Charles Harpur

The Death of Shelley

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Fit winding-sheet for thee
Was the upheaving eternal sea,
Fit dirge the tempest’s slave-alarming roll
For yokeless as the waves alway
Thy thoughts went sounding forth, as they
Were marshalling to the trumpet of the universal soul.
Yet tell me, spirit bright,
Did nature sorrow not for thee?
That day, veiled not the sun his light
When rolling over Italy?
Paled not the stricken moon, that night,
When gazing down upon the doomful sea?

Yet tell me, for from under them
Was never reft away before a richer, purer gem
Than was thy being, wherein love did dwell
With joy and natural piety as well,—
Inraying it with a deep life,
So sweetly deep, so wildly bright,
Such as no words may tell!
And never in their day and night
Did ruin, with the beautiful at strife,
Compass before so horrible a spite!
Never trod down at once so much of musical delight.

. . . . .
Whom the gods love die young;
Flowers wither where rank weeds still thrive apace;
Nor is the battle always to the strong,
Nor to the swift for ever sure the race.
Yet if the odours of the flowers remain,
Are they not, even to regret,
A sweet consolatory gain?
Nor vainly forth was the lost battle set,
Nor the race urged in vain,
Whence flow inspiriting examples yet.
Yet, poetry and passion’s darling son!
Though thou didst walk the world as one
Proscribed by stars inimical to mankind,
While mitred persecution, dread
And deadly, raged in mortal hate behind,
With ignorance, her dull slave abhorred;
And these, in mercy as they said,
With many a madly mystic word,
And vengeful, hot, God-wounding glance upthrown,
Implored the heavens to thunder down
Their Christian wrath on thy devoted head;

And yet, O good and kind!
This was for thee the meet memorial crown
By the great Spirit of all good designed,
That men, to nobler motions born,
And more to a large charity inclined,
Should well reverse their bigot fathers’scorn,
And, yearning o’er thy story,
Shall learn therefrom how gnomelike are spirits freedom-blind,
And live glorying in the glory
Of thy love-illumined mind.

All then was well—yea, very well;
Though brief, too brief, here on the earth thy stay.
Thy name is with us for a strengthening spell
To all who, banding against wrong’s bad brood,
Would do the unwilling world some good,
Nor idly pass away,
A vapour, nothing more—a cloudlet grey
By every wind transformed and driven
A dull and wasting stain in the blue dome of heaven!
And though the heart and brain be food
For hungry death, where erst the sisterhood
Of thy bright dreams (a seraph choir) did dwell,
What light around us these remaining fling!
For lovelier splendours never fell
In star-showers from Urania’s wing,
And freedom in her golden age
Shall constellate her spheres with glories from thy page.

But hark! Yet from her ghostly cell
Built on the dubious brink of the Unknown,
Cowled Superstition’s sullen bell
Tolls thee to her deepest hell!
Blind Fury! She alone
Can darkly dare to think
A soul like thine, though in its earthly shell
Bedimmed by error,
Should at her bidding sink
Lossward-down, in penal terror!
Enough! Wherever love may soar
Beyond that mound which mortals blench to see—
That last low mound on time’s change-beaten shore—
There is thy spirit now, fire-wing’d and free,
And there a shining dweller shall it be
For evermore

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Charles Harpur