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A LAMENT FOR PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, by             Poem Explanation     Poet's Biography
First Line: Is there no fading of thy central fire
Last Line: It is where it should be -- beside the good and brave!
Alternate Author Name(s): Bon Gaultier (with Theodore Martin)
Subject(s): Death; Lament; Poetry & Poets; Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822); Dead, The

Is there no fading of thy central fire,
Spirit of Nature! when thou hear'st the string
That from thy chosen and harmonious lyre
Was wont the utmost melody to wring,
Snap, with the load of its own murmuring?
Hast thou no desolate anthem, that may make
Response to such a lost and broken thing?
Hast thou no echoes, faint and scarce awake?
No music meet for him who died for music's sake?

Go, call the winds from the tempestuous north --
Scourge up the rugged ocean from his sleep,
And bid their fearful choristry fling forth
The thunder-organ'd chant across the deep;
To mourn for him, for whom I fain would weep,
Were not mine eyes weak traitors to my brain,
That throbs bewildered by a weary heap
Of dull unfledged thoughts of common strain,
That drive my tears away, and vex me into pain!

Unprison'd tempest, and thou, unknown cry
Of ocean in his wrath, which none may hear
Abroad within the ships and live! pent sigh,
Which the great earth doth utter, when her ear
Shrinks from some nameless whisper, like a spear
Startling her entrails! ye were heard aloud,
Pouring your accents o'er the poet's bier,
When the great billows whiten'd like a cloud
Around the lifeless corpse, and swathed it in their shroud!

Upon a bare and desolated shore,
Where the tired waters jangle with the shells,
The ocean flung the wasted form it bore
Amongst its ridged lines and tufted swells;
There was he found. No toll of churchyard bells
Rings for his burial; no mourners keep
Watch o'er his coffin, till the iron nails
Rivet him down -- they laid him on a heap,
Like an old Roman chief who sleeps his wakeless sleep!

It was a hot and slumbrous summer-noon,
The sun was glaring like a pestilence
Up in the sky, and over the lagoon
No shadow fell. The kindled pile, from whence
The smoke oozed out in breathings dark and dense,
Threw a short shadow on the sand. Spellbound
Was nature, and the quietude intense
Broken but by the short and crackling sound,
And one lone seabird's scream, that flew in circles round.

The master of the lyre stood near, his eye
Wander'd, as when some doomed man doth read
A prophet's warnings of calamity.
And one was there, who leant his throbbing head
Against a tree; his very heart did bleed
Within him like a brother's. -- Weep anew!
God shield thy spirit in its hour of need,
Thou persecuted man! for it is true,
And just, and good, though some would pierce it through and through.

They scatter'd water from the silent sea,
When that strange sacrifice had ceased to burn;
And with slow hands they gather'd patiently
The ashes in a white and sculptured urn:
To no unholy charnel was it borne,
Nor laid beneath the aisle of sacred dome --
No! where the clouds might weep and breezes mourn,
They dug midst ancient dust his narrow home,
Where men of old were laid beneath the walls of Rome.

There, with the poets of another age,
He sleeps the dreary night that hath no day.
O! it were worth a long, long pilgrimage
To kneel beside his tomb -- to kneel and pray,
Where prayer were passion! -- Hath not sick decay
Pass'd from him as from some embalmed saint? --
Rouse thee, my heart, and thou shalt hence away,
Freed from this dull and wearying constraint,
And stand beside the shrine, so free from earthly taint.

Lo! from the Aventine, the charmed moon
Shines through the columns rear'd into the night,
And the low winds in their autumnal tune
Waft the thin clouds, fringed with a watery white,
Across her disk, obscuring half from sight
The sleep-hush'd city. All beneath is dark,
Save where a shifting and uncertain light,
Far down upon the Tiber, serves to mark
The slow and heedful course of some belated bark.

I stand without the old Romulean wall
Amongst the tombs, and here my task is done;
For, by the straggling gleams of light that fall
Close by my feet, upon a carven stone,
I read the epitaph, 'HERE LIETH ONE
Thou who didst perish ere thy prize was won,
False are those words -- thy unforgotten name
Is blotless, deathless now; 'tis writ in words of flame!

Do thou forgive me, that my feeble tongue,
O Adonais! hath no other stave
Tuned to thy memory, for thou wert sung
By him, whose word is a proud charm to save
From Lethe's waters. -- Lo! upon thy grave
The shadow of his stone streams deep athwart;
Even as his spirit strove to shield and save
Thy relics from the sharp and bitter dart,
That fell like withering ice upon thy noble heart!

Above his ashes the light-feather'd grass
Bends its tall head before the moaning wind
That whispers by, as if the voice did pass
Of some invisible and spirit mind;
As when the sweet and lovelorn Syrinx pined
Into the earth, the conscious reeds above
Sigh'd with a music of no common kind;
For the sick soul was ever near, and wove
The sounds in thrilling notes, and every note was love!

There is a little hillock close beside,
O'ergrown with scented weeds and blossoms wild;
For here the gentle Earth dared not divide
The stem and branch, the father and the child!
Is not the tomb a chamber calm and mild,
When sanctified by kindred sleep like this? --
When love lies buried, and so undefiled,
Is death not slumber, is not slumber bliss,
A mirror of bright things where nought unholy is?

Ah! as the scented grass is fed with dew
When morning enters on his glowing quest,
As the sea-wearied mariner doth view
His own loved shores throned in the golden west;
So are such thoughts sweet visions of calm rest,
To those who voyage on this dangerous stream
Of life, where meditation is at best
The faint cold solace of a fainting gleam,
And when joy seems to smile, alas, it doth but seem!

Away unto thy task, my heart, away!
Such words the coldly wise will laugh to scorn --
Is thy dream past or broken? Lo! the day
Across the purple mountain tops is borne;
The silver mists are fading in the morn,
The twitter of the birds is waking near
Within the bosom of the scented thorn,
And the wide river's coils are glancing clear --
Away, my heart, away -- why dost thou linger here?

O weary life! O unaccomplished joy!
Where ev'n despair is faint, and meek, and mild --
An early haunting care is with the boy,
That never dull'd the forehead of the child;
We journey on, till twenty years have piled
Within the brain a heap of maxims sage,
Then comes the struggle, selfish, stern, and wild;
Gold is the only God, till heavy age
Bows its hoar head to death -- so ends our pilgrimage! --

The name is buried too, unless it live
Link'd to the breathings of a godlike heart;
Fame is the sole elixir, that can give
Life and eternity! It is the part,
Poet, that thou didst choose; within the mart
Of this wide world that precious merchandise
Is rarely sought or found. -- Thou didst not start,
Though malice, and the glare of envious eyes,
And words of poison, are the meed of him who buys.

No monument was rear'd on Pompey's shrine,
For shrine it surely is where heroes lie --
Even so the tombstone that is rear'd on thine
Is scarce a motto to thy memory;
Dust will to dust, yet some things may not die;
The songs of Grecian and of Roman time,
And thine, and more, have pinions, and will fly
Like eagles in their proud and glorious prime,
Seen in their place of pride, yet far from earth and crime.

Thine eye was like thy heart -- thou could'st not view
The burdens under which we struggle on,
And not lament; men blindly come and strew
Thorns for our naked feet, and for their own;
The earth sends up a universal groan
Beneath its own oppression; -- thou wert made
For those bright ages that have long since gone,
When love was virtue, virtue had no shade --
Alas! that man's faint heart hath let those ages fade!

Thou wert a comet men beheld and wonder'd,
Yet fear'd withal -- thy very word was power;
Thou spak'st of thunder, and, behold, it thunder'd!
Thou spak'st of beauty, and a blushing shower,
Like Danae's gold within the brazen tower,
Rain'd on our open hearts, until we felt,
Beyond restraint, the spirit of the hour
Moving around us, like the magic belt
Wove by the Siren's song, that all it touch'd could melt.

Whence came the river of ethereal light,
The Phlegethon of song, that from thy page
Hath leapt, and lighted up the vale of night
With clearer rays than ever ancient sage
Wrung from his heart? Thou untaught Archimage --
Who hast decipher'd with the glance of youth
The secret wisdom-tablets of all age --
Where didst thou gain such wond'rous power? In sooth,
Leander was thy name, thy Hero's name was Truth!

She was the mark that led thee through the deep,
To combat with the rude and boisterous waves,
Most like the torch upon the Sestos steep
Flicker'd afar her light. Ah, we are slaves
That may not burst our chain! The yawning graves
Are open for us, and we cannot find
That which we seek; doubts rise, and passion raves
Around our heads, before us and behind,
And then our guiding flame is scatter'd by the wind.

O, ye faint echoes of a still-born sigh!
O, loosen'd murmurs of an early string!
O, thou most sad, most dull monotony
Of untimed song, that from the spirit's spring
Chimes in such drowsy fall, alongst a ring
Of unshorn margin-thoughts! what envious thrall
Checks your concordance with his heavy wing?
Why are ye thus so thrilless -- one and all --
So slumbrous in your rise, so falter'd in your fall?

It is because the rapid inward river
Hath other utterance than in tears and words, --
Because the spirit breeze will pant and quiver
With thoughts that dare not stir the AEolian chords, --
Because the unspeaking soul hath other lords,
And other masters than thought-wrestling lips, --
Because the tongue no other aid affords
Than the sea-murmurs to the calmed ships,
Or earth's distracted sigh unto the charm'd eclipse!

Come, then, ye weary children of my brain,
And back unto your silent home return;
There keep your patient watch in tranced pain
Around the image of the poet's urn;
Gaze on his light that evermore doth spurn
The darkness from its halo, gaze your fill;
A fire like his, when lighted up, shall burn
Still unextinguish'd, and triumphant still,
A startling beacon-blaze upon a lonely hill!

But you, alas! what hope have you of fame?
What portion in the heritage of song?
What place of pride, when he, whose honour'd name
Peals like a chord Orphean -- whose rich tongue
In the dry fountain of our souls hath sprung
The pleasant rain of silver chiming tears;
When words like his have fall'n amidst the throng,
And brought no wonder to their listless ears,
No passion save to those who made them themes for years?

Yea, let them live! if life it be to wage
A restless grasping war for gain and gold;
Small wisdom dwells there with the craft of age,
Youth in its golden prime is bought and sold,
And ere the hairs are grey, the heart is old.
Ye, over whom the Roman laurels wave,
Your names are graved in hearts of other mould,
Your fame hath gone beyond your glorious grave --
It is where it should be -- beside the good and brave!

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