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Alastor: Or, the Spirit of Solitude

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

[Title Page]

   EARTH, Ocean, Air, belovèd brotherhood!
   If our great Mother has imbued my soul
   With aught of natural piety to feel
   Your love, and recompense the boon with mine;
   If dewy morn, and odorous noon, and even,
   With sunset and its gorgeous ministers,
   And solemn midnight's tingling silentness;
   If Autumn's hollow sighs in the sere wood,
   And Winter robing with pure snow and crowns
   Of starry ice the gray grass and bare boughs;                      10
   If Spring's voluptuous pantings when she breathes
   Her first sweet kisses,--have been dear to me;
   If no bright bird, insect, or gentle beast
   I consciously have injured, but still loved
   And cherished these my kindred; then forgive
   This boast, belovèd brethren, and withdraw
   No portion of your wonted favor now!

     Mother of this unfathomable world!
   Favor my solemn song, for I have loved 
   Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched                           20
   Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps,
   And my heart ever gazes on the depth
   Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed
   In charnels and on coffins, where black death
   Keeps record of the trophies won from thee,
   Hoping to still these obstinate questionings
   Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost,
   Thy messenger, to render up the tale
   Of what we are. In lone and silent hours,
   When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness,               30
   Like an inspired and desperate alchemist
   Staking his very life on some dark hope,
   Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks
   With my most innocent love, until strange tears,
   Uniting with those breathless kisses, made
   Such magic as compels the charmèd night
   To render up thy charge; and, though ne'er yet
   Thou hast unveiled thy inmost sanctuary,
   Enough from incommunicable dream,
   And twilight phantasms, and deep noonday thought,                  40
   Has shone within me, that serenely now
   And moveless, as a long-forgotten lyre
   Suspended in the solitary dome
   Of some mysterious and deserted fane,
   I wait thy breath, Great Parent, that my strain
   May modulate with murmurs of the air,
   And motions of the forests and the sea,
   And voice of living beings, and woven hymns
   Of night and day, and the deep heart of man.

     There was a Poet whose untimely tomb                             50
   No human hands with pious reverence reared,
   But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds
   Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid
   Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness:
   A lovely youth,--no mourning maiden decked
   With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,
   The lone couch of his everlasting sleep:
   Gentle, and brave, and generous,--no lorn bard
   Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh:
   He lived, he died, he sung in solitude.                            60
   Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes,
   And virgins, as unknown he passed, have pined
   And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes.
   The fire of those soft orbs has ceased to burn,
   And Silence, too enamoured of that voice,
   Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.

     By solemn vision and bright silver dream
   His infancy was nurtured. Every sight
   And sound from the vast earth and ambient air
   Sent to his heart its choicest impulses.                           70
   The fountains of divine philosophy
   Fled not his thirsting lips, and all of great,
   Or good, or lovely, which the sacred past
   In truth or fable consecrates, he felt
   And knew. When early youth had passed, he left
   His cold fireside and alienated home
   To seek strange truths in undiscovered lands.
   Many a wide waste and tangled wilderness
   Has lured his fearless steps; and he has bought
   With his sweet voice and eyes, from savage men,                    80
   His rest and food. Nature's most secret steps
   He like her shadow has pursued, where'er
   The red volcano overcanopies
   Its fields of snow and pinnacles of ice
   With burning smoke, or where bitumen lakes
   On black bare pointed islets ever beat
   With sluggish surge, or where the secret caves,
   Rugged and dark, winding among the springs
   Of fire and poison, inaccessible
   To avarice or pride, their starry domes                            90
   Of diamond and of gold expand above
   Numberless and immeasurable halls,
   Frequent with crystal column, and clear shrines
   Of pearl, and thrones radiant with chrysolite.
   Nor had that scene of ampler majesty
   Than gems or gold, the varying roof of heaven
   And the green earth, lost in his heart its claims
   To love and wonder; he would linger long
   In lonesome vales, making the wild his home,
   Until the doves and squirrels would partake                       100
   From his innocuous band his bloodless food,
   Lured by the gentle meaning of his looks,
   And the wild antelope, that starts whene'er
   The dry leaf rustles in the brake, suspend
   Her timid steps, to gaze upon a form
   More graceful than her own.

                                His wandering step,
   Obedient to high thoughts, has visited
   The awful ruins of the days of old:
   Athens, and Tyre, and Balbec, and the waste
   Where stood Jerusalem, the fallen towers                          110
   Of Babylon, the eternal pyramids,
   Memphis and Thebes, and whatsoe'er of strange,
   Sculptured on alabaster obelisk
   Or jasper tomb or mutilated sphinx,
   Dark Æthiopia in her desert hills
   Conceals. Among the ruined temples there,
   Stupendous columns, and wild images
   Of more than man, where marble daemons watch
   The Zodiac's brazen mystery, and dead men
   Hang their mute thoughts on the mute walls around,                120
   He lingered, poring on memorials
   Of the world's youth: through the long burning day
   Gazed on those speechless shapes; nor, when the moon
   Filled the mysterious halls with floating shades
   Suspended he that task, but ever gazed
   And gazed, till meaning on his vacant mind
   Flashed like strong inspiration, and he saw
   The thrilling secrets of the birth of time.

     Meanwhile an Arab maiden brought his food,
   Her daily portion, from her father's tent,                        130
   And spread her matting for his couch, and stole
   From duties and repose to tend his steps,
   Enamoured, yet not daring for deep awe
   To speak her love, and watched his nightly sleep,
   Sleepless herself, to gaze upon his lips
   Parted in slumber, whence the regular breath
   Of innocent dreams arose; then, when red morn
   Made paler the pale moon, to her cold home
   Wildered, and wan, and panting, she returned.

     The Poet, wandering on, through Arabie,                         140
   And Persia, and the wild Carmanian waste,
   And o'er the aërial mountains which pour down
   Indus and Oxus from their icy caves,
   In joy and exultation held his way;
   Till in the vale of Cashmire, far within
   Its loneliest dell, where odorous plants entwine
   Beneath the hollow rocks a natural bower,
   Beside a sparkling rivulet he stretched
   His languid limbs. A vision on his sleep
   There came, a dream of hopes that never yet                       150
   Had flushed his cheek. He dreamed a veilèd maid
   Sate near him, talking in low solemn tones.
   Her voice was like the voice of his own soul
   Heard in the calm of thought; its music long,
   Like woven sounds of streams and breezes, held
   His inmost sense suspended in its web
   Of many-colored woof and shifting hues.
   Knowledge and truth and virtue were her theme,
   And lofty hopes of divine liberty,
   Thoughts the most dear to him, and poesy,                         160
   Herself a poet. Soon the solemn mood
   Of her pure mind kindled through all her frame
   A permeating fire; wild numbers then
   She raised, with voice stifled in tremulous sobs
   Subdued by its own pathos; her fair hands
   Were bare alone, sweeping from some strange harp
   Strange symphony, and in their branching veins
   The eloquent blood told an ineffable tale.
   The beating of her heart was heard to fill
   The pauses of her music, and her breath                           170
   Tumultuously accorded with those fits
   Of intermitted song. Sudden she rose,
   As if her heart impatiently endured
   Its bursting burden; at the sound he turned,
   And saw by the warm light of their own life
   Her glowing limbs beneath the sinuous veil
   Of woven wind, her outspread arms now bare,
   Her dark locks floating in the breath of night,
   Her beamy bending eyes, her parted lips
   Outstretched, and pale, and quivering eagerly.                    180
   His strong heart sunk and sickened with excess
   Of love. He reared his shuddering limbs, and quelled
   His gasping breath, and spread his arms to meet
   Her panting bosom:--she drew back awhile,
   Then, yielding to the irresistible joy,
   With frantic gesture and short breathless cry
   Folded his frame in her dissolving arms.
   Now blackness veiled his dizzy eyes, and night
   Involved and swallowed up the vision; sleep,
   Like a dark flood suspended in its course,                        190
   Rolled back its impulse on his vacant brain.

     Roused by the shock, he started from his trance--
   The cold white light of morning, the blue moon
   Low in the west, the clear and garish hills,
   The distinct valley and the vacant woods,
   Spread round him where he stood. Whither have fled
   The hues of heaven that canopied his bower
   Of yesternight? The sounds that soothed his sleep,
   The mystery and the majesty of Earth,
   The joy, the exultation? His wan eyes                             200
   Gaze on the empty scene as vacantly
   As ocean's moon looks on the moon in heaven.
   The spirit of sweet human love has sent
   A vision to the sleep of him who spurned
   Her choicest gifts. He eagerly pursues
   Beyond the realms of dream that fleeting shade;
   He overleaps the bounds. Alas! alas!
   Were limbs and breath and being intertwined
   Thus treacherously? Lost, lost, forever lost
   In the wide pathless desert of dim sleep,                         210
   That beautiful shape! Does the dark gate of death
   Conduct to thy mysterious paradise,
   O Sleep? Does the bright arch of rainbow clouds
   And pendent mountains seen in the calm lake
   Lead only to a black and watery depth,
   While death's blue vault with loathliest vapors hung,
   Where every shade which the foul grave exhales
   Hides its dead eye from the detested day,
   Conducts, O Sleep, to thy delightful realms?
   This doubt with sudden tide flowed on his heart;                  220
   The insatiate hope which it awakened stung
   His brain even like despair.

                                 While daylight held
   The sky, the Poet kept mute conference
   With his still soul. At night the passion came,
   Like the fierce fiend of a distempered dream,
   And shook him from his rest, and led him forth
   Into the darkness. As an eagle, grasped
   In folds of the green serpent, feels her breast
   Burn with the poison, and precipitates
   Through night and day, tempest, and calm, and cloud,              230
   Frantic with dizzying anguish, her blind flight
   O'er the wide aëry wilderness: thus driven
   By the bright shadow of that lovely dream,
   Beneath the cold glare of the desolate night,
   Through tangled swamps and deep precipitous dells,
   Startling with careless step the moon-light snake,
   He fled. Red morning dawned upon his flight,
   Shedding the mockery of its vital hues
   Upon his cheek of death. He wandered on
   Till vast Aornos seen from Petra's steep                          240
   Hung o'er the low horizon like a cloud;
   Through Balk, and where the desolated tombs
   Of Parthian kings scatter to every wind
   Their wasting dust, wildly he wandered on,
   Day after day, a weary waste of hours,
   Bearing within his life the brooding care
   That ever fed on its decaying flame.
   And now his limbs were lean; his scattered hair,
   Sered by the autumn of strange suffering,
   Sung dirges in the wind; his listless hand                        250
   Hung like dead bone within its withered skin;
   Life, and the lustre that consumed it, shone,
   As in a furnace burning secretly,
   From his dark eyes alone. The cottagers,
   Who ministered with human charity
   His human wants, beheld with wondering awe
   Their fleeting visitant. The mountaineer,
   Encountering on some dizzy precipice
   That spectral form, deemed that the Spirit of Wind,
   With lightning eyes, and eager breath, and feet                   260
   Disturbing not the drifted snow, had paused
   In its career; the infant would conceal
   His troubled visage in his mother's robe
   In terror at the glare of those wild eyes,
   To remember their strange light in many a dream
   Of after times; but youthful maidens, taught
   By nature, would interpret half the woe
   That wasted him, would call him with false names
   Brother and friend, would press his pallid hand
   At parting, and watch, dim through tears, the path                270
   Of his departure from their father's door.

     At length upon the lone Chorasmian shore
   He paused, a wide and melancholy waste
   Of putrid marshes. A strong impulse urged
   His steps to the sea-shore. A swan was there,
   Beside a sluggish stream among the reeds.
   It rose as he approached, and, with strong wings
   Scaling the upward sky, bent its bright course
   High over the immeasurable main.
   His eyes pursued its flight:--'Thou hast a home,                  280
   Beautiful bird! thou voyagest to thine home,
   Where thy sweet mate will twine her downy neck
   With thine, and welcome thy return with eyes
   Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy.
   And what am I that I should linger here,
   With voice far sweeter than thy dying notes,
   Spirit more vast than thine, frame more attuned
   To beauty, wasting these surpassing powers
   In the deaf air, to the blind earth, and heaven
   That echoes not my thoughts?' A gloomy smile                      290
   Of desperate hope wrinkled his quivering lips.
   For sleep, he knew, kept most relentlessly
   Its precious charge, and silent death exposed,
   Faithless perhaps as sleep, a shadowy lure,
   With doubtful smile mocking its own strange charms.

     Startled by his own thoughts, he looked around.
   There was no fair fiend near him, not a sight
   Or sound of awe but in his own deep mind.
   A little shallop floating near the shore
   Caught the impatient wandering of his gaze.                       300
   It had been long abandoned, for its sides
   Gaped wide with many a rift, and its frail joints
   Swayed with the undulations of the tide.
   A restless impulse urged him to embark
   And meet lone Death on the drear ocean's waste;
   For well he knew that mighty Shadow loves
   The slimy caverns of the populous deep.

     The day was fair and sunny; sea and sky
   Drank its inspiring radiance, and the wind
   Swept strongly from the shore, blackening the waves.              310
   Following his eager soul, the wanderer
   Leaped in the boat; he spread his cloak aloft
   On the bare mast, and took his lonely seat,
   And felt the boat speed o'er the tranquil sea
   Like a torn cloud before the hurricane.

     As one that in a silver vision floats
   Obedient to the sweep of odorous winds
   Upon resplendent clouds, so rapidly
   Along the dark and ruffled waters fled
   The straining boat. A whirlwind swept it on,                      320
   With fierce gusts and precipitating force,
   Through the white ridges of the chafèd sea.
   The waves arose. Higher and higher still
   Their fierce necks writhed beneath the tempest's scourge
   Like serpents struggling in a vulture's grasp.
   Calm and rejoicing in the fearful war
   Of wave ruining on wave, and blast on blast
   Descending, and black flood on whirlpool driven
   With dark obliterating course, he sate:
   As if their genii were the ministers                              330
   Appointed to conduct him to the light
   Of those belovèd eyes, the Poet sate,
   Holding the steady helm. Evening came on;
   The beams of sunset hung their rainbow hues
   High 'mid the shifting domes of sheeted spray
   That canopied his path o'er the waste deep;
   Twilight, ascending slowly from the east,
   Entwined in duskier wreaths her braided locks
   O'er the fair front and radiant eyes of Day;
   Night followed, clad with stars. On every side                    340
   More horribly the multitudinous streams
   Of ocean's mountainous waste to mutual war
   Rushed in dark tumult thundering, as to mock
   The calm and spangled sky. The little boat
   Still fled before the storm; still fled, like foam
   Down the steep cataract of a wintry river;
   Now pausing on the edge of the riven wave;
   Now leaving far behind the bursting mass
   That fell, convulsing ocean; safely fled--
   As if that frail and wasted human form             350
   Had been an elemental god.

                               At midnight
   The moon arose; and lo! the ethereal cliffs
   Of Caucasus, whose icy summits shone
   Among the stars like sunlight, and around
   Whose caverned base the whirlpools and the waves
   Bursting and eddying irresistibly
   Rage and resound forever.--Who shall save?--
   The boat fled on,--the boiling torrent drove,--
   The crags closed round with black and jagged arms,
   The shattered mountain overhung the sea,                          360
   And faster still, beyond all human speed,
   Suspended on the sweep of the smooth wave,
   The little boat was driven. A cavern there
   Yawned, and amid its slant and winding depths
   Ingulphed the rushing sea. The boat fled on
   With unrelaxing speed.--'Vision and Love!'
   The Poet cried aloud, 'I have beheld
   The path of thy departure. Sleep and death
   Shall not divide us long.'

                               The boat pursued
   The windings of the cavern. Daylight shone                        370
   At length upon that gloomy river's flow;
   Now, where the fiercest war among the waves
   Is calm, on the unfathomable stream
   The boat moved slowly. Where the mountain, riven,
   Exposed those black depths to the azure sky,
   Ere yet the flood's enormous volume fell
   Even to the base of Caucasus, with sound
   That shook the everlasting rocks, the mass
   Filled with one whirlpool all that ample chasm;
   Stair above stair the eddying waters rose,                        380
   Circling immeasurably fast, and laved
   With alternating dash the gnarlèd roots
   Of mighty trees, that stretched their giant arms
   In darkness over it. I' the midst was left,
   Reflecting yet distorting every cloud,
   A pool of treacherous and tremendous calm.
   Seized by the sway of the ascending stream,
   With dizzy swiftness, round and round and round,
   Ridge after ridge the straining boat arose,
   Till on the verge of the extremest curve,                         390
   Where through an opening of the rocky bank
   The waters overflow, and a smooth spot
   Of glassy quiet 'mid those battling tides
   Is left, the boat paused shuddering.--Shall it sink
   Down the abyss? Shall the reverting stress
   Of that resistless gulf embosom it?
   Now shall it fall?--A wandering stream of wind
   Breathed from the west, has caught the expanded sail,
   And, lo! with gentle motion between banks
   Of mossy slope, and on a placid stream,                           400
   Beneath a woven grove, it sails, and, hark!
   The ghastly torrent mingles its far roar
   With the breeze murmuring in the musical woods.
   Where the embowering trees recede, and leave
   A little space of green expanse, the cove
   Is closed by meeting banks, whose yellow flowers
   Forever gaze on their own drooping eyes,
   Reflected in the crystal calm. The wave
   Of the boat's motion marred their pensive task,
   Which naught but vagrant bird, or wanton wind,                    410
   Or falling spear-grass, or their own decay
   Had e'er disturbed before. The Poet longed
   To deck with their bright hues his withered hair,
   But on his heart its solitude returned,
   And he forbore. Not the strong impulse hid
   In those flushed cheeks, bent eyes, and shadowy frame,
   Had yet performed its ministry; it hung
   Upon his life, as lightning in a cloud
   Gleams, hovering ere it vanish, ere the floods
   Of night close over it.

                            The noonday sun                          420
   Now shone upon the forest, one vast mass
   Of mingling shade, whose brown magnificence
   A narrow vale embosoms. There, huge caves,
   Scooped in the dark base of their aëry rocks,
   Mocking its moans, respond and roar forever.
   The meeting boughs and implicated leaves
   Wove twilight o'er the Poet's path, as, led
   By love, or dream, or god, or mightier Death,
   He sought in Nature's dearest haunt some bank,
   Her cradle and his sepulchre. More dark                           430
   And dark the shades accumulate. The oak,
   Expanding its immense and knotty arms,
   Embraces the light beech. The pyramids
   Of the tall cedar overarching frame
   Most solemn domes within, and far below,
   Like clouds suspended in an emerald sky,
   The ash and the acacia floating hang
   Tremulous and pale. Like restless serpents, clothed
   In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,
   Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around                   440
   The gray trunks, and, as gamesome infants' eyes,
   With gentle meanings, and most innocent wiles,
   Fold their beams round the hearts of those that love,
   These twine their tendrils with the wedded boughs,
   Uniting their close union; the woven leaves
   Make network of the dark blue light of day
   And the night's noontide clearness, mutable
   As shapes in the weird clouds. Soft mossy lawns
   Beneath these canopies extend their swells,
   Fragrant with perfumed herbs, and eyed with blooms                450
   Minute yet beautiful. One darkest glen
   Sends from its woods of musk-rose twined with jasmine
   A soul-dissolving odor to invite
   To some more lovely mystery. Through the dell
   Silence and Twilight here, twin-sisters, keep
   Their noonday watch, and sail among the shades,
   Like vaporous shapes half-seen; beyond, a well,
   Dark, gleaming, and of most translucent wave,
   Images all the woven boughs above,
   And each depending leaf, and every speck                          460
   Of azure sky darting between their chasms;
   Nor aught else in the liquid mirror laves
   Its portraiture, but some inconstant star,
   Between one foliaged lattice twinkling fair,
   Or painted bird, sleeping beneath the moon,
   Or gorgeous insect floating motionless,
   Unconscious of the day, ere yet his wings
   Have spread their glories to the gaze of noon.

   Hither the Poet came. His eyes beheld
   Their own wan light through the reflected lines                   470
   Of his thin hair, distinct in the dark depth
   Of that still fountain; as the human heart,
   Gazing in dreams over the gloomy grave,
   Sees its own treacherous likeness there. He heard
   The motion of the leaves--the grass that sprung
   Startled and glanced and trembled even to feel
   An unaccustomed presence--and the sound
   Of the sweet brook that from the secret springs
   Of that dark fountain rose. A Spirit seemed
   To stand beside him--clothed in no bright robes                   480
   Of shadowy silver or enshrining light,
   Borrowed from aught the visible world affords
   Of grace, or majesty, or mystery;
   But undulating woods, and silent well,
   And leaping rivulet, and evening gloom
   Now deepening the dark shades, for speech assuming,
   Held commune with him, as if he and it
   Were all that was; only--when his regard
   Was raised by intense pensiveness--two eyes,
   Two starry eyes, hung in the gloom of thought,                    490
   And seemed with their serene and azure smiles
   To beckon him.

                   Obedient to the light
   That shone within his soul, he went, pursuing
   The windings of the dell. The rivulet,
   Wanton and wild, through many a green ravine
   Beneath the forest flowed. Sometimes it fell
   Among the moss with hollow harmony
   Dark and profound. Now on the polished stones
   It danced, like childhood laughing as it went;
   Then, through the plain in tranquil wanderings crept,             500
   Reflecting every herb and drooping bud
   That overhung its quietness.--'O stream!
   Whose source is inaccessibly profound,
   Whither do thy mysterious waters tend?
   Thou imagest my life. Thy darksome stillness,
   Thy dazzling waves, thy loud and hollow gulfs,
   Thy searchless fountain and invisible course,
   Have each their type in me; and the wide sky
   And measureless ocean may declare as soon
   What oozy cavern or what wandering cloud                          510
   Contains thy waters, as the universe
   Tell where these living thoughts reside, when stretched
   Upon thy flowers my bloodless limbs shall waste
   I' the passing wind!'

                          Beside the grassy shore
   Of the small stream he went; he did impress
   On the green moss his tremulous step, that caught
   Strong shuddering from his burning limbs. As one
   Roused by some joyous madness from the couch
   Of fever, he did move; yet not like him
   Forgetful of the grave, where, when the flame                     520
   Of his frail exultation shall be spent,
   He must descend. With rapid steps he went
   Beneath the shade of trees, beside the flow
   Of the wild babbling rivulet; and now
   The forest's solemn canopies were changed
   For the uniform and lightsome evening sky.
   Gray rocks did peep from the spare moss, and stemmed
   The struggling brook; tall spires of windlestrae
   Threw their thin shadows down the rugged slope,
   And nought but gnarlèd roots of ancient pines                     530
   Branchless and blasted, clenched with grasping roots
   The unwilling soil. A gradual change was here
   Yet ghastly. For, as fast years flow away,
   The smooth brow gathers, and the hair grows thin
   And white, and where irradiate dewy eyes
   Had shone, gleam stony orbs:--so from his steps
   Bright flowers departed, and the beautiful shade
   Of the green groves, with all their odorous winds
   And musical motions. Calm he still pursued
   The stream, that with a larger volume now                         540
   Rolled through the labyrinthine dell; and there
   Fretted a path through its descending curves
   With its wintry speed. On every side now rose
   Rocks, which, in unimaginable forms,
   Lifted their black and barren pinnacles
   In the light of evening, and its precipice
   Obscuring the ravine, disclosed above,
   'Mid toppling stones, black gulfs and yawning caves,
   Whose windings gave ten thousand various tongues
   To the loud stream. Lo! where the pass expands                    550
   Its stony jaws, the abrupt mountain breaks,
   And seems with its accumulated crags
   To overhang the world; for wide expand
   Beneath the wan stars and descending moon
   Islanded seas, blue mountains, mighty streams,
   Dim tracts and vast, robed in the lustrous gloom
   Of leaden-colored even, and fiery hills
   Mingling their flames with twilight, on the verge
   Of the remote horizon. The near scene,
   In naked and severe simplicity,                                   560
   Made contrast with the universe. A pine,
   Rock-rooted, stretched athwart the vacancy
   Its swinging boughs, to each inconstant blast
   Yielding one only response at each pause
   In most familiar cadence, with the howl,
   The thunder and the hiss of homeless streams
   Mingling its solemn song, whilst the broad river
   Foaming and hurrying o'er its rugged path,
   Fell into that immeasurable void,
   Scattering its waters to the passing winds.                       570

     Yet the gray precipice and solemn pine
   And torrent were not all;--one silent nook
   Was there. Even on the edge of that vast mountain,
   Upheld by knotty roots and fallen rocks,
   It overlooked in its serenity
   The dark earth and the bending vault of stars.
   It was a tranquil spot that seemed to smile
   Even in the lap of horror. Ivy clasped
   The fissured stones with its entwining arms,
   And did embower with leaves forever green                         580
   And berries dark the smooth and even space
   Of its inviolated floor; and here
   The children of the autumnal whirlwind bore
   In wanton sport those bright leaves whose decay,
   Red, yellow, or ethereally pale,
   Rivals the pride of summer. 'T is the haunt
   Of every gentle wind whose breath can teach
   The wilds to love tranquillity. One step,
   One human step alone, has ever broken
   The stillness of its solitude; one voice                          590
   Alone inspired its echoes;--even that voice
   Which hither came, floating among the winds,
   And led the loveliest among human forms
   To make their wild haunts the depository
   Of all the grace and beauty that endued
   Its motions, render up its majesty,
   Scatter its music on the unfeeling storm,
   And to the damp leaves and blue cavern mould,
   Nurses of rainbow flowers and branching moss,
   Commit the colors of that varying cheek,                          600
   That snowy breast, those dark and drooping eyes.

     The dim and hornèd moon hung low, and poured
   A sea of lustre on the horizon's verge
   That overflowed its mountains. Yellow mist
   Filled the unbounded atmosphere, and drank
   Wan moonlight even to fulness; not a star
   Shone, not a sound was heard; the very winds,
   Danger's grim playmates, on that precipice
   Slept, clasped in his embrace.--O storm of death,
   Whose sightless speed divides this sullen night!                  610
   And thou, colossal Skeleton, that, still
   Guiding its irresistible career
   In thy devastating omnipotence,
   Art king of this frail world! from the red field
   Of slaughter, from the reeking hospital,
   The patriot's sacred couch, the snowy bed
   Of innocence, the scaffold and the throne,
   A mighty voice invokes thee! Ruin calls
   His brother Death! A rare and regal prey
   He hath prepared, prowling around the world;                      620
   Glutted with which thou mayst repose, and men
   Go to their graves like flowers or creeping worms,
   Nor ever more offer at thy dark shrine
   The unheeded tribute of a broken heart.

     When on the threshold of the green recess
   The wanderer's footsteps fell, he knew that death
   Was on him. Yet a little, ere it fled,
   Did he resign his high and holy soul
   To images of the majestic past,
   That paused within his passive being now,                         630
   Like winds that bear sweet music, when they breathe
   Through some dim latticed chamber. He did place
   His pale lean hand upon the rugged trunk
   Of the old pine; upon an ivied stone
   Reclined his languid head; his limbs did rest,
   Diffused and motionless, on the smooth brink
   Of that obscurest chasm;--and thus he lay,
   Surrendering to their final impulses
   The hovering powers of life. Hope and Despair,
   The torturers, slept; no mortal pain or fear                      640
   Marred his repose; the influxes of sense
   And his own being, unalloyed by pain,
   Yet feebler and more feeble, calmly fed
   The stream of thought, till he lay breathing there
   At peace, and faintly smiling. His last sight
   Was the great moon, which o'er the western line
   Of the wide world her mighty horn suspended,
   With whose dun beams inwoven darkness seemed
   To mingle. Now upon the jagged hills
   It rests; and still as the divided frame                          650
   Of the vast meteor sunk, the Poet's blood,
   That ever beat in mystic sympathy
   With Nature's ebb and flow, grew feebler still;
   And when two lessening points of light alone
   Gleamed through the darkness, the alternate gasp
   Of his faint respiration scarce did stir
   The stagnate night:--till the minutest ray
   Was quenched, the pulse yet lingered in his heart.
   It paused--it fluttered. But when heaven remained
   Utterly black, the murky shades involved                          660
   An image silent, cold, and motionless,
   As their own voiceless earth and vacant air.
   Even as a vapor fed with golden beams
   That ministered on sunlight, ere the west
   Eclipses it, was now that wondrous frame--
   No sense, no motion, no divinity--
   A fragile lute, on whose harmonious strings
   The breath of heaven did wander--a bright stream
   Once fed with many-voicèd waves--a dream
   Of youth, which night and time have quenched forever--            670
   Still, dark, and dry, and unremembered now.

     Oh, for Medea's wondrous alchemy,
   Which wheresoe'er it fell made the earth gleam
   With bright flowers, and the wintry boughs exhale
   From vernal blooms fresh fragrance! Oh, that God,
   Profuse of poisons, would concede the chalice
   Which but one living man has drained, who now,
   Vessel of deathless wrath, a slave that feels
   No proud exemption in the blighting curse
   He bears, over the world wanders forever,                         680
   Lone as incarnate death! Oh, that the dream
   Of dark magician in his visioned cave,
   Raking the cinders of a crucible
   For life and power, even when his feeble hand
   Shakes in its last decay, were the true law
   Of this so lovely world! But thou art fled,
   Like some frail exhalation, which the dawn
   Robes in its golden beams,--ah! thou hast fled!
   The brave, the gentle and the beautiful,
   The child of grace and genius. Heartless things                   690
   Are done and said i' the world, and many worms
   And beasts and men live on, and mighty Earth
   From sea and mountain, city and wilderness,
   In vesper low or joyous orison,
   Lifts still its solemn voice:--but thou art fled--
   Thou canst no longer know or love the shapes
   Of this phantasmal scene, who have to thee
   Been purest ministers, who are, alas!
   Now thou art not! Upon those pallid lips
   So sweet even in their silence, on those eyes                     700
   That image sleep in death, upon that form
   Yet safe from the worm's outrage, let no tear
   Be shed--not even in thought. Nor, when those hues
   Are gone, and those divinest lineaments,
   Worn by the senseless wind, shall live alone
   In the frail pauses of this simple strain,
   Let not high verse, mourning the memory
   Of that which is no more, or painting's woe
   Or sculpture, speak in feeble imagery
   Their own cold powers. Art and eloquence,                         710
   And all the shows o' the world, are frail and vain
   To weep a loss that turns their lights to shade.
   It is a woe "too deep for tears," when all
   Is reft at once, when some surpassing Spirit,
   Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves
   Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans,
   The passionate tumult of a clinging hope;
   But pale despair and cold tranquillity,
   Nature's vast frame, the web of human things,
   Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.                   720