Freedom's grave, Though doomed with her to perish, where The captive clasps abhorred despair.
They could not share the bosom's feeling, Which, passion's every throb revealing, Dared force on the world's notice cold Thoughts of unprofitable mould, Who bask in Custom's fickle ray, Fit sunshine of such wintry day! They could not in a twilight walk Weave an impassioned web of talk, Till mysteries the spirits press In wild yet tender awfulness, Then feel within our narrow sphere How little yet how great we are! But they might shine in courtly glare, Attract the rabble's cheapest stare, And might command where'er they move A thing that bears the name of love; They might be learned, witty, gay, Foremost in fashion's gilt array, On Fame's emblazoned pages shine, Be princes' friends, but never mine!
Ye jagged peaks that frown sublime, Mocking the blunted scythe of Time, Whence I would watch its lustre pale Steal from the moon o'er yonder vale Thou rock, whose bosom black and vast, Bared to the stream's unceasing flow, Ever its giant shade doth cast On the tumultuous surge below:
Woods, to whose depths retires to die The wounded Echo's melody, And whither this lone spirit bent The footstep of a wild intent:
Meadows! whose green and spangled breast These fevered limbs have often pressed, Until the watchful fiend Despair Slept in the soothing coolness there! Have not your varied beauties seen The sunken eye, the withering mien, Sad traces of the unuttered pain That froze my heart and burned my brain. How changed since Nature's summer form Had last the power my grief to charm, Since last ye soothed my spirit's sadness, Strange chaos of a mingled madness! Changed!—not the loathsome worm that fed In the dark mansions of the dead, Now soaring through the fields of air, And gathering purest nectar there, A butterfly, whose million hues The dazzled eye of wonder views, Long lingering on a work so strange, Has undergone so bright a change. How do I feel my happiness? I cannot tell, but they may guess Whose every gloomy feeling gone, Friendship and passion feel alone; Who see mortality's dull clouds Before affection's murmur fly, Whilst the mild glances of her eye Pierce the thin veil of flesh that shrouds The spirit's inmost sanctuary. O thou! whose virtues latest known, First in this heart yet claim'st a throne; Whose downy sceptre still shall share The gentle sway with virtue there; Thou fair in form, and pure in mind, Whose ardent friendship rivets fast The flowery band our fates that bind, Which incorruptible shall last When duty's hard and cold control Has thawed around the burning soul,— The gloomiest retrospects that bind With crowns of thorn the bleeding mind, The prospects of most doubtful hue That rise on Fancy's shuddering view,— Are gilt by the reviving ray Which thou hast flung upon my day.